Clara Reeve, from The History of Charoba, Queen of Ægypt

[Click on image to enlarge] Clara Reeve (1729–1807) is the author of The Old English Baron (1777), a highly successful Gothic novel that made a point of domesticating and modernizing the medieval setting, characters, and machinery of Walpole's Castle of Otranto. She published several subsequent novels and a single important piece of criticism, a dialogue on, as the title page has it, The Progress of Romance, through Times, Countries, and Manners; with Remarks on the Good and Bad Effects of It, on Them Respectively (1785). A question posed in this last ("by a learned writer, whose friendship does me honour") is whether Reeve has ever seen an Egyptian romance, and she responds by including, as "proof" that she has, a separately titled History of Charoba, Queen of Ægypt, which constitutes the final thirty pages of Progress.

Present-day scholars disagree concerning both Reeve's source(s) and her originality in The History of Charoba. In the preface to Progress, Reeve says that she "extracted" the story "from a book called — The History of Ancient Ægypt, according to the Traditions of the Arabians. — Written in Arabic, by the Reverend Doctor Murtadi . . . Translated into French by M. Vattier, Arabic Professor to Louis 14th King of France." Vattier's French was translated into English by John Davies as The Egyptian History (1672). Reeve may have worked from both the French and the English versions, but the steady superiority of Charoba in her conflict with the invading commander King Gebirus and the strongly feminist ideas of the conclusion of the story (given here) are decidedly modern in character.

This work was the acknowledged source of W. S. Landor's Gebir (1798), which is also represented on this Web site. Reeve's and Landor's treatments of the same materials provide interesting contrasts in theme, style, and sexual politics, as well as politics more generally (Landor's account begins, in the words of his Argument, with passages "Against colonization in peopled countries. All nature dissuades from whatever is hostile to equality").


* * *

After the city was finished, Gebirus sent some of his chief men, with the tidings to Charoba; and invited her to come and see it. — She was almost overwhelmed with grief and apprehension, that she should now be compelled to marry: — but her nurse comforted her with these words. — "Do not yet despair, my royal mistress! — give not yourself further trouble concerning this audacious man. — Leave him to me, and I will shortly put it out of his power to give you any further concern, or to do you mischief."

She returned with the messengers to Gebirus, and carried with her fine tapestry of great value, as a present from her mistress. — "Let this be put over the seat on which the King sitteth," said she, "then let him divide his people into three parties, and send them forward to meet the Queen, who will give them such treatment as they deserve. When the first party shall be about a third part of the way, you shall send away the second; and when the second are got to their station, you shall send away the third: — thus they shall be dispersed about the country for the Queen's safety, and she shall have no cause to fear the designs of her enemies, — she will be attended by the King's servants only, and when they return she will come with them."

So Gebirus sent away his servants, according to her instructions, and she continued sending him rich presents every day, till such time as she knew that the first party were arrived at their station.

Then by her orders there were tables set before them covered with refreshments of all kinds; but they were all poisoned meats. — And while they sat down to eat, the Queen's men and maid-servants stood all around them, with umbrellas and fans to keep them cool; — also their liquors were cooled. So while they sat at the tables they all died from the first to the last. — Then the Queen's servants went forwards to meet the second party, which they treated in the same manner. — Then they removed to the third party, and served them as they had done the others. — So the Queen's servants went forward; and a part of the Queen's army followed them, and they buried all the dead bodies.

Then the Queen, sent a message to the King, that she had left his army in and about her own city of Masar, and that she was coming to meet him speedily. — So she set forward with many attendants, and her nurse met her, and accompanied her to the city of the King.

When she drew near the palace, the King rose up, and went forward to meet her. Then the nurse threw over his shoulders a regal garment, which was poisoned, and which she had prepared for that purpose; afterwards she blew a fume into his face, which almost deprived him of his senses; — then she sprinkled him with a water that loosened all his joints, and deprived him of his strength; so that he fell down in a swoon at the feet of Charoba. — The attendants raised him up and seated him in a chair of state, and the nurse said unto him — "Is the King well to night?" — He replied, — "A mischief on your coming hither! — may you be treated by others as you have treated me! — this only grieves me, that a man of strength and valour should be overcome by the subtilty of a woman." — "Is there any thing you would ask of me before you taste of death?" said the Queen — "I would only intreat," said he, "that the words I shall utter, may be engraven on one of the pillars of this palace which I have builded."

Then said Charoba, "I give thee my promise that it shall be done; and I also will cause to be engraven on another pillar — 'This is the fate of such men as would compel Queens to marry them, and kingdoms to receive them for their Kings.' — Tell us now thy last words."

Then the King said — "I Gebirus, the Metaphequian, the son of Gevirus, that have caused marbles to be polished, — both the red and the green stone to be wrought curiously; who was possessed of gold, and jewels, and various treasures; who have raised armies; built cities; erected palaces; — who have cut my way through mountains; have stopped rivers; and done many great and wonderful actions; — with all this my power, and my strength, and my valour, and my riches: I have been circumvented by the wiles of a woman; weak, impotent, and deceitful; who hath deprived me of my strength and understanding; and finally hath taken away my life: — Wherefore, whoever is desirous to be great and to prosper; (though there is no certainty of long success in this world,) — yet, let him put no trust in a woman; but let him, at all times, beware of the craft and subtilty of a woman."

After saying these words, he fainted away, and they supposed him dead; but after some time he revived again. — Charoba comforted him, and renewed her promise to him. — Being at the point of death, he said, — "Oh Charoba! — triumph not in my death! — for there shall come upon thee a day like unto this, and the time is not very far distant. — Then shalt thou reflect on the vicissitudes of fortune, and the certainty of death."

Soon after this he expired. — Charoba ordered his body to be honorably interred in the city which he had builded. — Afterwards, she built an high tower in the same city; and caused to be engraven upon it her own name, and that of Gebirus: and an history of all that she had done unto him, and also those his last words. — So her fame went forth, and came to the ears of many Kings, and they feared and respected her. And she received many offers of friendship and alliance; but Charoba remained a virgin to the end of her life.

Now it happened about three years after the death of Gebirus, that Charoba having embarked on board a small vessel, in which she was wont to take her pleasure upon the Nile by moon-light; went on shore with some of her attendants.

As they were returning to the ship, with great mirth and jollity, it so happened that the Queen trod upon a serpent; which turned again, and stung her in the heel; the pain whereof, took away her sight. — Her women comforted her, — saying, it would be nothing. — "You are deceived," said she. — "The day is come with which Gebirus threatened me: — a day which all the great ones of the earth must meet and submit to. — Carry me home immediately, that I may die there."

The day following Charoba died; — having first appointed Dalica, her kinswoman, to succeed her. — She was the daughter of that kinsman, whom Charoba preserved from the cruelty of her father Totis.

So died Charoba, Queen of Ægypt; but her name died not with her, for it remaineth, and is honoured unto this day.

Queen Dalica was endowed with beauty and wisdom. — She followed the example of her predecessor, and governed her kingdom with great prudence. — She did many great works in Ægypt, — and caused many castles to be erected on the frontiers of the kingdom, to repel her enemies on whatever side they should be attacked. She caused the body of Charoba to be embalmed with camphire and spices; and it was carried into the city of Gebirus: for Charoba had caused her tomb to be prepared there in her lifetime, and embellished it with regal ornaments, and appointed priests to attend on it.

Queen Dalica solemnized the funeral of Charoba with great magnificence. She made her subjects rich and happy by her wise government; and, after reigning seventy years in Ægypt, died also a virgin, and was succeeded by her sister's son, Ablinos, whose posterity wore the crown of Ægypt for many generations.


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