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Having well-nigh, if not quite, attained the age of an old bachelor, he had bethought himself of matrimony; and, casting about for a wife, had fixed his choice upon a certain damsel whose good looks and good qualities he had taken upon trust. The negotiations between the parents and himself (for it is not customary to attach much weight to the young lady's choice in such matters) had proved mutually satisfactory. The happy man was now on his way to Athens for the first time to find his betrothed, of whose personal appearance, except by means of a portrait and descriptions, he knew about as much as I did. The lady in question was also a native of Scio, whose children rarely marry into families of foreign extraction.
Our courier had provided a carriage, one of the best the place could boast of, and we jumped in; the Greek official touched his cap, and we rattled off through the streets of Piræus. We noticed, in passing, that the streets along the wharves were well paved, and all the thoroughfares laid out with strict regard to symmetry and a regular plan. The better class of houses, too, were built of stone, neatly stuccoed. It was not long ere we emerged from the town, and entered upon the road which leads in a nearly direct line to Athens, a distance of about five miles. Nothing was requisite to beguile our attention as we rode toward “the city,” as the Athenian of the olden time was wont to style it by pre-eminence. We sat watching with no common emotion the various objects that successively presented themselves to the eye. the first time I began to realize that I was at length in Greece, and that the curtain was soon to rise upon the scene of so many triumphs of art and eloquence. As we issued from the streets of Piræus, the heights back of the town intercepted the whole prospect; but presently the plain of Athens unfolded itself before us in all its loveliness. On the right, but a few hundred yards distant, was the bay of Phalerum, running parallel to the road, and afterward making a gradual bend where the sea is nearest to Athens. Beyond it stretched the long ridge of Mount Hymettus, barren of trees and uncultivated. To the left, in the distance, rose the more pointed summit of Pentelicus, whose marble rock, exposed by the quarryings
weighed down under the heavy load of the dark-blue clusters. of past centuries, reflected the rays of the sun like new-fallen
Then came Mount Parnes, and a chain of lower hills running down from it to the sea-shore opposite the Straits of Salamis, whose rugged isle, cleft with many a deep ravine, terminated the panorama. In the midst of the plain could be descried, far on before us, the city of Athens itself, or rather a portion of it; for the greater part lay concealed behind the Acropolis, on whose summit could barely be distinguished the columns of the Parthenon, so discolored by time as to have assumed a sober autumnal tint.
For two or three miles the dusty road along which we drove has been built on the foundations of one of the “ Long Walls” connecting Athens with its port. Adjoining it is a low, marshy meadow, in the middle of which stands a lonely monument, small and plain, marking the grave of Kariskakis, who fell here in a conflict with the Turks during the Revolution. The ground about it is strewn with the bones of his brave comrades, and ever and anon, as the plough or some accident reveals to the sight a skull or a solitary bone, the peasant adds it to the heap which has accumulated within a neighboring inclosure, where the remains of so many heroes lie bleaching in the sun.
Passing this spot, the road crossed the scanty bed of the Cephissus, and entered the olive-grove which clothes either bank of the river with its dark-green foliage. The trunks of the olive-trees were thick, and occasionally assumed fantastic shapes like the willows that grow in some parts of Switzerland. Emerging from the grove, which only flourishes where the trees can be constantly supplied with water, we came to vineyards, each surrounded with its low wall of sun-dried clay, and protected from the effects of sunshine and rain by a sort of thatch of straw or brush. The vines, like all surrounding vegetation, had a dry and dusty aspect. Not a green patch of grass was any where to be seen. The distant fields were brown, as if parched by the prevailing heat; for since April or May no rain had fallen, with the exception, perhaps, of one or two transient showers. The vines were kept trimmed within a short distance of the ground, and the branches were
The vintage had begun some weeks previous, but was not yet half over.
At length, winding about the base of the hill of the Observatory, we found ourselves at the very portal of Athens. The various objects that struck the eye were already familiar to me through descriptions and delineations. The Greek merchant was astonished to see a stranger from the New World pointing out with readiness the ruins which he had never before surveyed. The Parthenon, with its brown columns towering above the town on the lofty Acropolis, was not to be mistaken. The Pnyx, witness to the eloquence of Demosthenes, and the Hill of Mars, where St. Paul addressed the men of ancient Athens, were both on the right; while the Temple of Theseus, the oldest, yet the best preserved monument of Greece, stood but a few steps from the entrance to the modern town.
I had been much interested in speculating upon the probable aspect of the modern town, and the condition of its inhabitants. From the desponding accounts of former travelers, I had formed rather low conceptions of Greek civilization and intelligence. The descriptions of the people, their appearance and manners, had left me in doubt whether they were not to be classed among semi-barbarous nations of the earth. Yet there lurked a secret hope that I might find that some prejudice had inclined those travelers to look with too little sympathy upon the struggles of a nation shaking off the chains of twenty centuries of servitude. Their foibles, I imagined, ought to be viewed rather with the eye of a Democritus than with that of an Heraclitus. Whether my anticipations were correct or not will be gathered from the sequel. I, at least, looked with delight upon every symptom of refinement, and congratulated myself upon the prospect of comfort in my future sojourn.
We had arrived on Sunday. The day being universally kept rather as a period of recreation than as one sacred to religious purposes, the streets were thronged with people engaged either in promenading or in visiting their friends. Their striking costumes, so different from any thing to be seen in western cities, gave peculiar animation to the scene. A characteristic, however, which could not but force itself on the observation, was the fact that so few well-dressed women were to be seen in the crowd; and on closer investigation I learned that they were never allowed to walk out alone or unaccompanied by husband or father. Such is still the strength of Eastern habits and notions of propriety, notwithstanding the increased communication with the rest of Europe.
We drove through a number of winding streets to the Hotel d'Orient, an old and inelegant edifice fronting on a neglected square in the immediate vicinity of the Royal Mint. The building had formerly served as the palace of the young King Otho, on occasion of his first coming to Greece; and I was, I am credibly informed, so fortunate as to occupy his majesty's bedchamber, in which I spent my first night at Athens. The only other lodgers at the hotel were a couple of Irishmen, with whom my Sciote companion and I partook gayly of a good dinner at the table d'hôte, ending off with a dessert of delicious grapes and figs, and a taste of the famous Hymettus honey. The younger Irishman was the correspondent of a London journal, but stood in daily expectation of a post under the Greek government. He considered himself secure of a professorship of English in the royal gymnasium of Patras, to which he conceived himself entitled by reason of services rendered during the late difficulties between Great Britain and this country. His rather unpatriotic effusions in defence of the Greek ministry attracted considerable notice at the time of their publication in England.
THE hours were too fashionable at the Hotel d'Orient. I was impatient to sally forth; but breakfast could not be served before nine o'clock. Instead, therefore, of undertaking to explore the labyrinth of alleys we had passed through the night before, I received from my good friend the Sciote a parting lesson in pronunciation, with which I graduated from his school. Fortified with a good meal and a store of Greek phrases, I set out to find the individuals for whom I brought letters of introduction. I had too little confidence in my own proficiency to trust myself alone, and mine host committed me to a guide, who should conduct me first to the house of Dr. King. Avoiding the principal thoroughfares, he led me by the nearest route, which happened to be through a maze of crooked lanes branching off at every possible angle. Their average breadth could scarcely exceed twenty feet, and they were often lined with blank walls, or houses without a single window opening on the street. More frequently the heavy iron bars with which the latter were provided conveyed the impression that the inmates lived in hourly apprehension of a burglar's attack. We issued from one of these alleys into a wider street, paved with