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us through the intricacies of primeval history, CHAP. reveal afresh the hopes and fears which then were struggling in the human bosom, and resolve for us, it may be, many an arduous problem which concerns the origin, the early wanderings, and the final destiny of man.
Nor can we say that expectations of this kind Actual dishave been entirely disappointed. Very large accessions to our knowledge of the ancient East have flowed, and are still flowing, from investigations of the learned Egyptologer. As we gaze for instance on the long array of monumental paintings in our great Museums; as we listen to interpretations of the hieroglyphic texts by which those paintings are accompanied; the daily life of men who were perhaps contemporary with Moses has again been vividly depicted on the dullest imagination. We behold as well the toils, the sufferings, and the pastimes of the many, as the power and luxury of the few. The peasant labours at the plough or tends his cattle, while the lordly owner of the soil is near him in a two-horsed chariot. The goldsmith and the scribe, the potter and the glassblower, the boat-builder, the weaver, and the dyer, each is occupied in his appropriate calling. Here we see a group of idlers watching the caprices of a game of ball, or listening in the midst of flowers and perfumes to the music of the seven stringed harp: while there a countless multitude are shaping the materials of some stately edifice, or pressing a beleaguered town, or marching home victorious with a lengthened train of captives.
It seems to be confessed, however, by the great Small majority of Egyptologers, that notwithstanding the rendered to
CHAP. number and minuteness of these revelations, our
I. familiarity with monuments of ancient Egypt has the theolo- contributed in no proportionate degree to our ac
Scope and spirit of the
present in quiry.
quaintance with the inner being of the people. The manners of the Old Egyptian we may thoroughly appreciate: his mental and moral life is still obscurely apprehended. Means are now at hand for studying the grotesque configuration of his gods, and tracing out the smallest details in his pompous ritual; yet the thoughts which underlay those symbols, and found utterance in those sacrifices1, must be learned, if ever, from a different source and by a different process.
If I venture, therefore, on a fresh discussion of such problems, it is not from any wish to speak with confidence where confidence is really unattainable. I do not purpose to invade the province. of the Egyptologer whose main conclusions are no longer open to dispute; but rather, taking those conclusions for a guide, wherever they are held in common by the learned in each special study, my aim will be to estimate the leading characteristics of Egyptian heathenism, as one of many forms in which the moral wants and instincts of our nature found expression during the first ages of the world. In doing this, however, exception will be freely taken to the crude and arbitrary theories of some modern writers, who, not content with 'reconstruct
1 'When we endeavour to penetrate into the conceptions which this splendid ritual expressed, we encounterinsuperable difficulties:' Kenrick, I. 349: cf. I. 437.
2 That English critics are not alone in their misgivings with respect to
some of Baron Bunsen's generalisations may be gathered from an extract like the following. The author, Dr Max Uhlemann, is also an Egyptologer of no mean reputation (Aegyptisch. Alterthumskunde, III. 12, Leipzig, 1858) 'Bunsen's Untersuchungen
ing' almost every text which militates against their CHAP. favourite dream of a society 'existing many thousand years before the date usually assigned to the Creation,' are further bent on sacrificing to a spirit of conjectural criticism the highest of all Christian teachings and the best convictions of the human heart.
The great antiquity which is now commonly at- Was Egyptributed to Egyptian culture has in several cases been sation alconnected with the thought, that in the Valley of ways the the Nile, the prominent forms of social and religious life had been completely stereotyped at once, and so distinguished in all future ages by an air of absolute immobility.
case of In
Now the same conclusion, we must bear in mind, Parallel was formerly adopted with respect to India and dia and the regions of the Further East. So meagre was our knowledge of the subject, when presented to us by the earliest race of Oriental scholars, that the Védas and Puránas, for example, were regarded as not only products of the same age, but also as reflecting the same modes of thought, the same archaic aspects of Hindú society. There, however, the unanimous verdict of a riper criticism, while fatal to pretensions of unfathomable antiquity, has certified us that the national spirit both of India
sind unbezweifelt und unbestritten ein geistreiches Werk, ... aber in der Chronologie enthalten auch sie, wie die aller übrigen Forscher, nur Muthmaassungen und unerweisbare Annahmen, die jedoch durch die Zuversichtlichkeit, mit der sie auftreten, dem unaufmerksamen Leser als unzweifelhaft erscheinen dürften, da
durch Zahlenveränderungen, durch
CHAP. and of China had been subject, in the lapse of ages, to extensive fluctuations1.
Mobility of Egyptian art, language, and religion.
And a like remark is equally true of Egypt, even while she bowed beneath the sceptre of the Pharaohs. Her supposed exemption from the law of human mutability is vanishing with every fresh accession to our knowledge. The minute inspection and decyphering of her monumental archives have disclosed to us a series of important transformations, have established the existence of successive strata of development, and thus contributed to make us conscious of distinctive epochs in the life-time of the whole community. It may be, indeed, that all the principal characteristics of Egyptian culture, had, as in the case of China, been projected with so much rapidity at first, that we can never hope to understand the origin and real infancy of the people3. It may further be contended, that the nationality of Egypt, or the genius which distinguished her from African and Asiatic neighbours, was 'very much the same' in earlier and in later times. All statements of this kind if not unduly pressed convey a large
amount of truth; they serve to represent the gene- CHAP. ral fixity of corporate as of personal idiosyncrasies; and yet we can no longer doubt that after Egypt had begun to print her records on the pyramids of Ghizeh and Sakkarah, she passed through numerous and important changes,-changes which affected not only her political institutions, but the character of art, of language, of religion.
The second province, that of language, where The chasome modifying agency had been at work, I leave art at diffor the discussion of the competent Egyptologer'. riods. ferent peThe third will come more properly before us at a future stage of our inquiry; but the point relating to the gradual changes in the quality of Egyptian art it is expedient to consider now, because the epochs thus obtained are thought by some who are most-eminently learned in such matters, to agree with main divisions of Egyptian history in the Pharaonic era.
It is commonly admitted that the finest speci- Early mens of Egyptian art2 are those which have the period. fairest claims to be regarded as the oldest,—those which fall within the period of the 'first twelve dynasties.' The bloom of youth is ever traceable on the productions of the early race of artists; all the statues and bas-reliefs are executed with surprising truthfulness and vigour; and although we must allow that both in purity and finish several
1 See the Revue des Deux Mondes, as above, pp. 1055 sq. on the recent labours of M. de Rougé in this special province.
2 See The British Museum (Egyptian Antiquities), two volumes in the 'Library of Entertaining Knowledge.' Mr Osburn, Monumental History of
Egypt, I. 260 sq. (Lond. 1854), in-