Imágenes de páginas

this expectation was disappointed, and that which many good men regarded as a preparation for Christianity proved to be a stumbling-block in its way. It is not improbable that the pseudo-Christianity of the Chinese revolters, of which so much has recently been said, is of the same nature, and will end with the same result.

Decorated with these extraneous but. popular recommendations, Buddhism has been embraced by two-fifths of the human race. It has a prodigious literature, great

temples, many monuments. Its monasteries are The great diffusion of scattered from the north of Tartary almost to

idhism. the equinoctial line. In these an education is imparted not unlike that of the European monasteries of the Middle Ages. It has been estimated that in Tartary one-third of the population are Lamas. There are single convents containing more than two thousand individuals; the wealth of the country voluntarily pours into them. Elementary education is more widely diffused than in Europe : it is rare to meet with a person who cannot read. Among the priests there are many who are devout, and, as might be expected, many who are impostors. It is a melancholy fact that, in China, Buddhism Its practical has led the entire population not only into godlessness. indifferentism, but into absolute godlessness. They have come to regard religion as merely a fashion, to be followed according to one's own taste; that as professed by the state it is a civil institution necessary for the holding of office, and demanded by society, but not to be regarded as of the smallest philosophical importance; that a man is entitled to indulge his views on these matters just as he is entitled to indulge his taste in the colour and fashion of his garments; that he has no more right, however, to live without some religious profession than he has a right to go naked. The Chinese cannot comprehend how there should be animosities arising on matters of such doubtful nature and trivial concern. The formula under which they live is: “Religions are many; reason is one; we are brothers.” They smile at the credulity of the good-natured Tartars, who believe in the wonders of miracle-workers, for they have miracle-workers who can perform the most supernatural cures, who can lick red-hot

iron, who can cut open their bowels, and, by passing their hand over the wound, make themselves whole again—who can raise the dead. In China, these miracles, with all their authentications, have descended to the conjurer, and are performed for the amusement of children. The common expressions of that country betray the materialism and indifferentism of the people, and their consequent immorality. “ The prisons,' they say, “are locked night and day, but they are always full; the temples are always open, and yet there is nobody in them.” Of the dead they say, with an exquisite refinement of euphemism, “ He has saluted the world.” The Lazarist Huc, on whose authority many of these statements are made, testifies that they die, indeed, with incomparable tranquillity, just as animals die ; and adds, with a bitter, and yet profoundly true sarcasm, they are what many in Europe are wanting to be.

From the theology of India I turn, in the next place, to the civilization of Egypt.

The ancient system of isolation which for many thousand years had been the policy of Egypt was overthrown by Psammetichus about B.C. 670. Up to that time the inhabitants of that country had been shut out from all Mediterranean or European contact by a rigorous exclusion exceeding that until recently practised in China and Japan. As from the inmates of the happy valley, in Rasselas, no tidings escaped to the outer world, so, to the European, the valley of ihe Nile was a region of mysteries and marvels. At intervals of cen- en turies, individuals, like Cecrops and Danaus, ountry to had fled to other countries, and had attached the cur gratitude of posterity to their memories for the religion, laws, or other instirutions of civilization they had conferred. The traditions connected with them served only to magnify those uncertain legends met with all over Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Sicily, of the prodigies and miracles that adventurous pirates reported they its reported had actually seen in their stealthy visits to wonders. the enchanted valley - great pyramids covering acres of land, their tops rising to the heavens, yet each pyramid nothing more than the tumbstone of a king ; colossi

[ocr errors]


sitting on granite thrones, the images of Pharaohs who lived in the morning of the world, still silently looking upon the land which thousands of years before they had ruled; of these, some obedient to the sun, saluted his approach when touched by his morning rays; obelisks of prodigious height, carved by superhuman skill from a single block of stone, and raised by superhuman power erect on their everlasting pedestals, their faces covered with mysterious hieroglyphs, a language unknown to the vulgar, telling by whom and for what they had been constructed; temples, the massive leaning and lowering walls of which were supported by countless ranges of statues ; avenues of sphinxes, through the shadows of which, grim and silent, the portals of fanes might be approached ; catacombs containing the mortal remains of countless generations, each corpse awaiting, in mysterious embalmment, a future life; labyrinths of many hundred chambers and vaults, into which whoso entered without a clue never again escaped, but in the sameness and solitude of those endless windings found his sepulchre. It is impossible for us to appreciate the sentiment of religious awe with which the Mediterranean people looked upon the enchanted, the hoary, the civilized monarchy on the banks of the Nile. As Bunsen says, “ Egypt was to the Greeks a sphinx with an intellectual human countenance.”

Her solitude, however, had not been altogether unIts history: broken. After a duration of 1076 years, and the old em- the reign of thirty-eight kings, illustrated by Hycksos; the the production of the most stupendous works new empire. ever accomplished by the hand of man, some of which, as the Pyramids, remain to our times, the old empire, which had arisen from the union of the upper and lower countries, had been overthrown by the Hycksos, or shepherd kings, a race of Asiatic invaders. These, in their turn, had held dominion for more than five centuries, when an insurrection put an end to their power, and gave birth to the new empire, some of the monarchs of which, for their great achievements, are still remembered. In the middle period of this new empire those events in early Hebrew history took place -- the visit

pire; the

[ocr errors]

of Abram and the elevation of Juseph-which are related with such simplicity in the Holy Scriptures. With varied prosperity, the new empire continued until the time of Psammetichus, who, in a civil war, having attained supreme power by the aid of Greek mercenaries, overthrew the time-honoured policy of all the old dynasties, and occasioned the first grand impulse in the intel- one

Opening of lectual life of Europe by opening the ports of the Egyptian Egypt, and making that country accessible to ports. the blue-eyed and red-haired barbarians of the North.

It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the influence of this event upon the progress of Europe. An immense extension of Greek commerce by the demand for the products of the Erxine as well as of the Mediterranean was the smallest part of the advantage. As to Egypt herself, it entailed a complete change in her policy, domestic and foreign.

This compels In the former respect, the employment of the E.

Egypt to mercenaries was the cause of the entire emigra- becom- a mation of the warrior caste, and in the latter " it brought things to such a condition, that, if Egypt would continue to exist, she must become a maritime slate. Her geographical position for the purposes of commerce was excellent; with the Red Sea on the east and the Mediterranean on the north, she was the natural entrepôt between Asia and Europe, as was shown by the prosperity of Alexandria in later ages. But there was a serious difficulty in the way of her becoming a naval power; no timber suitable for ship-building grew in the country- indeed, scarcely enough was to be found to satisfy the demands for the construction of houses and coffins for the dead. The early Egyptians, like the Hindus, had a religious dread of the sea, but their exclusiveness was, perhaps, not a little dependent on their want of material for ship-building. Egypt was therefore compelled to enter on a career of foreign conquest, and at all hazards possess herself of the timber-growing districts of Syria. It was this urgent necessity

and brings on which led to her collisions with the Mesopo- collisions with tamian kings, and drew in its train of conse- the Baby

lonians. quence the sieges, sacks, and captivities of Jerusalem, the metropolis of a little state lying directly between

the contending powers, and alternately disturbed by each. Of the necessity of this course of policy in the opinion of the Egyptian kings, we can have no better proof than the fact that Psammetichus himself continued the siege of Azotus for twenty-nine years ; that his son Necho reOpening of the opened the canal between the Nile at Bubastes Suez Canal and the Red Sea at Suez - it was wide enough for two ships to pass-and on being resisted therein by the priests, who feared that it might weaken the country strategically, attempted the circumnavigation of Africa, and actually accomplished it. In those times such expeditions were not undertaken as mere matters of curiosity. Though this monarch also despatched investigators to ascertain the sources of the Nile, and determine the causes of its rise, it was doubtless in the hope of making such knowledge of use in a material or economical point of view, and therefore it may be supposed that the circumCircumnaviga- navigation of Africa was undertaken upon the tion of Africa. anticipated or experienced failure of the advantages expected to arise from the reopening of the canal ; for the great fleets which Necho and his father had built could not be advantageously handled unless they could be transferred as circumstances required, either by the circumnavigation or by the canal, from one sea to ihe other. The time occupied in passing round the continent, which appears to have been three years, rendered the former method of little practical use. But the failure experienced, so far froin detracting from the estimation in which we must hold those kings who could thus displav such a breadth of conception and vigour of execution, must even enhance it. They resumed the policy of the conqueror Rameses II., who had many centuries before possis ed the timber-growing countries, and whose engineers originally cut the canal from the History of the Nile to the Red Sea, though the work cost 120,000 Great Čanal. lives and countless treasuries of money. The canal of Rameses, which, in the course of so many centuries, has become filled up with sand, was thus cleaned out, as it was again in the reign of the Ptolemies, and again under the khalifs, and galleys passed from sea to sea. The Persians, under Darius Hystaspes, also either repaired

« AnteriorContinuar »