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SUAW WORSHIP 173
exception, followed years of minimum sun-spots." These facts are sufficiently well attested to warrant the belief that English science and skill will be able to realise in India the provision which Joseph is said to have made for the seven lean years of which Pharaoh dreamed. Until that happy era shall arrive, the poor Hindus will only go on alternately adoring and propitiating the sun, as its benign or its cruel influences shall fall upon them. The artist Turner said, ‘The sun is God.” The superb effects of light in Turner's pictures could hardly have come from any but a sun-worshipper dwelling amid fogs. Unfamiliarity often breeds reverence. There are few countries in which the sun, when it does shine, is so likely to be greeted with enthusiasm, and observed in all its variations of splendour, as one in which its appearance is rare. Yet the superstition inherited from regions where the sun is equally a desolation was strong enough to blot out its glory in the mind of a writer famous in his time, Tobias Swinden, M.A., who wrote a work to prove the sun to be the abode of the damned.” The speculation may now appear only curious, but, probably, it is no more curious than a hundred years from now will seem to all the vulgar notion of future fiery torments for mankind, the scriptural necessity of which led the fanciful rector to his grotesque conclusion. These two extremes—the Sun-worship of Turner, the Sun-horror of Swinden,_survivals in England, represent the two antagonistic aspects of the sun, which were of overwhelming import to those who dwelt beneath its greatest potency. His ill-humour, or his hunger and thirst, in any year transformed the earth to a desert, and dealt death to thousands. In countries where drouth, barrenness, and consequent
* “The Nineteenth Century,’ November 1877. Article : “Sun-Spots and Famines,’ by Norman Lockyer and W. W. Hunter.
* “An Inquiry into the Nature and Place of Hell,” by Tobias Swinden, M.A., late Rector of Cuxton-in-Kent. 1727.
I74 ADBA/OAV OF THE DESERT
famine were occasional, as in India, it would be an inevitable result that they would represent the varying moods of a powerful will, and in such regions we naturally find the most extensive appliances for propitiation. The preponderant number of fat years would tell powerfully on the popular imagination in favour of priestly intercession, and the advantage of sacrifices to the great Hunger-demon who sometimes consumed the seeds of the earth. But in countries where barrenness was an ever-present, visible, unvarying fact, the Demon of the Desert would represent Necessity, a power not to be coaxed or changed. People dwelling in distant lands might invent theoretical myths to account for the desert. It might be an accident resulting from the Sun-god having given up his chariot one day to an inexperienced driver who came too close to the earth. But to those who lived beside the desert it could only seem an infernal realm, quite irrecoverable. The ancient civilisation of Egypt, so full of grandeur, might, in good part, have been due to the lesson taught them by the desert, that they could not change the conditions around them by any entreaties, but must make the best of what was left. If such, indeed, was the force that built the ancient civilisation whose monuments remain so magnificent in their ruins, its decay might be equally accounted for when that primitive faith passed into a theological phase. For as Necessity is the mother of invention, Fate is fatal to the same. Belief in facts, and laws fixed in the organic nature of things, stimulates man to study them and constitute his life with reference to them ; but belief that things are fixed by the arbitrary decree of an individual power is the final sentence of enterprise. Fate might thus steadily bring to ruin the grandest achievements of Necessity. Had we only the true history of the Sphinx — the
Binder—we might find it a landmark between the rise and decline of Egyptian civilisation. When the great Limitation surrounding the powers of man was first personified with that mystical grandeur, it would stand in the desert not as the riddle but its solution. No such monument was ever raised by Doubt. But once personified and outwardly shaped, the external Binder must bind thought as well; nay, will throttle thought if it cannot pierce through the stone and discover the meaning of it. ‘How true is that old fable of the Sphinx who sat by the wayside propounding her riddle to the passengers, which if they could not answer she destroyed them | Such a Sphinx is this Life of ours to all men and societies of men. Nature, like the Sphinx, is of womanly celestial loveliness and tenderness; the face and bosom of a goddess, but ending in claws and the body of a lioness. There is in her a celestial beauty,+which means celestial order, pliancy to wisdom ; but there is also a darkness, a ferocity, fatality, which are infernal. She is a goddess, but one not yet disimprisoned ; one still half-imprisoned,—the articulate, lovely still encased in the inarticulate, chaotic. How true ! And does she not propound her riddles to us 2 Of each man she asks daily, in mild voice, yet with a terrible significance, “Knowest thou the meaning of this Day ? What thou canst do To-day, wisely attempt to do.' Nature, Universe, Destiny, Existence, howsoever we name this grand unnameable Fact, in the midst of which we live and struggle, is as a heavenly bride and conquest to the wise and brave, to them who can discern her behests and do them ; a destroying fiend to them who cannot. Answer her riddle, it is well with thee. Answer it not, pass on regarding it not, it will answer itself; the solution for thee is a thing of teeth and claws; Nature to thee is a dumb lioness, deaf to thy pleadings, fiercely devouring. Thou art not now her vic176 IOCUST.S.
torious bridegroom ; thou art her mangled victim, scattered on the precipices, as a slave found treacherous, recreant, ought to be, and must.” On the verge of the Desert, Prime Minister to the Necropolis at whose gateway it stands, the Sphinx reposes amid the silence of science and the centuries. Who built it 2 None can answer, so far as the human artist, or the king under whom he worked, is concerned. But the ideas and natural forces which built the Sphinx surround even now the archaeologist who tries to discover its history and chronology. As fittest appendage to Carlyle's interpretation, let us read some passages from Lepsius. “The Oedipus for this king of the Sphinxes is yet wanting. Whoever would drain the immeasurable sand-flood which buries the tombs themselves, and lay open the base of the Sphinx, the ancient temple-path, and the surrounding hills, could easily decide it. But with the enigmas of history there are joined many riddles and wonders of nature, which I must not leave quite unnoticed. The newest of all, at least, I must describe. ‘I had descended with Abeken into a mummy-pit, to open some newly discovered sarcophagi, and was not a little astonished, upon descending, to find myself in a regular snow-drift of locusts, which, almost darkening the heavens, flew over our heads from the south-west from the desert in hundreds of thousands to the valley. I took it for a single flight, and called my companions from the tombs, where they were busy, that they might see this Egyptian wonder ere it was over. But the flight continued; indeed the work-people said it had begun an hour before. Then we first observed that the whole region, near and far, was covered with locusts. I sent an attendant into the desert to discover the breadth of the flock. He ran
* Carlyle, “Past and Present," i. 2.
FIOSTS OF THE COMET 177
for the distance of a quarter of an hour, then returned and told us that, as far as he could see, there was no end to them. I rode home in the midst of the locust shower. At the edge of the fruitful plain they fell down in showers; and so it went on the whole day until the evening, and so the next day from morning till evening, and the third; in short to the sixth day, indeed in weaker flights much longer. Yesterday it did seem that a storm of rain in the desert had knocked down and destroyed the last of them. The Arabs are now lighting great smoke-fires in the fields, and clattering and making loud noises all day long to preserve their crops from the unexpected invasion. It will, however, do little good. Like a new animated vegetation, these millions of winged spoilers cover even the neighbouring sand-hills, so that scarcely anything is to be seen of the ground; and when they rise from one place they immediately fall down somewhere in the neighbourhood; they are tired with their long journey, and seem to have lost all fear of their natural enemies, men, animals, smoke, and noise, in their furious wish to fill their stomachs, and in the feeding of their immense number. The most wonderful thing, in my estimation, is their flight over the naked wilderness, and the instinct which has guided them from some oasis over the inhospitable desert to the fat soil of the Nile vale. Fourteen years ago, it seems, this Egyptian plague last visited Egypt with the same force. The popular idea is that they are sent by the comet which we have observed for twelve days in the South-west, and which, as it is now no longer obscured by the rays of the moon, stretches forth its stately tail across the heavens in the hours of the night. The Zodiacal light, too, so seldom seen in the north, has lately been visible for several nights in succession.’ Other plagues of Egypt are described by Lepsius:– VOL. I. M