Obrazy na stronie

him. Israel gasps in his last agonies ; yet not to die, but to struggle and to moan—a living death. Truly " he hath not dealt so with any other nation.”

In the same locality we may likewise often trace this consistency of administration at all times. In no country more remarkably than in the one whose history blends with that of Israel throughout so long a period ;-Egypt, to which Abram went down immediately after his call from Ur of the Chaldees, and whence God long afterwards called his son. Throughout the wide interval that separates these two events, the histories of Israel and Egypt run parallel. Egypt, according to our quotation, was the land of wonders from the first. Egypt is also the land of wonders to this day; and the stranger who now visits the valley of the Nile will have to acknowledge, that in “his sight," as well as in that of the fathers of old, God “does marvellous things in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.”

Egypt is situated on the driest zone of the world, on both sides the equator. It is just to the northward of the tropical rains. They never extend beyond the Astaboras and the southern limits of Upper Nubia. On its other border, the more uncertain mutations of the weather which fertilize the temperate zone, die away on the coast of Egypt. It is only in the depth of winter, that the clouds which career over the stormy Mediterranean, reach her

coasts, and sometimes discharge their rains at Alexandria or Rosetta. With this exception, rain is a phenomenon in Egypt, contributing in no appreciable degree to her fertility, and forming no element whatever in the calculations of the husbandman. Egypt is, moreover, very near the centre of by far the driest portion of the whole surface of the earth. The arid, unproductive sand-plains of the Sahara, commence at her western border, and stretch away from thence to the westward, for more than 4000 miles to the Atlantic. To the eastward are the sunbleached, sterile mountains of the eastern desert, of the Sinaitic peninsula, and of Arabia Petræa; and beyond them, the salt, dusty, dry tracts of Persia and Beloochistan, for at least an equal distance; so that Egypt is a narrow strip of fertility, reclaimed in the midst of 8000 miles of desert by the waters of a vast tropical river. The rest of the earth's surface presents no parallel to this.

The phenomena strictly peculiar to Egypt arise out of these circumstances.

The annual overflow of the Nile is the result of the tropical rains on the mountains of Abyssinia and South Ethiopia. It first appears at Memphis, about the summer solstice. It reaches its height about the autumnal equinox. It has entirely subsided at the winter solstice. The diffusion of this fertile flood, over the arid surface of the desert, requires the

mind and the labour of man to an extent unknown in any other country. The digging of canals, of overflow and recession, the close observation of the right moment when the waters are to be admitted through the flood-gates, and when, the flood-gates being closed, the sluices which allow them to return to the bed of the river must be opened, are niceties upon which the success of the husbandman entirely depends, and which keep both his mental and bodily faculties in constant exercise. A day's mistake in either, is fatal to his hopes. Then, by means of irrigation during the low Nile, the fertile loam of Egypt will produce yet another crop: and the governors of Egypt have never been slow or gentle in their exactions from the wretched slaves that till the soil; so that the creak of the water-wheel and of the shadoof, or balance-bucket, never ceases. And “the land of Egypt is still the house of bondage to the human race.

One other peculiarity of Egypt will also require some notice. The extreme dryness of the atmosphere tends to the preservation of all remains of ancient constructions and of every other monument of human labour, to an extent without example in any other country. From the granite of Syene, down to the coat of Nile mud, stuccoed, and inscribed with hieroglyphics in colours, nothing appears to have undergone any change from atmospheric causes since the day it was finished. Bread, fruit, flowers, bakemeats, corn, seeds, linen in quantities incredible, wooden figures of most delicate execution are found in the tombs of Egypt, as little changed by the 4000 years wherein they have lain there, as the gems in the metal rings that accompany them. From the first king that sat upon the throne of Egypt, down to Caracalla and Septimius Severus the Roman emperors, whatever memorial the hand of man has spared, the tooth of time has in no degree injured.

In addition to the preservation of the monuments of Egypt, their number also far surpasses those of any other ancient nation. Every city, town and village, of ancient Egypt, had its temple and its cemetery. There was not a pillar or a stone in the temple which was not covered with reliefs and inscriptions. There was not a tomb, or sarcophagus, or mummy-case in the cemetery which was not similarly decorated. All these inscriptions were, in a sense, historical. Those on the temples related the exploits in war, or the acts of devotion in peace, of the king who had constructed them. On the remains in the tombs are inscribed the names of the deceased persons whose property they had been, and whose mummies were deposited in them ;-80 that in a sense, there is scarcely a monument of ancient Egypt that does not throw light upon her history, and from the days she first became a kingdom until now, it would be hard to say that any one memorial had perished through the lapse of time.

These inscriptions are written in very remarkable characters (called hieroglyphics, by the Greeks), the mode of reading which is now, as we have seen, to a great extent, recovered.

These monuments, however would be unavailable as history, were it not that the Greeks in the times that followed those of Alexander of Macedon, had very great curiosity in all that related to Egypt, and translated the histories on the walls of the temples. Little remains to us of these translations, save mere lists of royal names ; but these are of great value, because they can be identified with the hieroglyphic originals, and by their help we can place the names of the kings we read on the temples in the order of their succession.

So that the climate of Egypt itself has combined with the curiosity of the Greeks regarding its early history, to preserve to us a far more copious and connected series of memorials of its ancient greatness, than of any other kingdom that ever existed on the earth.

That the history of Egypt bears some close and intimate relation to the inspired history of Israel, is a very obvious truth. So plainly is the Bible, the book which of all others belongs to, and requires

« PoprzedniaDalej »