« AnteriorContinuar »
their religion and philosophy-not the fantastic crust of superstition, but the more spiritual dogmas which lie below; and, wasting but little time upon what was false, set himself to eliminate the true, and place it once more before the world. In this way let him paint the Chinese, stout, squareset, and supple,-ever labouring contentedly in their rice-fields, and delighting in social intercourse; but also, with a free and martial spirit, of which the world is now incredulous, repelling with slaughter the nomade hordes of Central Asia which subsequently overthrew the mighty empires of the West. Let him depict the country covered with district-schools, and the people trained in social morals by a Government system of education, centuries before the birth of Christ. Let him set forth the practical good sense and kindliness of spirit which characterised the inhabitants of that vast empire, as well as their eminence in the social and industrial arts of life; yet glance with brief but warning words at the materialistic tendencies, alike in creed and practice, by which these good qualities were in some degree counterbalanced. Or turn to the Hindoo, with his slim and graceful figure, symbolising the fine and susceptible spirit within. See him among the flowery woods, luxuriant vegetation, and countless sparkling waters of the Indian land, so spiritual and alive to the impressions of the external world, that he feels bound in lively sympathy with every living thing around him, whether it be beast or bird, tree or flower,-and in the faith of the most imaginative pantheism that the world ever saw, regarding himself and all created forms as incarnations of the Deity, animated directly by the spirit of the great Creator; and, a firm believer in the transmigration of souls, regarding every object around him with plaintive tenderness, as possibly the dwelling of the soul of some lost friend or relative. See him under his mastersentiment of love. That passion, almost universally in the ancient world, was a mere thirst of the senses; and the few instances in which it figures in the literature of Greece and Rome, it is made to strike its victims te a frenzy. But among the Hin
doos we perceive it often sweetened and refined by sentiment,—a spiritual as well as a sensuous yearning,― purer, as ardent, more pervading than the love-passion of contemporaneous nations. And the same spirituality of nature which made the Hindoo thus, fitted him also for the subtlest and loftiest flights of speculation,-savouring little of the utilitarian, indeed, but tending to gratify the soul in many of its highest and purest aspirations. Caste, unknown in China, was in India all-prevalent; and there, also, we meet in its sternest form that spirit of devoted asceticism by which the mystics of the East, and subordinately even in the Christian Church, have striven to exalt themselves above the level of humanity, by extinguishing all earthly passion, and so drawing into nearer communion with the Deity.
Or pass to Egypt, and behold the now desolate valley-land of the Nile reinvested with its old splendour and fertility. Let a thousand irrigating canals spread again over the surface, re-clothing the land with verdure; while up from the sands spring miles of temples, pyramids, and endless avenues of sphinxes, obelisks, and gigantic statues. And Thebes with its "hundred gates," its libraries, and stately palaces,-and Memphis with its immense population, whose bones are still seen whitening the desert sands whereon the city once bloomed amidst verdure, reappear with crowds of artisans and professional men, carrying the division of labour almost as far as it is done in modern times; while all around a rural population is tending herds or tilling the thrice-fertile soil; and, wearily and worn, innumerable bands of captives
Nubians from the south, Negroes from the desert, Arabs from across the Red Sea, and Syrians and Assyrians from Euphrates to the foot of Mount Taurus-are toiling in digging canals, in making bricks, or in quarrying, transporting, or raising to their place, those huge blocks of granite which fill with astonishment the engineers even of our own times. Turn from all this pomp and bustle and busy hum of life, along that silent mile-long avenue of double sphinxes; and, passing beneath the stupendous
ornamented portals of Karnac or Luxor, or some other temple of the land, enter the vast halls and countless apartments devoted to sacerdotal seclusion,-where the white-robed priests of the Nile, bathing three times a day to maintain mental purity and calm, engaged in the abstract sciences, or search deep into the secrets of nature for that magical power by which they fascinated and subjugated the minds of the people, and which enabled them to contend on almost equal terms with the divinely-commissioned champion of the
in power, and wholly men in passion. Keenly alive to pleasure, and hearing little of the deeper voices of the soul, their thoughts clung wholly to the beautiful world around them; and, while acknowledging the soul's _immortality, they ever looked upon Elysium, their world beyond the grave, as a shadowy land where joy becomes so diluted as hardly to be worth the having. The greatest poets the world ever saw, they embodied their conceptions, alike in literature, in architecture, and the plastic arts, in forms of such divine beanty, that after-ages have abandoned in despair even the hope of rivalling them. The story of Greece is not easily told; it excelled in so many departments of human effort-producing almost simultaneously an Alexander, a Socrates, a Plato, a Demosthenes, an Aristotle― not to speak of a Democritus, a Thales, an Anaxagoras, and others, in whose daring but vaguely-framed systems of the universe are to be found not a few brilliant anticipations of world-wide truth, which modern science is now recovering, and placing on the firm and only definite basis of experiment.
Or turn the eye northward, and see the Persian preparing to descend from his mountains and conquer the world. Verdant valleys amidst sterile hills and sandy plains are his home, blazed over by a sun to whose bright orb he kneels in adoration as an emblem of the Deity. Hardy, handsome, chivalrous, luxurious, despotic, and ambitious, yet animated by a spirit of justice, and by a religious belief so pure as at once to sympathise with that of the Hebrews, and to win for the Persian monarch the title of the "Servant of God;" they are the first in history to exhibit a nation, few in numbers, but strong in arms and wisdom, lording it over an immense tract of country, and over subjugated tribes-Syrians, Assyrians, Asiatic Greeks, and Egyptians—of divers origin and customs from themselves. The iron phalanx of Alexander at length caused this empire of satrapies to crumble into the dust; but under a new dynasty it revived again, so as to wage war successfully even with the all-conquering legions of Rome.
Away, around the shores of the lovely Egean-on the sunny slopes of Asia Minor, among the sparkling vineclad islets of the Cyclades, and on the rocky, picturesque, bay-indented peninsula of Greece, the gay and martial Hellenic race disported themselves. As a race, young, imaginative, superstitious, and enamoured of the beautiful, they ascribed every phenomenon in nature to the action of a god -peopled the woods, the hills, the waters, with graceful imaginary beings sympathising with and often visible to man, and filling even the highest heaven with divinities who were gods but
Add to the story of these nations that of the Roman-the great conqueror and legislator,-the story of a city that came to throw its chains over the world,-and thence pass over the dying ashes of l'aganism into the new world of Christianity, and to the congeries of kingdoms which arose under its beneficent sway in mediæval Europe, at first small, and never presenting those great contrasts so observable in the old empires of Paganism, but each telling its lesson to those who study it, and some of them already influencing the fortunes of the human race to an extent never possible or dreamt of in prior times. The "meteor-flag" of England is the great object which, in these latter days, arrests the eye of the philosophic observer,-bridging over the seas, peopling continents and islands with civilised man, and carrying the science, the religion, and the beneficent sway of Great Britain over an empire upon which the sun never sets, and to climes "where Cæsar's eagles never flew."
Paradoxical as it may seem, the
further we recede from the era of those old nations, the better able are we becoming to write their history and understand their civilisation. Not only are mankind becoming tolerant of truth in whatever attire it present itself, and thus learning to sympathise with, and so comprehend, those old forms of civilisation, but the recent study of the languages of India and China have opened up to us the literature and life of those old countries. The discovery of a clue to the hieroglyphics of Egypt, to the rock-inscriptions of Persia, and to the arrow-headed chronicles of Assyria, constitutes a series of unexpected triumphs, which promises to rend the veil of oblivion from the face of those long-perished empires. Lastly, the earth herself has been giving us back their skeletons. Two old Roman cities, Herculaneum and Pompeii, accidentally discovered, have been cleared of their superincumbent mass of lava and ashes, and given back to the light precisely as they stood on the day when the eruption of Vesuvius overwhelmed them eighteen hundred years ago. Into those longburied streets we have descended, and seen the domestic civilisation of imperial Rome mirrored in those hastily-abandoned boudoirs and dining-rooms, baths, temples, and public buildings. In the wastes of Persia, Chardin stumbled upon the ruins of imperial Persepolis, whose very site had for ages dropt out of the world's memory. The thousand monuments of Egypt have been studied, their historic sculptures and mural paintings magnificently copied, and a portrait-gallery published of its ancient dynasties. Finally, Layard and Botta have carried the thirst of discovery to the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, and have exhumed from the mounds of long-lost Nineveh striking and instructive vestiges of the first of the so-called "universal" empires.
wholly dropt out of mind again, or languished on as mere toys or curiosities. And had those old cities been unbared at some earlier period, would they not most lamentably have shared the fate of the monuments which remained above ground-been wantonly destroyed by a barbarous population, or been used as quarries, from whence the degenerate successors of the elder race might indolently draw their building materials? But the earth took them into her own safe keeping, and covered them up until the world had grown older and wiser, and knew how to prize such monuments of memorable but long-forgotten times.
The opportuneness of these revelations of the past cannot but strike one as remarkable. Knowledge revealed too early is lost. Steam, the compass, gunpowder, the principle of the electric telegraph, and a hundred other discoveries made of old might be mentioned, which, in consequence f mankind not being ready for them,
Of all the great empires which have enduringly impressed themselves upon the world's memory, no one has perished leaving so few visible marks of its existence as that which first rose into greatness in the land of Assyria. It was this memorable region which gave birth to the first of the old "universal empires." On the plains of Shinar, on the banks of the Lower Euphrates, a community of civilised men was assembled more than four thousand years ago. There, in course of time, arose Babylon, with its impregnable walls, behind which the city might eat and drink and be merry, though the mightiest of ancient hosts were encamped outside. There were the fabled hanging-gardens, the wonder of the world, erected by one of its monarchs to please his young Median bride, whose heart yearned for the hills and groves of her native land. Towering above all was the vast temple of Belus, unequalled for magnificence in the ancient world,— crowned with its gigantic golden statue of the sun-god, rising so high, and flashing so brightly in the upper air, that to the crowds below it seemed invested with the splendours of the deity whom it symbolised. But more than two thousand years have elapsed since all this grandeur came to a sudden end; and so thoroughly has the city mouldered into the dust, and so completely has it buried itself in its own ruins, that during the recent excavations executed on its site, scarcely a detached figure in stone, or a solitary tablet, says Mr Layard, was dug out of the vast heaps of rubbish. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen! and all the
graven images of her gods He hath broken unto the ground."
To the north, near the head of the great Mesopotamian valley, on the banks of the Tigris, stood the sister or rival city of Nineveh-Babylon and it forming, as it were, the foci of the Assyrian realm, which spread out like an ellipse around them. Nineveh, "that great city," against which Jonah of old uttered his prophetic warnings -from whose gates Sennacherib, Sargon, and Holofernes successively set forth, with their spearmen, and horses, and chariots against Damascus and Israel, and the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, and around whose walls the combined armies of Persia and Babylonia encamped for three years in vain, fell at last by a doom as sudden and overwhelming as that which overtook Babylon-perishing so utterly, that when Xenophon and the Ten Thousand passed that way, even its name was forgotten, and he notices its mounds of ruins simply as having been those of an ancient city," which he calls Larissa.
As Xenophon left those ruins Layard found them. Riding, in company with a friend as daring and enthusiastic as himself, down the right bank of the Tigris, in April 1840, he rested for the night at a small Arab village, around which are still the vestiges of an ancient town; and here he got his first look of the buried city whose discovery was to immortalise his name. "From the summit of an artificial eminence," he says, "I looked down upon a broad plain, separated from us by the river. A line of lofty mounds bounded it on the east, and one of a pyramidal form rose high above the rest. Beyond it could be faintly traced the waters of the Zab. Its position rendered its identification easy. This was the pyramid which Xenophon had described, and near which the Ten Thousand had encamped; the ruins around it were those which the Greek general saw twenty-two centuries before, and
which were even then the remains of an ancient city."
It must not be supposed, because Nineveh and Babylon are the only cities made much mention of in Assyrian history, that none others of importance existed in the country around. On the contrary, again and again, in the course of his journeys, does Mr Layard speak of mounds of ruins, marking the site of what must once have been "large cities." In truth, the valley-land of Mesopotamia, with its rich alluvial plains, intersected by the Tigris and Euphrates and their numerous tributaries, presented a vast surface, which at any moment the industry of man might convert into a garden. In remotest times, if in imagination we can recur to the period when first mankind began to settle on its plains, it must have presented a spectacle very much like that which now meets the eye-wide plains of fertile soil springing into verdure wherever it is touched by water, but desert almost everywhere for a great portion of the year. The latent fertility of the region was forthwith developed by the race who there took up their abode. The waters of the rivers were led over the flat plains in long canals, diffusing in all directions their irrigating streams, and causing the teeming soil, under the rays of a glowing and never-failing sun, to produce food in abundance for both man and beast. "A system of navigable canals, that may excite the admiration of even the modern engineer, connected together the Euphrates and Tigris. With a skill showing no common knowledge of the art of surveying, and of the principles of hydraulics, the Babylonians took advantage of the different levels in the plains, and of the periodical rises in the rivers, to complete the water-communication between all parts of the province, and to fertilise, by artificial irrigation, an otherwise barren and unproductive soil."*
This system of irrigation, it is true,
* LAYARD. Alexander the Great, after he had transferred his seat of empire to the East, so fully appreciated the importance of those great works that he ordered them to be cleansed and repaired, and superintended the work in person, steering his boat with his own hand through the channels. Similar operations undertaken now would again restore to Mesopotamia its old fertility, and fit Babylon, not only for regaining her place as the emporium of the Eastern world, but for becoming the great
was not carried to perfection until a late period in the history of the Assyrian empire; but it must, at the same time, be recollected, that as far back as the light of history penetrates, it is always civilised man that is discerned in the valley of the Euphrates. The vague whisperings of tradition, even, cannot speak of a time when savage tribes wandered over its plains. If we investigate who were the settled inhabitants of the land when first the light of history breaks upon it-the people among whom the old Assyrian empire arose we will come to the conclusion that the great mass of the population belonged to that purely Syrian race whose settlements have in all ages extended from the banks of the Euphrates to the shores of the Levant. But mixed with this race, very much in the neighbourhood of Babylon, and more faintly as we proceed northwards, were offshoots of the Cushite race, a people having its principal seats in southern Arabia, along the coasts of the Indian and Red Seas, imperfectly represented by the Himyarite Arabs of the present day, and forming a connecting link between the old races of Syria and Egypt. Into the population thus constituted descended the Chaldeans,-a tribe from the highlands which border the Mesopotamian valley on the northeast, and who, though Syrians in the main, probably approximated somewhat in character to the Persian race. This tribe obtained the ascendant among the population at Nineveh and in the upper portion of the Mesopotamian valley,-imparting to that population, apparently, a sterner character than prevailed in the lower part of the valley and around Babylon. Frequent wars occurred between these half-rival half-sister cities; the general result of which was, that the people of Nineveh held the Babylonians in a more or less perfect state of dependence. In the course of time, too, the Cushite element in the Babylonian population (and which probably gave to it its turn for commerce and maritime enterprise) became extinct; while the Chaldean element,
which differed but little from the general mass of the population, seems to have greatly increased. It was from Ur of the Chaldees, in the vicinity of Nineveh, that Abraham, in obedience to the Divine voice, went forth, journeying south-westwards, through the desert lying between the Euphrates and Syria, and, reaching Palestine, became the father of the Hebrew nation. From his loins also proceeded the Idumeans, who proved their superiority to the rest of the Arabian tribes by founding the kingdom of Edom, and excavating the wondrous rock-city of Petra.
Such, then, appears to have been the old population of Assyria. In Genesis we are informed that Ashur went forth out of the land of Shinar, and founded new habitations in the north,-"Nineveh and the city Reheboth, and Calah, and Resen, which is a great city;" but according to the Chaldean historians, the builders of the cities of Assyria came down from the mountains of Armenia. These statements, so far from being inconsistent, tend to corroborate the conjecture which, from other considerations, we had arrived at,—namely, that the Chaldeans were not the first comers into the plains around Nineveh, but found there a lowland population in an advanced state of society, and closely allied in blood and language to themselves. Moses of Chorene expressly records that such was the case; but the real strength of the supposition we rest upon general grounds, which it is needless here to enter upon. This Chaldean tribe, then, which ultimately became the predominant one in the valley of the Upper Tigris, were not the actual founders of the Assyrian cities; but under their ascendancy these cities were strengthened, extended, and embellished so much, as to become as it were the creations of their hands.
The architecture of a nation is ever dependent to a great extent upon the building materials at its command. The alluvial plains of Assyria, unbroken by a single eminence, were
entrepot of commerce between the West and East, which will ere long, in consequence of the introduction of railways, again flow into its old overland route by Palmyra, through the deserts, from the Levant to the head of the Persian Gulf.