The Thistle and the Cedar of Lebanon

Aug 17, 2012 by

The Thistle and the Cedar of Lebanon by Habeeb Risk Allah Effendi was originally published in 1854.

To give you a feel for this fascinating book, here are a few paragraphs from chapter 1,  SCENES OF EARLY CHILDHOOD:  “My earliest recollections are associated with the lovely and rural village of Sliuayfat, my birth place, on the Lebanon and where, if not the happiest, certainly the most innocent years of my childhood were passed. My late father had no fixed residence at that place, but he, with the rest of his family, usually resorted there to spend the summer months and part of the autumn and spring. In winter the cold became intense, owing to the elevated position of the village ; consequently most of its inhabitants and summer visitors, including amongst these latter my own family, invariably wintered at Beyrout. My uncle. Sheikh Faris Biridi, filled the important and respected post of katib, or secretary to the Emir Beshir Shahab, the late prince of Lebanon, who resided at the village of Deyr-al Kamar, situated a few hours’ journey from Shuay-fat.
At least three times a week my uncle’s duties compelled him to visit the Emir. Sheikh Faris was universally respected amongst the villagers ; his house was the best his grounds the most extensive, and he himself in reality, an intelligent and well-informed man. For a Syrian, he was deeply read and well skilled in the use of his pen ; but above all he was an earnest and devout Christian, a kind father, and a good friend virtues which gained for him the esteem and love of all the neighbouring villagers, as well Moslems and Druses as the Christians. Under the favourable auspices of this kind man’s tuition, I first learned to read and write my native tongue; and, as I was afterwards informed, even at that early age, gave cheering proofs of an active mind, and evinced an aptitude and love for the acquirement of knowledge. I could not possibly have had a better guide, both as regards precept and example. So long as I remained under his hospitable roof, his great and chief care was to richly stock my young mind with doctrines well adapted to promote the welfare of the soul in after years on all important business. His household arrangements were an example for others. He was an early riser himself, and insisted on all his household following this healthful practice : his maxim was that sleep was for the dark hours of the night work and recreation for the light prayers and thanksgivings for all seasons.
My uncle was accustomed when at home to repair every morning, during the spring and summer seasons, to the top of a neighbouring hill, which commanded a view over an extensive range of country. On these occasions it was my wont to accompany him. A servant preceded us carrying a small carpet and a cushion or two; I carried my uncle’s pipe and tobacco-pouch with flint, steel, and tinder, in one hand; in the other, the Kitab Mukaddas, or Arabic Bible, printed in England, by the Church Missionary Society. As soon as my uncle had seated himself, and assumed his pipe, he would make me sit at his feet and read out to him from the good Book, illustrating and commenting as opportunity occurred. The hundred and fourth Psalm, than which none could be better suited to the time and place, was usually his favourite. From our elevated position, we could command a view, not only of our own dearly cherished and beautiful hamlet, but also of many of the surrounding villages. At our feet lay Shuay-fat, with its neat little cottages and cleanly swept court-yards, surrounded by a dense little forest of mulberries, oranges, lemons, apricots, olives, countless vines, and many other fruits; the dark leaves of an occasional poplar lending variety to the beauty and shading of the foliage. Not a man, woman, or child, moved to and fro in the narrow little streets, but their names and occupations were well known to us. The dogs wagged their tails in happy recognition of my shrill sharp whistle, and a thousand echoes caught up the signal.
The verdant hills and valleys that surrounded us were thickly dotted with cattle and sheep contentedly browsing upon the rich pasturage. Peeping over the densely wooded plantations, the tops of the little white washed houses pointed out the locality of some well known village. Clear streams of water sparkling in the glowing sunlight, often intersected the plains and valleys, or rushed headlong down the steep sides of some deep dell, abounding with wild flowers and myrtle bushes. Far below, where the distant fields in square patches of variegated hues, green bespangled with blue and crimson flowers ; sometimes covered, like a sheet of pure gold, with countless buttercups, and sometimes in uncultivated patches of sombre brown; but what I most dearly loved to gaze at was the broad blue sea in the distance, looking so pleasantly cool and calm, with here and there a patch of deeper blue, where the breeze sportively ruffled the waves.”

 

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