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AMERICAN QUARTERLY REVIEW
ART. I. -EGYPTIAN ARCHITECTURE,
1.-Description de l'Egypte ou Recueil des Observations et
des Recherches qui ont été faites en Egypte pendant l'expedition de l'armée Française ; Seconde edition. Tomes I,
II, & III. 8vo. à Paris, chez Panckoucke. 2.—De l'Architecture Egyptienne, considerée dans son ori
gine, ses principes et son gout, &c. &c. Par M. QUATREMERE DE QUINCY, à Paris, chez Barrois l'ainé et Fils. 4to. pp. 268.
The theories which have been propounded in relation to the origin of architecture, are two in number. Some have supposed,
that, with the other arts, it took its rise with a primitive people ; others, that each different nation had adopted modes of building suited to her habits and climate, and by imitations and improvements upon the first rude structures, it had finally reached that state in which it is entitled to the name of a fine art. In the present condition of the world, both opinions are no doubt entitled to attention, and are in some degree true. The nations of Europe still give to their edifices of brick and plaister, the forms of Grecian architecture, and even where a more noble material is employed, stick unmeaning columns upon structures that neither need them as a support, nor admit them as an essential part; while we are frequently found imitating the massive forms of the Doric marble in timber, and adapting them as decorations to shingle habitations. But it was not so in the infancy of the world. Then, no people had previously existed who had stamped the indelible character of their taste and genius upon their architectural.works ; communication was difficult from state to state, and pride and hostile feeling would have prevented imitation, had the means of intercourse been more easy. Each peoVOL. V.NO. 9.
ple therefore, must have adopted the mode of building adapted to their habits of life, and embellished it with - such ornaments as unaided taste would have directed.
So true is this, that even at the present day we can trace in architecture, even of the most elaborate character, the lineaments of its primitive form, and the resemblance of the rude materials of which its prototype was constructed. The still existing pyramid of Cholula, the vast mass of the Birs-Nimbrod, and those we read of in the retreat of the ten thousand as existing on the borders of Media, recall to our memory the simple earthen mound, the earliest form in which it was sought to commemorate the mighty dead.
Who that has viewed the long perspective of a gothic aisle, has not been compelled to think of the wicker temples of the Saxons, and that some magician
"'Twixt poplars straight, the osier wand,
That changed the willow wreath to stone ?" Among the Etruscans, the earth was the altar of the deity, the vault of the heavens his temple. When their sacred rites were secluded by walls from their serfs, these walls were made to uphold an imitative hemisphere, whose vault we trace in successive progress through the dome of the Pantheon, still upborne on solid walls ; the circular arcade of St. Sophia, and the Duomo of Florence ; until we reach the sublime conception of Michael Angelo, who suspended the vault and its supporting walls in mid air.
If then we can trace forms of building that we still execute and imitate, up to the first rude essays at architecture, we are fairly warranted in attempting to discover the source of Egyptian architecture in the circumstances in which its early inhabitants were placed. For them, there was no antiquity to copy, no models of taste to emulate ; circumstances of an imperative nature prescribed to them their early habitation, and their remaining edifices are, as we shall find, formed upon this single model.
We cannot interrogate history in respect to the mode of life of the early inhabitants of Egypt. Even the vast discoveries of Champollion, and Young, have only carried us to a period in which a numerous and civilized people was engaged in shaking off the yoke of barbarous conquerors, and resuming the exercise of arts whose principles and practice were derived from their progenitors. We are therefore compelled to resort to the not less sure indications which nature herself affords, indications which in respect to Egypt are too definite to be mistaken. We have the authority of direct history for the fact, that Lower Egypt was gained from the sea, by a skilful direction of the deposite of
the Nile; by bringing human industry to control and govern the action of powerful natural causes. But until the population became numerous enough to demand, or powerful enough to create, this extensive territory, it must have been confined to the valley of the Nile, and the Delta must have been a mixture of muddy lakes and impassable morasses, traversed and torn by the stream.
The valley of the Nile is confined on each side by mountains; between these two chains, the Lybian and the Arabic, there is naturally no secure position for human abode ; the river, in its annual rise of thirty feet, spreads even now, from mountain to mountain, although the soil has evidently been raised by its deposite far above its original height. The mountains themselves are barren of vegetation; nor can we believe that they ever presented that clothing of wood which in moister climates will spring even from the naked rock. The Acacia is the only tree indigenous in Upper Egypt, and it is entirely unfit for architectural purposes, or even to form a temporary shelter from the sun and dew.
But in these very rocks they would have found abodes provided by nature. From the site of ancient Memphis, until we ascend the Nile beyond the ruins of Thebes, both mountains are composed of stratified limestone full of organic remains. Such rocks, it is well known to geologists, abound in natural caverns in all eastern countries; and although no cavities are now found in Egypt that do not bear the marks of human skill, we have no right to assert that it was not in many cases merely called in aid of nature, to smooth and embellish abodes, originally provided by her. Much of this rock too, was of a highly sectile and friable nature. We have at the moment before us, specimens, containing the fossil characteristic of the harder material of the Pyramids, which have the consistence of chalk, and which may be cut as readily as that substance. When the natural caverns then became insufficient for the growing population, the artificial formation of others would be no difficult task. With the demand, the skill of workmanship would naturally increase ; harder limestones would be worked, then the flinty but friable sand-stones of the quarries of Selseleh, and finally, the hard imperishable rock that still bears the name of the city of Syene.
To understand fully the causes which led to the erection of such enormous works by the Egyptians, as still astonish and have for ages astonished the world, we must investigate other circumstances besides those of climate and position. It cannot be doubted that the form of government, the density of population, the character of the sacred rites, have an important influence upon the magnitude of the public works of a nation.
The government of Egypt was monarchical from the very
earliest date. If something of a patriarchal character may have tempered it in respect to particular classes, it was not the less despotic in its principles. Now, a monarchical and despotic government, if it be only stable, as that of Egypt was, is incontestably more favourable to the execution of magnificent structures, than one more free. This is an inference from all that we know of history. The works of the sovereigns of Nineveh and Babylon, probably equalled, if they did not surpass, in magnitude, the structures of the Pharaohs; and in Rome, from the expulsion of the kings to the reign of Augustus, no public building was undertaken at all to be compared to the structures of the Elder Tarquin. We owe the magnificence of the Parthenon to the influence of a single person over the democracy at Athens, and his taste and public spirit were gratified at a risk which seems to have operated as a warning to all subsequent popular leaders, to avoid such enterprises. In general, structures not directly devoted to public utility, are a mark of servitude. When a monarch holds in his hands the treasures of a whole nation, he distributes them according to his pleasure. If absolute, he will hesitate at no exaction which will enable him to gratify his taste, whether the object be useful, or merely contribute to inflate his vanity. History informs us; that such abuse of power was not unknown in Egypt; and we máy infer that even where its exercise was not felt as oppressive, large sums might be devoted to purposes of mere ostentation. Many of the kings unquestionably constructed vast buildings, without adding to the burthens of the nation, and gained the sanction of a powerful priesthood, to what might have otherwise been considered as wanton extravagance.
So long as the government of Egypt retained a paternal character, its population was probably redundant beyond any modern parallel. Considered as a grain country alone, it was capable of supporting a population three times as great as one of equal extent in a less favoured climate ; a triple harvest blesses the labours of the husbandman, and the increase in each is far greater than is known in Europe. But it besides produces those tropical plants which yield more of food on a given space of ground, than any of the vegetables of the temperate zone, and which grow, where from the aridity of the soil the cereal gramina cannot vegetate ; such are various species of the palm, which if not indigenous, have long been naturalized in Egypt. Domestic animals, too, multiply with great rapidity, and the prolific influence of the waters of the Nile, is said to extend to the human race. With a population created and supported by such causes, we cannot wonder that a government, commanding without fear of accountability the whole resources of the country, could project and execute works at which the richest and most powerful nations of modern times would hesitate.