Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Jerusalem by Moonlight
By Lord Beaconsfield (18041881)
THE BROAD moon lingers on the summit of Mount Olivet, but its beam has long left the garden of Gethsemane and the tomb of Absalom, the waters of Kedron and the dark abyss of Jehoshaphat. Full falls its splendour, however, on the opposite city, vivid and defined in its silver blaze. A lofty wall, with turrets and towers and frequent gates, undulates with the unequal ground which it covers, as it encircles the lost capital of Jehovah. It is a city of hills, far more famous than those of Rome; for all Europe has heard of Sion and of Calvary, while the Arab and the Assyrian and the tribes and nations beyond are as ignorant of the Capitolian and Aventine mounts as they are of the Malvern or the Chiltern Hills.
The broad steep of Sion crowned with the tower of David; nearer still, Mount Moriah, with the gorgeous temple of the God of Abraham, but built alas! by the child of Hagar, and not by Sarahs chosen one; close to its cedars and its cypresses, its lofty spires and airy arches, the moonlight falls upon Bethesdas pool; farther on, entered by the gate of St Stephen, the eye, though tis the noon of night, traces with ease the Street of Grief, a long winding ascent to a vast cupolaed pile that now covers Calvary; called the Street of Grief, because there the most illustrious of the human, as well as of the Hebrew race, the descendant of King David, and the divine son of the most favoured of women, twice sank under that burden of suffering and shame, which is now throughout all Christendom the emblem of triumph and of honour; passing over groups and masses of houses built of stone, with terraced roofs, or surmounted with small domes, we reach the hill of Salem, where Melchisedek built his mystic citadel; and still remains the hill of Scopas, where Titus gazed upon Jerusalem on the eve of his final assault. Titus destroyed the temple. The religion of Judea has in turn subverted the fanes which were raised to his father and to himself in their imperial capital; and the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob is now worshipped before every altar in Rome.
Jerusalem by moonlight! Tis a fine spectacle, apart from all its indissoluble associations of awe and beauty. The mitigating hour softens the austerity of a mountain landscape, magnificent in outline, however harsh and severe in detail; and while it retains all its sublimity, removes much of the savage sternness of the strange and unrivalled scene. A fortified city, almost surrounded by ravines, and rising in the centre of chains of far-spreading hills, occasionally offering, through their rocky glens, the gleams of a distant and richer land.
The moon has sunk behind the Mount of Olives, and the stars in the darker sky shine doubly bright over the sacred city. The all-pervading stillness is broken by a breeze that seems to have travelled over the plain of Sharon from the sea. It wails among the tombs, and sighs among the cypress groves. The palm-tree trembles as it passes, as if it were a spirit of woe. Is it the breeze that has travelled over the plain of Sharon from the sea?
Or is it the haunting voice of prophets mourning over the city that they could not save? their spirits surely would linger on the land where their Creator had deigned to dwell, and over whose impending fate Omnipotence had shed human tears. From this mount! Who can but believe that, at the midnight hour, from the summit of the Ascension, the great departed of Israel assemble to gaze upon the battlements of their mystic city. There might be counted heroes and sages who need shrink from no rivalry with the brightest and wisest of other lands; but the lawgiver of the time of the Pharoahs, whose laws are still obeyed; the monarch whose reign has ceased for three thousand years, but whose wisdom is a proverb in all nations of the earth; the teacher whose doctrines have modelled civilised Europe, the greatest of legislators, the greatest of administrators, and the greatest of reformers; what race, extinct or living, can produce three such men as these?
The last light is extinguished in the village of Bethany. The wailing breeze has become a moaning wind, a white film spreads over the purple sky, the stars are veiled, the stars are hid; all becomes as dark as the waters of Kedron and the valley of Jehoshaphat. The tower of David merges into obscurity, no longer glitter the minarets of the mosque of Omar, Bethesdas angelic waters, the gate of Stephen, the street of sacred sorrow, the hill of Salem, and the heights of Scopas can no longer be discerned. Alone in the increasing darkness, while the very line of the walls gradually eludes the eye, the church of the Holy Sepulchre is a beacon light.