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TWENTY years have now elapsed since I became convinced by Champollion's lectures and writings, as well as by my own examination of the Egyptian monuments at Rome, and particularly the obelisks, that the great discovery of the Hieroglyphical System would prove to be of the highest importance for the ancient history of Mankind. In analysing its bearing upon the course of historical research pursued in Germany and upon my own studies, three questions presented themselves. Is the Chronology of Egypt, as embodied in the Dynasties of Manetho, capable of restoration, wholly or in part, by means of the monuments and the names of its Kings ? Will the Egyptian language enable us to establish the position of the Egyptians, as a nation, in primeval history, and especially their connexion with the tribes of the Aramaic and IndoGermanic stock ? Lastly, may we hope, by persevering in a course of Egyptian research based, in the strictest sense of the word, on historical principles, to obtain for the History of Mankind a more sure and unfailing foundation than we at present possess ?
The scientific assumptions and views with which I set out in the solution of these three questions were, in the main, as follows.
The Roman researches of Niebuhr had proved to me the uncertainty of the chronological system of the
Greeks, beyond the Olympiads; and that even Eusebius's chronicle, as preserved in the Armenian translation, furnishes merely isolated, although important, data for the Assyrian and Babylonian chronology beyond the era of Nabonassar. Again, as regards the Jewish computation of time, the study of Scripture had long convinced me, that there is in the Old Testament no connected chronology prior to Solomon. All that now passes for a system of ancient chronology beyond that fixed point, is the melancholy legacy of the 17th and 18th centuries; a compound of intentional deceit and utter misconception of the principles of historical research. Egyptian history is the only one which possesses contemporary monuments of those primeval ages, and at the same time offers points of contact with the primitive tribes of Asia, especially the Jewish, from the latest up to the earliest times. It is here, if anywhere, that materials are to be gathered for the foundation of a chronology of the oldest history of nations. Thus much for the first question.
German philology, to any one who has cultivated it since Frederic Schlegel, must necessarily present the great truth, that a method has been found of restoring the genealogy of mankind, through the medium of language; not by means of forced, isolated etymologies, but by taking a large and comprehensive view of the organic and indestructible fabric of individual tongues, according to the family to which they belong. Viewing the question upon the principles established by those researches, I found a comparison of the Coptic language with such roots and forms of the Old Egyptian as were then discovered, sufficient to remove from my mind all doubt as to the Asiatic origin of the Egyptians, and their affinity with the Semitic or Aramaic stock. But I had, moreover, long arrived
at the conclusion, from a more general study of language, that the civilisation of the human race is principally due to two great families of nations, whose connexion is a fact as much beyond the possibility of mistake, as is their early separation. What we call universal history necessarily therefore appeared to me, from this point of view, as the history of two races, who, under a variety of names, represent the development of the human mind. Of these, the Indo-Germanic seemed to me the one which carried on the main stream of history; the Aramaic, that which crossed it, and formed the episodes in the divine drama. It had struck me, therefore, as a convenient course, and in our time in particular a most appropriate one, to make the structure of the language of these two parent stocks the basis of all research into the origin of the human race, and the laws of its development.
Proceeding upon these views, I had endeavoured, between the years 1812 and 1815, to strike out a plan for discovering the strictly historical principle in philology, that is to say, the principle which explains the gradual development of the phenomena. The result was a full conviction that this principle was discoverable. In order to test my views on the subject in a field where the facts are incontrovertible, I first undertook to analyse the formation of the Romanic languages. Here the main point was to discover the general law by which new languages are formed out of a declining one, through a change in the ideas of the people, and usually also by the introduction of new materials. I then turned my attention to the history of the Scandinavian languages. There my principal object was to find a universal formula for the relation which a colonial language (like the Icelandic) bears, on the one side, to the old tongue of the mother-country, and on the other to the modern idioms which there may have entirely superseded it. The old form of the language may thus be preserved in the colony, owing to the interruption of its progressive natural development, whilst in the mother-country, in the course of national vicissitudes, new formations took place, by a gradual wearing out of flexions, and generalisation of the meaning of the old roots, according to the ordinary rules of the development of language. Now the Icelandic appeared to me to possess immense importance for the solution of the general problem, as being identical with the Old Norse, and as forming the point of departure for the Swedish and Danish, which in Scandinavia have succeeded that old idiom. In order to make a practical use of this method and the formulas discovered by means of it, I had likewise sought at an early stage of my inquiries for a lever applicable to universal history; for what is true in a small circle must also be so in a larger and the largest. In consequence of the unexpected light thrown on history by the discoveries in hieroglyphics, the Egyptian language at last appeared to me to offer such a lever. It clearly stands between the Semitic and Indo-Germanic; for its forms and roots cannot be explained by either of them singly, but are evidently a combination of the two. If, then, it be of Asiatic origin, and consequently introduced by colonisation into the valley of the Nile, where it became naturalised, it will enable us to pronounce upon the state of the Asiatic language from which it sprang, and consequently upon an unknown period of mental development in primeval Asia. Thus much as to the assumptions from which I started upon the second of the three questions.
It is manifestly useless to attempt a satisfactory restoration of the oldest national histories, or to establish the true philosophy of primeval history on a solid
basis, before the chronology of the historic ages is settled, and the laws of language in the ante-historical are defined. Will not Egyptian Chronology and Philology, however, impart a new element of vitality to both these departments, and do they not offer very important points of contact with the ancient and most ancient national history of Asia ?
Again, do not the Egyptian Monuments possess this paramount superiority over all others, that their inscriptions and dates remove all doubt as to the course of the development of art; the epochs of which it is so important to determine, and which nevertheless, as regards individual monuments, are everywhere else mere matters of conjecture, not excepting even those of Greece ? Egyptian art is clearly as old as the history of the nation, and a highly important phenomenon in general history. The chronology being settled, will not vestiges of the Egyptian Mythology enable us to draw new and valuable conclusions as to the history of religious traditions and speculations, not only in Egypt, but in the world in general ?
Lastly, and above all, can it not be demonstrated, mainly through the instrumentality of Egypt, that Language, the immediate type and organ of the mind, ranks as the oldest authentic record of mental development in the primordial epochs of the human race ? At the very outset of my historical aspirations, I had as strong a conviction of the existence of laws by which the development of the human mind is governed in all its branches, as of the impossibility of discovering them by research without theory, or by theory without research. Winckelmann assumed the existence of such laws in the history of art, and he discovered them. Herder, in like manner, had a forecast of their existence in the universal history of mankind. Since the days of