Page images


themselves up to savage pleasure, or extravagant penitence for their real or imaginary sins. The latter were much more frequent and excessive among the Egyptians than the former; few of their feasts were without penances; and most of their offerivgs to the gods were expiatory sacrifices. Others, on the contrary, were accompanied by violent expressions of joy, particularly their processions, which always bore the stamp of that rude age, wherein moral sentiments and refined notions of manners and decency were but slightly developed.'—Vol. ii. p. 186.

That the sacerdotal order employed, without scruple, the ordinary machinery of heathen priestcraft, is clear, from their patronage of astrology and of oracles, which had been transplanted from Meroe, the cradle of the Coptic religion, into Lower Egypt, and, in the age of Herodotus, existed in most of the principal cities.

But no article of the Egyptian creed exercised so powerful an influence, as their belief in an existence after death ; a belief expressed in a twofold theory, representing on the one hand the philosophical system of the priests, the popular notion on the other. The former is that revealed by Herodotus in the following words :

• According to the opinions of the Egyptians, Bacchus and Ceres are the rulers of the lower world. But the Egyptians are the first who have asserted that the soul of man is immortal; for, when the body perishes, it enters the body of a newly born animal; but when it has passed through all the land animals, sea animals, and fowls, it again returns to a human body. This transmigration is completely performed in three thousand years.'— Vol. ii. p. 123.

This was a coarse and sensual conception of immortality, which could never divest the soul of its earthly tenement, or part with the notion that the continuance of existence depended upon the preservation of the body. Hence the anxious care this people lavished on their sepulchres. Graves, like ours, where the corpse is subject to decay, were obviously unfit. Nor were the fertile plains of Egypt, confined in space, and subject to inundation, more convenient cemeteries. But the rocky slip, at the foot of the western mountain range, harmonised with the purpose, both in its physical qualities—its situation beyond the reach of the floods, and its range of subterranean caverns-and in the sombre ideas of which it was suggestive.

• It was at the entrance of the desert, where nature herself seemed to die; where all vegetation ceased, and measureless plains succeeded, whose boundaries the eye could not reach! What was more natural than that under such circumstances, the idea that an empire of the dead, a lower world, or Amenthes, should be formed? The Egyptians bad divided the present life between the obligations of religion and the administration of secular affairs; and as the posthumous existence was regarded as a continuation of the present, we find the sepulchral vaults diversified partly with hieroglyphics, emblematic of religious subjects, partly with scenes descriptive of agriculture, art, fishing, and the varied occupations of domestic life.'— Vol. ii. pp. 193, 195.

[ocr errors]

This idea became the nucleus of others, which, inconsonant with the crude infancy of the popular belief, invested the abodes of the dead with the attributes of a regular empire, assigning to the lower world its ruling deities, its inhabitants, even its animals. As the lineaments of the picture were gradually filled up, the notion of a retribution according to the merits of this life was gradually taken in; the calm tranquillity of the realms below was the reward only of the virtuous; and a tribunal of death,' as it was termed, assembled, ere the funeral solemnities began, to examine into the conduct of the deceased, and to determine upon his claims to a place in the Elysium of Egypt. A further development of this idea ensued, when the popular faith had given to the infernal world a ruler and a judge, in the transference of this institution to the jurisdiction of the shades below.

A tribunal of the dead, of this kind, is portrayed upon the upper end of a papyrus roll, which was found in the coffin of a mummy, and brought by the French expedition into Europe. Osiris is here discovered sitting as a judge, with his usual attributes; before him is a lotus flower, as an emblem of the present life, and a lion, probably as keeper of the lower world. A small human figure is being weighed in a large scale, by two genii with animals' heads; one with that of a dog, as symbolical of great sensuality; the other with that of a sparrow-hawk, the usual symbol of the divine nature. Both lay hold of the scales, and seem to address Osiris. Hermes, with the Isis head, stands before the latter, with writing tablets in his hand, wherein he notes the faults and virtues of the deceased.'—Heeren, vol. ii.

p. 199.

The prosperity of Egypt had depended upon the union of the two most powerful castes, the warriors and the priests, and upon the purity and integrity of the national polity and religion. Both these bulwarks had been sapped; the former by the alienation of the warrior tribe, the latter by the commercial policy of Amasis, under whose liberal sceptre Phænicians, Carians, and Ionians, found a ready toleration; ere yet this glorious land became the slave and plaything of the Persian tyrant. The feudal age of Egypt had passed away :

It was no longer a kingdom of Coptic warriors, who from their fortresses in the Thebaid, held the wealthy traders and husbandmen of the Delta in subjection as vassals.'-Sharpe, p. 59.

The admission of aliens, and the adoption of mercenary troops, shocked the religion, fomented the jealousy, and estranged the allegiance of the

native classes. The fatal elements of national disunion recoiled upon their author at the hour of his utmost need ; and the fall of Egypt may be cited among the numerous historical experiences that attest how slight a claim has the highest development of physical resources to be regarded as the index of political permanence and power.

We are indebted to Mr. Sharpe for a quotation from Manetho, which goes far to explain the prevalent tradition, that Hellas derived her learning and religion from Egyptian colonies. There seems to have been, from the earliest times, an important settlement of Greek traders at Naucratis and Sais, in the Delta, who had always carried on the chief part of the Egyptian trade in the Mediterranean. The overthrow of this little State probably took place in the reign of Amummai Amemneb. The exiled community may have carried to the shores of Greece much that was valuable in the arts of Egypt; and their descendants, through the misty veil of tradition, traced the origin of their cities, rites, and temples, not to their own colonists, but to the swarthy Copts, who had driven them from their shores. Herodotus, indeed, lends his sanction to this popular belief. But we need not be surprised at this; before his visit to the Nile, the Greek mercenaries had been established in the Delta; temples to the gods of Hellas rose close to the walls of the Egyptian palace; and this easy toleration of an alien creed may have flattered an analogy almost baseless. Not less wide is the discrepancy between the popular religions of Egypt and of Greece, than between the general complexion of the European and the Oriental mind. The lively susceptibility, the joyous temperament, of the Greek; his love of beauty of form, and idolatry of human excellence, led him to deify his own passions, image, aspirations; his festivals were enlivened with mirth, unclouded by penitence or gloom; while the Egyptian ndos was serious, their solemnities saddened with melancholy, and their ritual grotesque. Strange animals they invested with the attributes of divinity; and even laid down their lives in their defence, with a devotion little known to the votaries of Jupiter and Venus ; their religion was one of exclusion and intolerance, while the Greek delighted to identify and embody the rites of aliens with his own; their only poem, the dirge of Maneros, was a melancholy strain, which they reiterated from year to year.

As dissonant from the Greek were the habits and customs of Egyptian life, as the character of their religious creed.

• They wrote from right to left. They ate their dinner in the streets. The women went to market on business; the men sat at home at the loom. Daughters were forced to maintain their parents; sons were released from that duty. Women wore only one garment, while men wore two. The priests were shaven, while other men wore beards. Whoever killed a sacred animal intentionally was put to death; indeed, whoever killed a hawk or an ibis, even by accident, was condemned to die. Whenever a house was on fire the chief care of the neighbours was to save the cats; the men and women might be burnt in the ruins, but the cats were to be saved at all risks. When a cat died a natural death, every inmate of the house shaved his eyebrows; and when a dog died, they shaved all over. The dead cats were carried to the sacred tombs at Bubastis, where they were embalmed, and then buried.'—(Herod. apud Sharpe, p. 98.)


lleeren's African Nations, and Sharpe's Egypt.

On the other hand, between the philosophical religion of Plato, and the abstruse principles of the Egyptian hierarchy, there was an intimate relation. The Eastern mind, amid all its diversities of site and race, seems ever to have been the repository of fragments of the great Charter of Truth, of which Israel was the Palladium, and the chosen shrine. Thus the Persian doctrine, ultimately assuming the form of Manicheism, recognised the balanced sovereignty of a good and evil spirit ; who, by their divided sway, constituted the moral contrasts of humanity. The sages of the Nile early asserted the unity of the One Supreme Invisible Ruler, the Creator of all things visible; they held Him to exist in a threefold relation-for three was their symbol of perfection and divinity. The Unity of divine Providence was a primary article in the creed of Plato: even the doctrine of the Trinity was mysteriously shadowed forth in his writings; and the Alexandrian Christians, though with inore zeal than wisdom, appealed to this profession of the great Athenian, in their defence of Revelation. The notion of the transmigration of souls, and that of a future retribution, bear a palpable affinity to the Egyptian belief; and the arcana of Ceres may perhaps have been modelled by some Grecian sage in imitation of the mysteries of Isis. A partial resemblance may be traced between the ideas of the priests and the sublime Truths vouchsafed to the Hebrew tribe; and Plato's abode at Heliopolis may have drawn him within the sphere of some floating elements of Judaism, diffused there by the exiled band of Israelites, who had, in spite of the warnings of Jeremiah, sought in the land of Mizraim a shelter from the arms of Babylon.

Even the Christianity of the Greek and Egyptian converts of Alexandria sympathised with the national difference of temperament, which represented, in their ultimate development, the opposite tendencies of scepticism and fanatical superstition. The susceptible imagination of the Greek, his vigorous and act mind, distinguished him as the champion of Reason on the controversial arena; under his auspices, the groundwork of Christian wisdom was laid in the cultivation of pagan learning. In the exposition of Scripture he ranged through the most diversified sources of interpretation, and sought in the fitful and varying lights of allegory, the latent sense and mystical intimations of historical statements : while the sombre mind of the Egyptian impelled him rather to eremitical seclusion, and monastic gloom; his love of antiquity, interwove with his Christianity the associations of primæval belief and tradition : he bowed to the word of Inspiration with the childlike reverence of unquestioning, unlearned faith ; and chose asceticism and ignorance in preference to the temptations of knowledge and society.

ART. IV. – Sketches of Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land.

By the Rev. J. A. SPENCER. London: Murray. THERE is one striking and important feature in our social system, most especially distinguishing England from other nations, which has always appeared to us to be strangely overlooked by modern travellers in their comments on the various points of contrast—it is the misuse, or, we should rather say, the neglect, in this country, of that powerful instrument whereby, in all lands, the great mass of the population will most chiefly be influenced; viz. the outward teaching of habitual customs and observances. If, however, we are compelled to adjudge England as deficient in this respect, it is by no means because we view the question through the medium of that unnatural prejudice, that mistaken enthusiasm, which has rendered it the fashion of late years to depreciate indiscriminately our national peculiarities, and to exalt the faults and follies of our foreign neighbours into virtues of a species certainly unknown to primitive Christianity. So far from that, not only are we convinced that this deficiency is but the natural result of the calm, reserved, undemonstrative character of the British people, but we maintain, further, that no man ever made his pilgrimage to foreign lands in an honest spirit of inquiry, and with an unbiassed and untainted mind, without returning with the additional impartiality of experience ; for, in spite of the alluring aspect of many things which in other countries will peculiarly attract the devotional and earnest mind, he cannot fail to perceive, if he looks at all below the surface, that in England the elements of all that is good and great are working far more powerfully; that truth and sincerity, elsewhere too much a barren name, do here beat in the very life-pulses of the people; and most of all, that notwithstanding the sad strife and divisions which so afflict our Church, yet nowhere are the holy feet of Faith more firmly planted than within her Sacred Fold. Still, whilst we admit that these are incontrovertible facts, and motives of deep thankfulness to us all, we must repeat, that England has a great lesson to learn from southern Europe, in the effective use of those outward forms by which such great truths may be conveyed to the minds of the people; and, although we have readily allowed that she falls short of more skilful nations in this mode of instruction, in a great measure, on account of the peculiar organization of her people,-yet, in this age of progress, it seems permitted to us to hope that by giving a few instances of her special deficiencies, the minds of some might be stirred up to seek and find a remedy.

Her primary error in this respect seems to be, that she does not duly appreciate the value and power of the instrument

« PreviousContinue »