11 FEBRUARY 1882, Page 36


Du. EBERS' great work is in every way worthy of its subject. Its learned author has already made considerable contributions to the knowledge, whether scientific or popular, of Egyptian history and art, and this book, the first volume of which we have now before us, will constitute a material addition to them. In the field of discovery he has not failed to secure notable successes ; the ancient literature of the country, of which not long ago even the learned knew next to nothing, has been diligently explored by him ; while his romances of ancient Egypt, with their erudition as extensive as it is artfully concealed, may be reckoned as the most successful effort ever made to realise the circumstances and personalities of a long- vanished past. This erudition and this power of a vivid pre- sentation are conspicuously present in the volume before us. The past, so long and so varied a record in the land of the Nile, and the present, still so characteristic and peculiar, in spite of the inroads of Western civilisation, have equal justice done to them. Great and varied learning, and a power of keen observa- tion, which such learning is commonly supposed to discourage, combine to produce a work which is as entertaining as it is valuable.

The first chapter treats of Alexandria, ancient and modern. We say " ancient," though the antiquity, which dates from the

• Egypt Descriptive, Historical, and Picturesque. By R. Ebers. Translated from the German by Clara Bell. With Introduction and Notes by S. Birch, D.C.L. Vol. I. Cassell, Putter, Gralpio, and Co., London, Paris, and New York. The Land of Irkemi Up and Down the Middle Nile. By Laurence Oliphant. With Illustrations. Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London. 1882.

latter part of the fourth century B.C., is as nothing, in a country which had monuments already venerable for age in the days of

Abraham. Yet, young as it is, Alexandria has a great place in history. Dr. Ebers is carried a little too far by an antithesis, when he writes that " Christianity was born in Palestine, but educated in Alexandria," for this is not to take sufficient account of the preponderating influence of Pauline thought ;

but what he says of the city as the seat of a school of thought, is mostly true. An excellent account—compressed, but avoid- ing the dullness of an epitome—follows of the great event of its later history, its conquest by Omar's General, Amroo, who, as Dr. Ebers repeats, probably to no purpose, did not burn the great library. Passing on to the last of the numberless dynasties which have held sway in Egypt, we notice a defence of the expendi- ture which has been made by the Government of the Khedives.

Dr. Ebers does not deny its extravagance, but he asserts its generally remunerative character. " Like an acorn dropped in the ground, it will bear full interest only to future generations."

Unhappily, quiet as well as time is required for the develop. ment of such returns, and quiet is seriously threatened by the troubles arising from an expenditure which, if it was untimely, was injudicious.

From Alexandria the author starts on his travels "through the Delta." Here we have a particularly interesting account of Goshen. Its past is represented by Tanis, the capital of the Pharaohs when the seat of power was located in Lower Egypt. " Every period of Egyptian history," says Dr. Ebers, " every- thing, the very oldest, finds here a representative ;" but the remains which interest us most are those of the Hyksos, one of whose later princes must have been the Pharaoh who welcomed the family of Israel. Joseph, in his extreme old age, must have seen the overthrow of the friends of his race ; but it was not till two or three more generations had passed that the relations between the two races seem to have been materially changed. It was Rameses II., the Sesostris of Greek history, that was the oppressor. We are reminded, as we look on his noble features, which we can hardly associate with the idea of vulgar tyranny and cruelty, that it was the good Emperors of Rome who were the formidable persecutors of the Christian Church. The son of Rameses, Menephtah, is supposed to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. If Tanis represents the past of Goshen, the activity of the present is chiefly centred in the fisheries of Lake Men- zaleh. This vast sheet of water—it is five thousand square miles in area—is the haunt of a hardy race of fishermen and fowlers, in whom Dr. Ebers sees the little-changed progeny of the ancient Hyksos. The water-birds are abundant, and the fish so plentiful, that an annual sum of £60,000 is paid to the owners of the right of fishing. Here, as elsewhere in Egypt, the labourer receives but a scanty share of the produce of his toil.

The same contrast between past and present offers itself in the chapters which make up the rest of the volume. Memphis, of which the legendary founder was Menes, the first King of Egypt, and the Pyramids are the oldest things in the country, just as Cairo is the newest. But nowhere in the world is a re- mote past so vividly set before the eyes as it is in some of the Memphitic tombs. The " Mastaba " of Ti, a noble who served three Pharaohs of the fifth dynasty, and who seems to have married a princess of the royal blood, has pourtrayed upon its walls the whole life of the man, in his official and his private character, in its aspects of business and pleasure. Pages 164-171 give a graphic account of these remarkable representations. From the ruins of Memphis it is but a little way to the modern capital, of which, in four excellent chapters, Dr. Ebers sum- marises the history, taking occasion, at the same time, to describe its more remarkable mosques and tombs.

The illustrations are singularly attractive. They include examples of almost every subject which can serve to bring the history, the arts, and the people of Egypt vividly before the eye of the reader. Thirty artists have contributed drawings for the adornment of the work. Poynter, Alma-Tadema, and Frank Dillon are among these, but the majority of the designs are naturally of German origin. Of the three hundred illustra- tions, it would be impossible to speak in detail, but the larger number of them speak for themselves with force enough, to any one who may have the good-fortune of handling this sumptuous book. As pieces of picturesque work, we may single out for commendation the " Birds on Lake Menzaleh " (p. 107), and the "Tomb of a Sheikh of the Time of the Caliphs" (p. 66) ; for calm beauty, we choose the " Night on the Red Sea " 28),

and the " Menzaleh Fishing-boat " (p. 109) ; and for weirdness and grotesqueness, we select the " Cat-laden Camel " (p. 91) and the " Learned Man absorbed in the Koran " (p. 178). The comical conceit of the " Alexandrian Lady and her Black Attendant," is depicted in a spirited drawing (p. 45) ; belong- ing to the same class of work is the sketch of three bony cronies (p. 48) in confabulation, entitled, " What will come of it all ?" The life-like heads of " Bedaween and Fellah " (p. 127) may be cited as particularly fine and characteristic examples of por- traiture. The engravings of architectural carvings and details, of book-stands, of coins, of textiles, and of glass, with all the head and tail-pieces and initials throughout the volume, not only enrich the general effect of the pages, but are worthy of minute and repeated study for their own merit. Some of the larger and more pictorial illustrations, such as the " Death of the First-born " (p. 264), the " Finding of Moses " (p. 102), and the " Flight into Egypt " (p. 185), seem to us to savour some- what of exaggeration and affectation. And it cannot be denied that there is a tendency in many of the cuts to inky blackness and hardness of outline, which im- pairs the beauty of the original designs. The cotton- plant on page 92 and the water-lilies (p. 111) bear very slight resemblance to the beautiful forms they are intended to pourtray. The exquisite grace of the lotus-blossoms has entirely escaped the draughtsman, and the burst-ripe cotton-pod is a miserable specimen of what is in Nature a remarkable and con- spicuous fruit. It would have been wiser to omit these woodcuts, and also that of the " Rosetta Stone " (p. 76), which exhibits the elaborate stand and the framed-glass cover, but gives no hint of the inscribed surface of the stone itself. Perhaps, too, the fantastic groups on pp. 9 and 12 might have been spared, although it almost seems cap- tions to suggest any changes or omissions in this rich series of illustrations.

Mr. Laurence Oliphant's modest volume may be regarded as a welcome supplement to the splendid work of which we have been speaking. He takes us to a region which Dr. Ebors has not yet touched, to the country watered by the Bahr Yousseff, the " River of Joseph," as it is called, though it is certainly older than Joseph by many centuries. Mr. Oliphant disclaims any pretensions to a knowledge of Egyptology, but, nevertheless, he digs, drawn by the fascination which no traveller can resist, and even makes discoveries. The Land of Khemi, the Fayoum, as it is commonly called, has also a great past to look back upon. Here was the Labyrinth, with its thousands of chambers, which Herodotns, who had seen it and had traversed at least part of its vast extent, thought more wonderful than the Pyramids ; and Lake Moeris, with its vast embankment; which he considered to surpass even the Labyrinth. The lake has disappeared, and the rains of the Labyrinth are an undistinguishable mass, in which it is not easy to see the traces of the grandeur which so struck Herodotns, and the geographer Strabo after him. Still, there is much that is curious and interesting in these remains, not the less so because they have been less thoroughly explored than places which lie more directly in the great route. But the charm of Mr. Oliphant's book lies in its picture of rural life as it is still to be found in Egypt, untouched by the influences of the West. Mr. Oliphant cut himself off from the resources of hotels, dragomans, and the like, settled down in a village, and lived in the fashion of an Egyptian gentleman, doing this not by the river-side, where national habits have been naturally much modified, but in an unfrequented province, which is virtually more remote from Cairo than its actual distance would imply. Another interesting feature of Mr. Oliphant's book is his testimony as to the condition of the peasantry. This, he thinks, has greatly improved since the deposition of the late Khedive. The taxation is heavy, but it is definite. The fellah, in former days, was liable to pay all that could be squeezed out of him ; now, he knows what may be demanded, and flatly re- fuses to pay any more. "They [the peasantry] have every reason to be thankful for the system under which the Govern- ment is at present administered." The misfortune is, he thinks, that this condition of things will not be permanent. It is due to " a combination of external powers, with rival and selfish ends in view," and will collapse when the rivalry comes into active operation. There are not wanting signs that this crisis is at hand.