Consular Service and Society in Egypt

“A small number of European families … keep up their spirits under a species of exile, and maintain with vigorous earnestness the forms of friendly intercourse … partly due, no doubt, to the favorable natural characteristics of the country, to its delicious winter climate, … to its interesting historical associations.”

The official reception of a consul-general by the Egyptian government is made the occasion of a ceremonious pageant which is interesting and characteristic. Even among the Western nations, the first audience accorded to a new ambassador by the sovereign to whom he is accredited is an occasion of some solemnity, of much pains taken on both sides that there shall be no neglect of the forms of courtesy. The ceremony in Egypt might perhaps be reduced to more simple proportions but for the difficulty in making a change, at any particular epoch, in a matter of usage so long established. Whenever a new consul-general arrives, it is naturally deemed proper to receive him with the same honors as the last. I arrived in Egypt in the hot season, to occupy the post rendered vacant by the death of my predecessor, and agreeably to the instructions of the Department of State established relations immediately with the government. His highness the Pacha (as we then called him) received me informally at Alexandria, in August, and the ceremonious reception was postponed until the summer should have passed and the offices of the government should have been transferred to Cairo. Meanwhile three other new consuls-general bad arrived, — a rather unusual number for so short an interval, — and their receptions were appointed to follow mine, which was to take place at Cairo on the 10th of October, in the palace of Kasr-el-Nil, situated, as the name indicates, on the bank of the Nile.

I had come from Alexandria to Cairo the day before. The weather was excessively warm. The resolution of Congress prohibiting any person in the diplomatic service of the United States from wearing an official dress was passed in 1867; previous to that date, a distinctive official costume had been usual in Egypt. I took my uniform from the box in which it was packed by the tailor in London who made it. He had told me that his grandfather made the uniform worn by John Adams, our first minister at the court of St. James; his father, that of John Quincy Adams; and he himself, that of Charles Francis Adams. His occupation in making uniforms for American diplomatists is now gone. The costume, although handsome, was extremely simple and without unnecessary ornament: a coat of dark-blue cloth, embroidered with gold lace, in the pattern of which acorns and oak leaves were introduced; a huff waistcoat; trousers with a gold stripe. The buttons on the coat and waistcoat bore the conventional effigies of the American eagle. A chapeau with gilt tassel, and a dress sword, completed the equipment. Hassan and Yani, the cawasses of the consulate (or janissaries as they are more commonly called), were resplendent in the colors allowed to Oriental costume, and each bore with pride his long silver-mounted staff of office.

Zeky Bey, the master of ceremonies, called at the hotel where I was staying at about nine o’clock in the morning, and presently it was announced that the cortége was in readiness to conduct me to the palace. There was a state carriage, a stupendous vehicle, elaborately decorated with gilding on the outside, and upholstered inside with white satin worked with threads of gold. It was drawn by four horses richly caparisoned. Two other carriages, scarcely less magnificent, were occupied by officers in attendance. A number of mounted outriders in gay uniforms surrounded the carriages, and a corps of one hundred and fifty government cawasses formed the escort.

As the escort was on foot, the progress was slow, and the heat seemed almost intolerable to people dressed in heavy uniforms. It was, however, not difficult to maintain conversation with the amiable and affable Zeky Bey. The distance from the hotel to the palace was between two and three miles. As the procession entered the court-yard it was greeted by a lively peal of music from a military band stationed there; three regiments of soldiers drawn up in array presented arms, and a small section of artillery thundered into the ears of the inhabitants of Cairo the tidings that a new consul-general had come. A number of dignitaries were assembled on the steps of the palace. Zeky Bey led me across the spacious entrance hall, between two rows of pachas and beys, to a room opening from the upper end, where Ismail Pacha was ready to receive me.

His highness had with him Chérif Pacha, minister of foreign affairs, and some other official personages. He was seated at the most remote part of the room when I entered, but arose and advanced towards me, so that we met about the middle of the room, when I bowed and spoke the words of a brief address in French, previously prepared and committed to memory. In the determination to make no mistake or break-down, I had so indelibly stamped the words upon my memory that they sometimes now recur to me at odd minutes. I placed in the hands of his highness the letter of credence from the president, sealed with the great seal of the United States.

An office-copy of the letter, furnished to me for the purpose by the Department of State, had already been communicated to the minister, agreeably to diplomatic usage. The following is a copy of the form used in such letters: —

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United ~States of America, to His Highness the Pacha of Egypt, etc., etc., etc.

Great and Good Friend: I have chosen ——, a respectable citizen of the United States, as Agent and Consul-General of the United States of America for Egypt, to reside at Alexandria, to watch over our interests, and by all honorable means to cultivate and to maintain harmony and good-will between us. Wherefore, I request your highness to receive him in this character, to cause him to be duly respected, and to give full credit to what he shall represent from his government, more especially when he shall assure you of our cordial friendship.

Written at Washington, the —— day of ——, in the year of our Lord ——.

Your Good Friend,


By the President:


Secretary of State.

His highness made a reply, which, as is usual in such cases, was an echo or reciprocation of the amicable sentiments of the president’s letter and of the consul-general’s address. He then shook hands and invited me to a seat, in the corner of the room, in one of two large fauteuils upholstered in yellow silk, the other of which he occupied himself. The other personages present, who had formed a semicircle at a little distance while the address and reply were spoken, remained standing, until at a motion of his hand they took seats upon the divan which surrounded the room on every side. Long pipes with jeweled mouthpieces were brought, and coffee was served, scalding hot but delicious, in small cups of delicate porcelain, mounted on stands of gold of curious workmanship and ornamented with diamonds. His highness at once entered into an affable and unceremonious conversation, speaking of the pleasantness of the fresh air from the water, which was indeed most grateful in this large, cool room of the palace, shaded by trees and standing upon the river’s bank. On my side, allusion was made to the many fatiguing ceremonies he was undergoing: for two days previously there had been a formal presentation to him of a portrait of the sultan, brought by a special envoy from Constantinople; on the day before, he had in like manner received the decoration of the Grand Cross of Greece, at the hands of a special envoy from the young King George; the present reception was to be followed the same afternoon by that of the Persian consul-general, and this, on following days, by those of the Greek and Brazilian consuls-general. After a short time thus spent in conversation, the interview ended; and the forms incident to taking leave having been gone through with, the procession returned to the hotel in the same order in which it had come.

Immediately after this ceremony, it is the usage for the new consul-general to receive formal visits from his colleagues (who have been notified of the time of the official reception at the palace) and to return them the same day. These visits were at that time made in uniform; but not long after the time when Congress prohibited the use of diplomatic uniforms in the American service, the consular body in Egypt came to the resolution to dispense with them on occasions even of ceremonious visits to each other.

The first consul-general sent to Egypt by the United States was Daniel S. Macauley, who arrived at Alexandria in February, 1849. Congress had made provision for the office by a clause in an appropriation act the previous year. We had formerly been represented by consuls at Alexandria and sometimes at Cairo, although our consular service in all parts of the world was without regular system or organization until 1856. Mr. Macauley was appointed by President Polk, and entered upon his duties a short time before the inauguration of President Taylor. His was not a political appointment; he had had a long experience at one of the consular posts on the north coast of Africa, posts which were established in the earlier years of the republic, and which, with the exception of the consulate at London, were for a long time the only consular offices in our service for which salaries were provided. Mr. Macauley died in Egypt, in 1853. Mr. R. B. Jones was appointed by President Fillmore to succeed him. The occasion for this appointment arose during the brief interval when Mr. Everett held the office of secretary of state, after the death of Mr. Webster. Mr. Jones had visited Egypt as an officer of the navy in the time of Mehemet Ali. His service there under his appointment as consul-general was brief, and he was succeeded, on the change of administration at home, by Mr. Edwin De Leon, who came to Egypt in November, 1853. Mr. De Leon was appointed by President Pierce and held the office during the administrations of that president and his successor, Mr. Buchanan, retiring at the outbreak of the rebellion, in which he espoused the cause of the Confederates. The appointment of Mr. William Sydney Thayer was one of the first acts of President Lincoln’s administration, the nomination being sent to the senate on the 5th of March, 1861, together with those of Mr. Adams as minister to England, Mr. Dayton as minister to France, and Mr. Marsh as minister to Italy. Mr. Judd had been nominated as minister to Prussia the day before. Mr. Thayer came to Egypt in June, 1861, and died in that country in April, 1864. My own appointment was made on the 18th of May in that year; I arrived in Egypt in August, and remained there until May, 1870.

The appointments subordinate to the consul-general were made, according to the usage of our service, by the Department of State, on the nomination of the principal consular officer. With regard to these I acted on the plan of not changing what was already established. There were officers with the title of vice-consul at Alexandria, Damietta, and Suez, and others known as consular agents at several of the inland towns in Lower Egypt and upon the river. They were able frequently to be of use to travelers; and as the works on the Suez Canal progressed, and were largely visited, similar officers were named for Port Said and Ismailia on the isthmus. The duties of vice-consul at Alexandria had been performed from time to time under my predecessors by Mr. Victor Barthow, a gentleman exceedingly capable for the post. Although born in Egypt he was a citizen of the United States by virtue of the nationality of his father, a native born citizen and an officer in the navy. He was well acquainted with the languages current in Egypt, including Arabic, and had been useful to the government of Mehemet Ali in making translations, and in rendering other services at that critical period in the modern history of Egypt. The appointment of vice-consul at Alexandria (the term “vice-consul-general” had not then been invented) was conferred on him during my term of service, and afterwards he received the compliment of the appointment by the president to be consul at Cairo. Unfortunately this was little more than a compliment, as no emoluments beyond the receipt of a trifling amount of fees attach to that office. This was not very long before his death, which occurred in 1872.

The graves of Mr. Macauley and of Mr. Thayer in the Protestant cemetery at Alexandria are marked by appropriate monuments, and receive tender care and attention from the representatives of our government in the distant country where these consuls closed their lives in its service.

At the time of my service in Egypt, sixteen nations had consuls-general there. These nations, besides the United States, were the following: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain, and Sweden and Norway, the last two kingdoms counting together as a single power. The grade of all these officers in their consular service was “consul-general,” but some of them bore the full title of “agent and consul-general,” which is understood to imply at least a quasi-diplomatic rank. From some of the same countries were consuls also, either at Alexandria or Cairo, and in one or two instances at both of those places. For a short time there was a consulate-general of the “empire” of Mexico, held by a resident native who was understood to have received the appointment through the minister of Maximilian at Constantinople; but with that. administration, of course, the United States had nothing to do. On the formation of the North German Union, the agent and consul-general of Prussia received the same appointment under the new form of government in his country, and at the same time the consulate-general in Egypt which had previously been maintained by the Hanseatic towns was merged in the German consulate-general. It will be observed that with the exception of Persia the consulates represented Western powers, and with the further exception of Brazil and the United States, European powers.

There were frequent changes. France and Spain each had no less than four consuls-general whose service was contemporaneous with some part of my own. The number of colleagues whom I knew altogether was twenty-eight. Of those who retired, some were recalled to be decorated or otherwise distinguished for long-continued faithful service of their respective governments. These were the veterans. For instance, the British officer, Robert G. Colquhoun, had been appointed consul at Bucharest in 1834, and after having served at several intermediate posts was made agent and consul-general in Egypt in 1858; he retired in 1865, after more than thirty years of service, with a pension for the residue of his life, computed at half the salary received at the time of retirement, and was made a knight commander of the Bath, which gave him the title of “Sir Robert.” The pension was nine hundred pounds per annum, or more than the salary accorded for actual service to the representative of the United States of the same grade at the same post. Mr. Tastu, the French consul-general, on retiring was treated with similar liberality; he was decorated and was made minister en disponibilité that is, nominally liable to be called upon for service, meanwhile receiving a salary. The others on leaving Egypt were nearly all appointed to more difficult and highly prized posts of duty. The average term in Egypt of those whose acquaintance I made at the beginning or in the course of my own service was, in fact, less than three years; and considerably less, if the number of the resident merchants representing smaller powers be left out of the account. Notwithstanding our mischievous system of “rotation,” and the frequent changes it involves, it is because the consul’s term at the post to which he is sent is generally his whole service that it is to be regarded as brief; the consuls of other countries are not generally left as long even as four years in the same place. They are transferred, chiefly by way of promotion, from one post to another, until they can be retired with distinction to close their careers in private life. The same principle of frequent transfers is applied to the officers of lower grades. By the carefully arranged systems of the Continental nations the vice-consuls are divided into classes, with promotion from a lower to a higher, and are recruited from the young gentlemen who begin the career as elèves consuls, or consular pupils. Promotions from one grade to another and changes from one post to another are accordingly constantly going on, from which results a great variety in the acquaintanceships that are formed.

One of the matters which was occupying the attention of the consular body when I arrived in Egypt was the question, who was our doyen? In a strictly diplomatic circle at the capital of a nation, this position belongs to the senior in service of the highest grade represented at that place; except that at the courts of Roman Catholic countries the precedency is allowed to the representative of the Pope. This rule was declared by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 in these words: “Diplomatic agents shall take precedence in their respective classes according to the date of the official notification of their arrival. The present regulation shall not cause any innovation with regard to the representative of the Pope.” The United States, of course, were not parties to the Treaty of Vienna, but the Department of State has wisely prescribed the same rule, in order to avoid any inconvenience arising from differences with regard to a matter of no intrinsic consequence. The office of doyen does not imply the slightest authority over the members of the diplomatic or consular body in any place, and is chiefly significant as indicating which one of the number shall act as spokesman for the whole on ceremonial occasions. The rule of the Vienna congress, which has been cited, applies in terms only to diplomatic agents, but. the same principle of seniority is recognized by custom as establishing the precedency among consuls. The difficulty of applying the rule in Egypt arose from the circumstance that a part only of the consuls-general held the quasi-diplomatic title of “agent,” and while some without that title had precisely the same powers, and had been accredited with the same formalities, others were resident merchants qualified to exercise purely consular functions. It was generally admitted that there should be a distinction between these last and those who were envoyés from the countries they represented in the performance of their official duties, and that the office of doyen should be held by one of the latter. Under these circumstances, in accordance with an understanding arrived at by private conversation, in which the most amicable spirit was manifested on all sides, a meeting of the body was held at which two votes were passed without opposition: first, that in Egypt the office of doyen should be filled by vote; second, that the vote of the body on that occasion was for Mr. Testa, the consul-general of Sweden and Norway, the senior in years of the whole number, a veteran in official experience, and not without a long service in Egypt. When these votes were taken, one of our number good-naturedly remarked, “Nous avons fait prévaloir le principe américain.” This solution of the problem was acceptable, and was adhered to for several years, until Mr. Testa left Egypt. During the interval, the governments of such of the more important powers as had not previously done this took occasion to confer upon their representatives in Egypt the full title of agent and consul-general, so that it was easy afterwards to revert to the principle which prescribed that the office should be held by the senior in service of those having that title.

This conjunction of the title of agent with that of consul-general for the officer in Egypt was expressly sanctioned by Congress in 1864, and serves to mark one of the important differences between our service in that country and elsewhere. The post in Egypt is the only one so distinguished, and the functions which the incumbent is called upon to discharge are so various that it would be difficult to describe them in detail. Even as regards purely consular duties, it is to be remarked that the popular notion that a consul anywhere is chiefly concerned about ships and sailors is not correct. This is especially the case since the passage, in 1863, of an act by Congress, providing that all invoices of goods shipped to the United States from foreign countries must be presented in triplicate for authentication to a consular officer at the place of shipment. This is the place where the transportation of the goods to the United States in fact begins, not necessarily that where they are actually put on board ship, and the establishment of this system has had the effect to augment the importance as consulates of many inland places. But besides the ordinary consular duties of the position, a peculiar importance attaches to the office of consul-general in Egypt, arising from the character which the place possesses in common with other posts in Mohammedan or non-Christian countries, the treaties with which recognize the principle of “exterritoriality,” as it is called, as pertaining to the citizens or subjects of the Christian or Western powers residing therein. It was due to the recognition of this principle that no technical difficulties stood in the way of the surrender of John H. Surratt to the government of the United States, when he was found in Egypt. Congress has imposed judicial functions on the consuls of the United States in such countries by express enactments, the validity of which was always generally recognized, and has been recently upheld by a decision of the supreme court, so far as they fall within the terms of the treaties. Our treaties with the sublime porte have been interpreted as giving to the citizens of the United States residing within the Ottoman dominions, of which Egypt forms a part, the privileges enjoyed by the subjects of Christian nations under the ancient treaties of the sultans and caliphs with the principal European powers. By virtue of these “capitulations,” as they are called, the Frank residents in Egypt are suffered by the authorities of the country to enjoy an entire immunity from local laws and local tribunals, and are regarded as subject to the jurisdiction of their several consulates. It follows that it is of the utmost importance for every Frank who wishes the benefit of this privilege to register himself at his consulate, to acknowledge and accept its jurisdiction. He desires that the consulate should take notice of almost every act in his life: he goes there to be married and to record the births of his children; and, “after life’s fitful fever,” it is through the consulate that a permit is obtained for the burial of his body, and there his worldly estate must be settled. All formal communications between subjects of different nationalities are made by their respective consulates, and their intervention is invoked in many matters of ordinary business. The consuls have the powers of notaries public, and are constantly called upon to exercise them. The laws of most of the Continental nations of Europe prescribe a great number of formalities, attaching to the various relations of the life and work of every individual; these laws follow their people when they take up their residence in the East, and are administered through their consulates. The number of different officers known to the French civil codes, the duties of whom as regards subjects of that nation resident in Egypt devolve on the French consul-general, is as many as fifty or sixty, and the number of times that officer is called upon to sign his name officially is almost incredible. For the consular officers of the United States many perplexities were created by the importunities of persons asserting a right to the protection of the consulate to which, perhaps, they were not entitled, or by the claims of others to be subjects of its jurisdiction as citizens under evidence of naturalization obtained in some instances by fraudulent means. Such cases require very careful attention, that no wrong may be done.

The numbers of the several European colonies in Alexandria were generally estimated as follows: Greeks, fifteen thousand; Italians, nearly as many; French, ten thousand; British subjects, including Maltese, six thousand; and other nationalities smaller but considerable numbers, making fifty or sixty thousand in all. Some classes of this population, especially those of the baser sort, were of a fluctuating character. At Cairo, the permanent foreign residents amounted to five or six thousand altogether, and smaller numbers were scattered among others towns. During the construction of the Suez Canal, a considerable number of workmen of various European nationalities were employed there from time to time, but these disappeared with the completion of the undertaking.

The marked distinction between the Franks and the natives, and the exemption of the former from the jurisdiction of the local tribunals, gave an importance to the collective action of the consular body on a variety of subjects in which the Egyptian government sought their coöperation or counsel. The consuls-general were more than once assembled to consider a scheme for a municipal government of Alexandria, a thing which in itself was proper, and even almost necessary, but involving perplexing questions which always baffled solution. Here was a sea-port town with a population of one hundred and fifty thousand, more than a third of whom, including half of the well-to-do inhabitants, were independent of the local jurisdiction and paid no taxes whatever, except as duties were paid by the whole commerce of the country. It was urged with obvious force that it was not reasonable that the Egyptian government should bear the entire expense of paving the streets of Alexandria, lighting and sweeping them. The foreign residents generally expressed a willingness to be taxed for purely municipal purposes, provided they should be duly represented in whatever board of administration should be charged with collecting and disbursing the money. The plan was accepted in principle, but difficulties were always found in the way of carrying it into execution. In particular emergencies it was sometimes possible for the consular body to take special measures to preserve order and quiet among the European population, strengthening the hands of the local police by assenting to reasonable provisions for the public security, although technically in derogation of the principle assured by the capitulations. In these meetings of the consular body, the objects under consideration being of common interest, the representatives of the various nations met as equals, without reference to the number of the subjects of those nations composing the respective colonies.

Each of the consulates-general celebrates a national fete-day in the course of the year; for the United States this is, of course, the 4th of July; for Great Britain, the queen’s birthday, on the 24th of May; with the French, in the time of the empire, it was the 15th of August; with the Italians, the day of the “Statute,” or proclamation of the constitution, and so on. A few days beforehand, in each case, the consul-general sends about to his colleagues a paper stating that on such a day the flag of his country will be displayed at the consulate in honor of the occasion, briefly describing it; this is marked vu (seen) at the several consulates at which it is in turn presented, and it is a point of courtesy that their flags also shall be displayed on the same day. There thus recur fifteen or sixteen days in the course of the year when the flags of all the consulates at Alexandria are gayly waving in the wind, from this cause; besides which the Christian powers display them on Sundays throughout the year. On occasion of any national misfortune, as the death of President Lincoln, the flag is raised at half mast. Notice of such ceremony is also given to the other consulates, and it is reciprocated. It cannot be doubted that a favorable impression is made on the Oriental mind by this unity of action among the representatives of the Christian powers.

On the national fête-day, moreover, the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs, sometimes accompanied by one or more other state dignitaries, and generally by the governor of Alexandria, pays an official visit to the consul-general, and renews his felicitations on the continued maintenance of friendly relations and his good wishes for the health and happiness of the head of the foreign state. These visits were made to me on the 4th of July, and were never omitted during the term of my service in Egypt, not even in 1865, when the cholera at Alexandria was at its height. They happened inevitably at a season of intense heat; but on each occasion there was a grateful topic of conversation in the approach towards Cairo of the overflow of the Nile, of which the minister, by means of his telegraphic reports from the upper country, would be able to give exact tidings.

In the sea-port town of Damietta, the usage prevailed of an interchange of visits among the consular representatives of the foreign powers on their respective national fête-days. One of the principal inhabitants of that curious old town is Mr. Michel Surur, as warm-hearted and true a man as ever lived. He holds under the British government the office of vice-consul, to which he was appointed as long ago as 1828, being the senior member, with a single exception, in the numerous consular service of that country. When the queen’s birthday recurred, it was his custom, no doubt still maintained, to hoist the British flag on the top of his house, to don the uniform prescribed by the rules of the British service for a vice-consul, and to receive the ceremonious visit of his brother, vice-consul of the United States,1 of his nephew, vice-consul of the Hanseatic towns, and of another neighbor, the vice-consul of Russia. These guests were entertained with the dignity and courtesy due to the states which they represented, were served with pipes and coffee, and treated with every mark of genuine hospitality. But Mr. Surur’s loyalty was not satisfied with these three visits. It happened that besides being the vice-consul of Great Britain, he also held the same position under the governments of Prussia and of Spain. Believing that the number of visits made, of pipes smoked, and of cups of coffee imbibed in honor of the queen ought not to suffer reduction because he was a pluralist of three offices, he resorted to an ingenious expedient to protract the ceremonies of the day. After the visits already described, he would don the official costume authorized by the rules of the Prussian consular service, and, having caused the garments of his British uniform to be laid decorously in the chair he lately occupied in receiving visits, would again enter the room, this time as a guest, taking the opposite seat, where his servants would, bring him the pipe and coffee due in proper courtesy to a visiting colleague. After the lapse of an interval of time equal to that ordinarily required for a visit, necessarily spent in silence, he would retire; but would shortly return, this time dressed in uniform as Spanish vice-consul, to be again served with pipes and coffee as a guest in that capacity. A separate room in his spacious house was set apart as the state saloon for each of the powers he represented, ornamented with the appropriate national coat-of-arms richly carved, and accordingly the scene of this characteristic ceremony was varied each time that it recurred in respect of each of his three consular offices.

At Alexandria and Cairo the personal relations of the members of the consular body of all grades were most friendly, and the community of service was the basis of agreeable intercourse. About half of them had families, which were of course the nucleus of the Frank society in Egypt. The residue of this society was composed chiefly of European merchants and bankers, with a few lawyers, doctors, and clergymen. The American missionaries, with their families, teachers, and assistants from the home country, constituted an establishment of thirty or forty persons, but they were scattered in different parts of Egypt, and seldom assembled more than two or three. households in Alexandria or Cairo. In social matters, Cairo was the head-quarters during the winter months, and even the resident Alexandrians generally contrived to make one or more visits to the inland city at that season; but such absences did not check the current of friendly intercourse among the families remaining in Alexandria, and the Khedive’s balls, to which allusion was made in a previous paper, were given partly in one capital and partly in the other. The resident foreign circle, limited in number, comprised representatives of all European countries, besides many educated and agreeable persons who must be described as Levantines, that is, of families of European origin, but long established in the East. The French language was generally effective to solve the problem thrown upon the world at the building of the Tower of Babel, although Italian is perhaps more gene rally spoken in Egypt by natives who have learned only one European language; and a knowledge of English is becoming every day more usual. The cultivated Russians are masters of all tongues. Besides combining the differences of nationality and of language, the social circle united wide differences of religious faith. There were representatives of three Christian churches, the Greek, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant, while there were a number of Israelites equal to the average of either of the other confessions. When the ladies gave an entertainment for general charitable objects, the proceeds would be divided into four portions to meet this diversity. Yet in a society composed of elements thus various in every point of view, the utmost harmony prevailed, and the forms of politeness seemed natural rather than artificial.

The foreign residents brought with them the usages of their respective countries, but these have become in some degree assimilated and adapted to the local conditions. On receiving a visit, the Oriental custom prevails in almost all houses of offering some refreshment to the guest, generally a cup of coffee. The servants have the coffee-pot at hand, to be placed over the fire at the same moment that they are aroused to answer a summons to the door, so that they may bring the cup already filled into the saloon as soon as the guest has entered. At evening parties ices are several times served, with bonbons and petits gâteaux in profuse abundance. A heavy supper is considered less necessary; but when one is served, arrangements are made to seat the guests, the tables being several times renewed for this purpose. Whether at large or small parties there is a card-room for the gentlemen, in which there is smoking throughout the evening; for in an Oriental country the idea of enjoyment would scarcely attach, in the minds of the sterner sex, to time spent without that solace. The English adhere to their dinner customs throughout the world; but in the houses of others, full dress at dinner was not exacted, and less time was spent at the table, which the gentlemen quitted in company with the ladies at the conclusion of the repast. It is well known that Prince Albert, when he came to England as the consort of the queen, would have been glad to introduce there the Continental usage in these respects, but was advised that English habits were too confirmed to tolerate a change.

Social enjoyments hardly admit of particular description without trespassing the rules which rightly guard the privacy of personal friendships. The universal and overwhelming kindness with which I was received has left a deep impression on my mind, but, although sorely tempted, I refrain from touching upon any particular incidents. If I recall a single illustration of witty speech, it is because it illustrates a necessary characteristic of such life. A lady, on being questioned about the sort of marriage she would wish her daughter to make, replied with pleasantry: “She shall not have a soldier, because he is alive to-day and dead to-morrow; nor a consul, because he is here to-day and there tomorrow; nor a banker, because he is rich today and ruined tomorrow.” The drawback to the enjoyment of social life in Egypt is found in the many changes to which it is subject. The European residents, if possible, are absent from the country for a part of each year; my colleagues almost invariably obtained leave of absence at least once in every two years. It is not regarded as a good place in which to bring up a family. There is an impression that the children of European parents born in Egypt do not long survive, unless their residence in the country is frequently interrupted. Parents are thus constrained to leave the country from time to time, or to live there without their loved ones. The numerous partings caused by temporary absences may be cured by the pleasure of meeting again after the separation; but this cure does not admit of universal application. In very many cases the residence of foreigners in Egypt is temporary at best. The personnel of the consular service there, as has been shown, is constantly changing; while the merchants and professional men who establish themselves in the country either make their fortunes and go away to enjoy them elsewhere, or else they fail and go away to try life in another place. The travelers are always “birds of passage;” birds of passage, moreover, whose visits are seldom repeated. They generally do not remain in Egypt many weeks altogether, and their stay in Alexandria or Cairo in most cases does not exceed a few days. It is very pleasant to make the acquaintance of distinguished and agreeable people, but it is disappointing to lose them from sight soon afterwards. That under such circumstances a small number of European families, of varied nationalities and differing personal interests, keep up their spirits under a species of exile, and maintain with vigorous earnestness the forms of friendly intercourse, composing what is called society, is partly due, no doubt, to the favorable natural characteristics of the country, to its delicious winter climate, for instance, to its interesting historical associations, and to the unbounded hospitality of the Khedive, whose constant effort it is to make the life of strangers brighter and more interesting. But in large degree also it must be attributed to the special kindness of heart and generous sympathy of feeling which it is pleasant to believe are inherent in our common humanity, and which wherever Christians assemble manifest themselves in their social relations with each other.

  1. Mr. Joseph Surur, the brother here mentioned, died in 1869.