Page images

law of the priests might have originated in the idea that it was blasphemy to suppose any one being could combine in himself all the attributes of the Universal Soul. The Temple of Serapis is described as one of the stateliest the world has ever seen, A great mass of buildings were included within its enclosures, and there were vast subterranean passages underneath, where it is supposed some of the great religious Mysteries were celebrated. In the centre of the enclosure stood the Temple, on an artificial elevation, surrounded with a magnificent portico. The lofty ceiling was supported by immense marble pillars, of beautiful proportions. The statue of the god was of such colossal size that the right hand touched the wall of the sanctuary on one side, and the left on the other. An aperture in the wall was so arranged that the first gleams of the rising sun fell directly on the face; and worshippers thought he smiled to meet the god of that luminary. A small image of the Sun, seated in a chariot, with four horses, was suspended from the ceiling, and at the close of day was drawn up by a powerful magnet, to represent his farewell. The temple was surrounded by a great number of galleries and apartments devoted to the priests, and to devotees, who had taken vows of celibacy. This splendid structure was totally destroyed in the fourth century of our era.

Alexander the Great was imbued with the Grecian freedom of thought, and facility of adaptation to new things. He was moreover desirous of attracting the enterprise, wealth and learning of the world to his new city. He commanded that the laws and religion of Egypt should be respected, but he encouraged Greeks and Jews to settle there, and extended the same toleration to their opinions. The site of the city was consecrated by solemn sacrifices both to the deities of Egypt and of Greece. As the great commercial route from India to various portions of the Roman empire lay through Alexandria, it became the great focus of trade; a connecting link between the unchanging East and the ever-changing West. It grew so rapidly, that in a short time Rome was the only city that surpassed it in wealth and grandeur. In the century following Alexander, those two liberal kings of Egypt, Ptolemy Soter and Ptolemy Philadelphus, founded and enlarged an academy and museum, with a royal library of seven hundred thousand volumes. It was the first establishment of the kind ever known in the world. Scholars of all nations and creeds flocked thither to enjoy its advantages. A general indulgence was granted to this promiscuous crowd to teach their respective doctrines to whoever was inclined to listen. Disciples of diverse systems met together in the library, and at meals, and had ample opportunities to compare theories of religion and philosophy. Under these influences was formed a new set of teachers, who carried to distant countries the ideas they had received, and thus shook up and mixed together the forms of human thought everywhere.

Old Egypt, once called the “image of heaven, and the temple of the whole world,” dwindled away. All the nations had borrowed of her religion and science, but she was too conservative to borrow of them. Successively conquered by Persia, Greece, and Rome, and largely settled by Jews, she gradually lost her strength. Her princes were Grecians, her children attended Greek schools. Her religion became a lifeless body, her language utterly extinct, her sacred writing an unknown cipher, and half her monuments buried in the drifting sand. But traces of her customs still exist on the shores of the Nile. Modern jugglers know the trick by which her old magicians rendered serpents motionless or stiff. They compress the cervical spine of the animal between the finger and thumb and call it changing the serpent into a rod, or stick. When thrown down, the pressure being removed, it becomes a serpent again. Idiots are considered holy, and their exclamations prophetic. In this form lingers the ancient reverence for unpremeditated speech. The different sections of Cairo are now under the guardianship of genii, as they were formerly each under the protection of

Vol. 1.-17*

some tutelary deity. An image of a ram's head is still worn as an amulet against evil, and so is the golden beetle, once sacred to the sun, and an emblem of creation. The star of Isis looks down brightly as ever on the land that was once her own. The Sphinx stands dark and solemn in the desert twilight, a huge phantom of the mighty past, unable to reveal her mystery.

“There sits drear Egypt, 'mid beleaguering sands,

Half human and half beast;
The burnt-out torch within her mouldering hands,

That once lit all the East."


"I compile and transmit to posterity, but write not anything new. I believe and love the ancients, taking Laou Pang for my pattern."


THE Chinese claim for themselves almost unlimited antiquity. Their traditions go back millions of years, to a time when they were governed by the gods; but their early history is enveloped in thick darkness. It is the universal belief in Benares that they emigrated from Hindostan, and this opinion is said to be sustained by a passage in the Code of Menu. Their historical books, translated by Frenchmen of science, exhibit a regular chronology, extending back three thousand years before our era. Considerable knowledge of astronomy existed among them at a very early period. One of the Jesuit missionaries in China, who had read more than a hundred volumes of their annals, assures us that they observed the motions of the heavenly bodies soon after our date of the Deluge; and European scholars have satisfied themselves that they accurately calculated an eclipse two thousand one hundred and fifty-five years before Christ. They named successive days for the same seven planets that Hindoos and Egyptians did. Their learned men have always occupied themselves with history, political maxims and external sciences, without manifesting much interest in metaphysical inquiries or mystical theories. They have changed less in the course of ages than any other nation on earth, partly owing to the peculiarity of their language, which impedes the introduction of foreign literature, and partly owing to their extreme veneration for everything ancient. Opinions must be sustained by precedent and authority, and once

received they are cast into an exact mould, the pattern of which must never change. Their minds are never troubled with the query, which, in one form or another, has disturbed the repose of the priesthood all the world over; no restless activity of intellect induces them to inquire: -“Why must I always wear my grandfather's hat? My head was not measured for it.” Unquestioning obedience to superiors, in church, state, and household, constitutes their morality. Their emperor is called Holy Son of Heaven, and Sole Guardian of the Earth.” His subjects prostrate themselves in his presence, and do homage to his image and his throne. He is, and always has been, at the head of ecclesiastical affairs. A belief in the divine origin of kings, so universal among the ancients, is expressed by the Chinese in a tradition concerning their first monarch, Fo-hi. They say he had no mortal father; that his mother conceived him encompassed by a rainbow. Men remarkable for holiness or wisdom are generally called Tien-tse, Sons of Heaven. It is a common opinion that they had no mortal fathers, but derived their existence from some beavenly source.

The greatest name among Chinese sages is Kong-Foutseu, Latinized into Confucius. He was born five hundred and fifty-one years before Christ. In boyhood he was remarkably serious, and manifested no taste for childish amusements. His ancestors held offices under government for six generations, but in youth he was poor, and obliged to support himself by manual labour. He bad but one wife, to whom he was married at nineteen years of age. When twenty years old, he was appointed superintendent of grain and cattle in his native province, as a reward for intelligence and virtuous conduct. Afterward he held the rank of Mandarin at court, but as the king would not follow his advice in what he deemed for the good of the people, he resigned his office, went into a neighbouring province, and became a teacher of morals. He is said to have had several thousand disciples, by whom he appears to have been regarded with the deepest veneration. They

« PreviousContinue »