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Literature of the Chaldeans, Babylonians, fc. Nations have their infancy, as well as the men and women that compose them. To a child every thing is new and wonderful, and if one of these little curious observers could communicate its minute history, for the first three years, in its own exquisite anomaly of words and ideas, there would be the prettiest fairy-tale that the world ever saw; it would, indeed, defy criticism, but it would delight beyond example everybody that had once been a baby, dear to a mother, and who remembered, however imperfectly, those joys and sorrows of the nursery that compose the morning dreams of life, before one awakes to its dull, and cold, and sad realities. In like manner, the first records of every people abound with marvels and prodigies, with crude and terrible traditions, wild and beautiful reveries, fabulous representations of facts, or pure unmingled fiction, with which no truth can amalgamate. Heroes and demigods, giants and genii, evil and good,' are the everyday actors of scenes in which supernatural achievements and miraculous changes are the ordinary incidents.
These observations are peculiarly applicable to the early histories of the celebrated nations of antiquity. There scarcely exists an authenticated fragment of all the learning and philosophy of the Chaldeans, Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Phenicians, to give posterity, in the present age, matter-of-fact proof that there were such giants of literature in the earth in those days as we have been taught to believe from the testimony of the more enlightened Greeks, who, after all, appear to have known less even than they have told concerning these patriarchal people, and to have recorded vague traditions rather han preserved genuine relics of historical records, which had perished in the bulk before their time It is almost unaccountable, if there were such treasures of knowledge, in Egypt especially, that the philosophers and statesmen of Greece who travelled Thither for improvement should have acknowledged so little. This circumstance naturally induces suspicion that what they learned there was either of very small value, or that they were very disingenuous in not registering their obligations. Be this as it may, though there is abundant evidence that in manual arts, as well as arms, these people of the east were great in their generation, their literature must have been exceedingly defective ; otherwise their monuments of thought, no more than their monuments of masonry, could have so perished as scarcely to have left a wreck behind :
“ They had no poet, and they died.”
There is not in existence a line of verse by Chaldean, Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, or Phenician bard. They could embalm bodies, but hieroglyphics themselves have failed to embalm ideas. Yet there was mind, and mind of high order; limited, indeed, in the range of objects on which it was exercised, but expanding itself into immensity upon the few towards which its energies were converged.
It is manifest, from the uniform character of magnificence stamped upon all the ruins of temples, palaces, and cities, as well as from the more perfect specimens of pyramids, obelisks, and sculptures, yet extant in the land of Nile, that a number comparatively small of master-spirits supplied the ideas which myriads of labourers were perpetually employed to imbody, and that the learning of the Egyptians was nearly, if not wholly, confined to the priesthood and the superior classes. Moses, indeed, was instructed in it, not because he was the son of a slave, but because he was the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter. We have Scripture authority, too,
for the fact, that long before the Israelites became bondsmen to the Egyptians, the Egyptians had sold themselves and their land to their king for bread during a seven years' famine. Howeverintellectual then the rulers and hierarchy may have been, who planned those amazing monuments of ambition, the hands which wrought such works must have been the hands of slaves,-slaves held in ignorance as well as servitude. Men free and enlightened never could have been made what these evidently were live tools to hew rocks into squares and curves, and pile the masses one upon another by unimaginable dint of strength, and the consentaneous efforts of multitudes, whose bones and sinews-whose limbs and lives, were always in requisition to do or to suffer what their hierophants or their sovereigns projected.
Speculation on the Original Use of Hieroglyphics.
The marvellous relics of Memphian grandeur, of which new discoveries are made by every successive traveller into the desert, or up the river, are melancholy proofs that the vaunted learning of the Egyptians, when it existed, was as much locked up from the comprehension of the vulgar, as it is at this day from the curiosity of the learned in undecipherable hieroglyphics. Had instruction been as general there as it is here, the key to those hieroglyphics could hardly have been lost to posterity. But we are told that a key to the hieroglyphics has been found, and in reference to alphabetical hieroglyphics this is true; but that this was the original character If figure-writing it is difficult to believe; for had it been so, it would probably have been early abandoned, md abandoned altogether, when the simpler forms of lines and curves were adopted to express letters. Had hieroglyphics in the first instance been alphapotical, and employed for purposes of literature, the slowness of the process, and the extent to which documents so written would spread, must have confined their use to tabular and sepulchral inscriptions for a single copy of the history of Egypt, for example (had such a one been compiled), equal to Hume's History of England, would have required a surface for transcription scarcely less than the four sides of the great pyramid of Ghizza.
Without, however, entering into any inquiry concerning the value and extent of the recent discoveries of the late Dr. Young, to whom, I believe, the honour belongs, and through him to our country belongs, or M. Champollion, who has most happily followed the clew of which the doctor found the first loose end for unwinding; without entering into any inquiry into these exceedingly curious but abstruse and complicated questions, the few following remarks are intended to refer solely to the antecedent use of hieroglyphics in Egypt, in the same manner as they have been or are used elsewhere, both in ancient and in modern times; namely, as symbols, not of letters, nor of words, but of things ; each of which, though it had a general meaning, from which it probably was never dissociated, yet in its particular application might be employed as a pure mnemonic, and associated with any special idea of that class to which it belonged.
Hieroglyphics, in this respect, differed essentially from the system of modern mnemonics, wherein the association of symbols with things to be remembered by them is not arbitrary, and therefore not capable of being harmoniously adapted, but fixed, and necessarily incongruous; so that of whatever utility they may be in forming a technical memory, the habit of collocating, and the familiarity of dwelling
upon, such heterogeneous materials in the lumber-room of the mind, can have no better effect upon the judgment and the taste than to pervert the one and corrupt the other. For example:-a lecturer on mnemonics,
in my hearing, proposed something (I forget what) to be remembered in connexion with the miraculous conversion of St. Paul. To accomplish this, he had occasion for the letters (or the consonants) composing the word smilingly, while, by an unlucky coincidence, the symbol to be employed was Venus. " Well, then, ladies and gentlemen,” said he,“ having ascertained these two points,-the word and the symbol,-you need only imagine that when Saul of Tarsus was struck down to the ground by the light from heaven, the goddess of beauty, in her chariot, drawn by doves through the air, was passing by at that moment, and looked down smilingly upon him." To say nothing of the impiety, the absurdity of such an association of images and ideas is so revolting, that the mind which could endure it must be either originally insensible to all that is delicate, beautiful, and true in poetry, painting, and reality, or it would soon be rendered so.
Let us now see how differently, yet how grace. fully and appropriately, genuine hieroglyphics may be combined with ideas and images to be remembered by them. In the year 1734, three red Indian chiefs of the Creek nation were admitted to the honour of a formal audience, at Whitehall, with his majesty George II. On being introduced into the presence, Tomo Cachi, the principal of his tribe, thus addressed the king, presenting at the same time the symbols to which he alluded: "This day I see the majesty of your face, the greatness of your house, and the number of your people.” Then stating the object of their visit to be “the good of the children of all the nations of the upper and lower Creeks, that they might be instructed in the arts of the English people,” he added, “These are feathers of the eagle, the swiftest of birds, and which flieth all round our nations. These feathers are the sign of peace in our land, and have been carried there from village lo village, and we have brought them over to leave with you, O