Revering the dead and camping on their graves, elaborating exquisite monuments only to abandon and defile them, venerating scholarship and wisdom and living in ignorance and grossness, these gifted races, perpetually struggling to reach some higher level of culture from which they have always been swept down by a fresh wave of barbarism, are still only a people in the making.
It may be that the political stability which France is helping them to acquire will at last give their higher qualities time for fruition; and when one looks at the mausoleum of Marrakech and the Medersas of Fez one feels that, were the experiment made on artistic grounds alone, it would yet be well worth making.
HAREMS AND CEREMONIES
THE CROWD IN THE STREET
To occidental travellers the most vivid impression produced by a first contact with the Near East is the surprise of being in a country where the human element increases instead of diminishing the delight of the eye.
After all, then, the intimate harmony between nature and architecture and the human body that is revealed in Greek art was not an artist’s counsel of perfection but an honest rendering of reality: there were, there still are, privileged scenes where the fall of a green-grocer’s draperies or a milkman’s cloak or a beggar’s rags are part of the composition, distinctly related to it in line and colour, and where the natural unstudied attitudes of the human body are correspondingly harmonious, however humdrum the acts it is engaged in. The discovery, to the traveller returning from the East, robs the most romantic scenes of western Europe of half their charm: in the Piazza of San Marco, in the market-place of Siena, where at least the robes of the Procurators or the gay tights of Pinturicchio’s striplings once justified man’s presence among his works, one can see, at first, only the outrage inflicted on beauty by the “plentiful strutting manikins” of the modern world.
Moroccan crowds are always a feast to the eye. The instinct of skilful drapery, the sense of colour (subdued by custom, but breaking out in subtle glimpses under the universal ashy tints) make the humblest assemblage of donkey-men and water-carriers an ever-renewed delight. But it is only on rare occasions, and in the court ceremonies to which so few foreigners have had access, that the hidden sumptuousness of the native life is revealed. Even then, the term sumptuousness may seem ill-chosen, since the nomadic nature of African life persists in spite of palaces and chamberlains and all the elaborate ritual of the Makhzen, and the most pompous rites are likely to end in a dusty gallop of wild tribesmen, and the most princely processions to tail off in a string of half-naked urchins riding bareback on donkeys.
As in all Oriental countries, the contact between prince and beggar, vizier and serf is disconcertingly free and familiar, and one must see the highest court officials kissing the hem of the Sultan’s robe, and hear authentic tales of slaves given by one merchant to another at the end of a convivial evening, to be reminded that nothing is as democratic in appearance as a society of which the whole structure hangs on the whim of one man.