« PreviousContinue »
Jesuit, Father Kircher. In 1636 he published six bulky folios, in which he professed to explain and read most of the hieroglyphical inscriptions on the Egyptian monuments then in Europe. His interpretations were all wrapped in an unintelligible mysticism; and at least proved that the imagination of the worthy father was as prolific as his learning was unquestionable. If, however, he failed in interpretation, his labors were not useless. Osborn remarks that "Kircher eminently assisted the researches that ultimately proved successful, by bringing together in his book a voluminous collection of passages from the Greek and Latin authors respecting Egypt. And still more, by calling the attention of the learned to the Coptic tongue, in which a vast number of MSS. were collected in the Vatican and other libraries, both public and private, in Italy." Kircher had many able successors, than whom, perhaps, none deserves more honorable mention than the learned Done, George Zoega. He published in 1797 his work on the origin and use of the obelisks, and very many of his suggestions were undoubtedly of great use to those who came after him. An incidental hint was thrown out, also, by the acute mind of Warburton, which, though viewed by the learned of that day with incredulity, has subsequently been found to point to the truth. In his "Divine Legation" he was led, from an attentive perusal of what had been said by Clement of'Alexandria, and Porphyry, to conclude that "hieroglyphics were a real written language, applicable to the purposes of history and common life, as well as those of religion and mythology;" and further, that among the different sorts of hieroglyphics, the Egyptians possessed those which were used phonetically, that is, alphabetically as letters. Zoega had also conjectured that certain figures of animals, &c., represented sounds, and were possibly letters; and from the Greek word, tytorti, (a voice or articulate sound,) he had applied to them the term phonetic.
bridge, to which we are indebted for the facts above stated concerning the author and his work.
It is obvious, as has been remarked by the Marquis Spineto, that to verify this conjecture, three things were indispensable. If these characters were phonetic, the words they expressed could belong to the ancient spoken language of Egypt only; it was therefore indispensable first, to ascertain what was that language, and whether we had any remains of it. Secondly, a considerable number of inscriptions or fac-similes of them was necessary for purposes of comparison. Thirdly, it was indispensable to possess an authentic translation of some one of these ancient Egyptian inscriptions into a language known to modern scholars. Perhaps the difficulty, not to say apprehended impossibility, of finding the happy combination of these three prerequisites, may have led the learned of that day to pay less attention to the conjecture and hint of Zoega and Warburton, than they deserved: and yet it so happened that Providence was gradually bringing together this indispensable combination of circumstances. As to the first, Quatremere produced his work "sur la langue et litterature de FEgypte" and satisfactorily proved, to the surprise even of scholars, that the Coptic was the language of the old Egyptians. The Copts are, in fact, the only direct descendants in Egypt of the primitive race, and until within about a hundred years they still spoke the Coptic tongue, though imperfectly; but the language has been preserved in writing, and has come down to our day. The alphabet in which it is written is the Greek, with the addition of seven other characters, taken from what is known as the enchorial or demotic writing, which will be explained hereafter. As we now have it, it came into use in Egypt with the introduction of Christianity; and is still used in the Coptic Christian liturgies. The means of comparison are not wanting in the study of the language, for to this day, the Christians have their liturgy, the pentateuch, and nearly the whole of the Scriptures in the Coptic, accompanied with Greek and Arabic translations. The first desideratum was thus brought within reach. As to the second, the memorable expedition of Napoleon to Egypt furnished that. He was accompanied by the ablest savans of France, and the "Description de VEgypte" which the French government published on their return, placed before Europe such a collection as it had never before seen of fac-similes of inscriptions. In some cases the hieroglyphics were not scrupulously exact copies ; but still, a vast amount of valuable material was furnished to the patient decipherer. Egypt was now opened, however, and the various museums of Europe began to be enriched with spoils from the banks of the Nile. There soon ceased to be a want of inscriptions to examine. But the third great element of research, which, in fact, could alone give the stamp of certainty to any supposed discovery in interpretation, must also appear. An authentic translation of some ancient Egyptian inscription into a language known to modern scholars, was indispensable. Nothing else was wanting for successful archaeological research; and as if to supply the want, the Rosetta stone providentially came forth from its grave to furnish what was needed. The consequences resulting from this important discovery, afford one of the most interesting developments of the progress of the human mind in its patient and laborious search for truth, in the midst of uncommon difficulties. As a remarkable phenomenon in intellectual history, and an application of ingenuity in overcoming obstacles, it deserves to be studied as a curious chapter in psychology, and we therefore invite attention to it.
Rosetta Stone. — Specimens oi the inscriptions.—Dr. Young's discoveries. — De Sacy. — Akerblad. — Champollion le Jeune.— Discovery of homophones.—Sir Gardner Wilkinson's tribute to Champollion.—Exposure of the ignorance of the French savans, by Champollion.
It was in August, 1799, that Bouchard, a French officer of Artillery, in digging at Rosetta for the foundations of a redoubt, found a large stone of black syenite basalt, marked with various characters. Upon closer inspection, it was seen that the stone bore three inscriptions: the upper one was in hieroglyphics, the lowest in Greek letters, while that between was in a different character, which it was subsequently found, on reading the Greek text, was therein called enchorial or popular. The stone finally found its way to the British Museum, where it now is. Owing to the fracture of the stone, no one of the inscriptions was entire, but still, much the larger part of each was remaining. On its arrival in Europe, its importance as a probable key to interpretation, was at once seen; and the Antiquarian Society caused the inscriptions to be engraved, and generally circulated among the European literati. The French general, Duqua, had also caused a cast of two impressions of the stone to be made at Cairo, and had taken them to Paris. And here one cannot but be struck by the reflection with which Bunsen accompanies his state