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John L. (John Lawson) Stoddard.

John L. Stoddard's lectures : illustrated and embellished with views of the world's famous places and people, being the identical discourses delivered during the past eighteen years under the title of the Stoddard lectures (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryJohn L. (John Lawson) StoddardJohn L. Stoddard's lectures : illustrated and embellished with views of the world's famous places and people, being the identical discourses delivered during the past eighteen years under the title of the Stoddard lectures (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 12)
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chael Angelo.
There was to
me something
indescribably
weird and un-
earthly in their
solemn faces
forever gazing
at the river,
with an expres-
sion which has
not changed
while ages have
flowed on be-
neath them, like the stream itself. They look as if they had
the power to rise, if they desired, and tell us of the awful
mysteries on which their lips are sealed.

Notwithstanding the marvelous character of the ruins of
the Upper Nile, nothing in Egypt so appeals to our imagina-
tion and enthusiasm as those incomparable memorials of the




APPROACH TO THE PYRAMIDS.



EGYPT

Pharaohs, the Pyramids and Sphinx. They are easily
accessible from Cairo, as a fine carriage-road now leads
almost to their base. On my first visit to them, more than a
score of years ago, the Arabs who infest their vicinity were
by no means as well disciplined as they are to-day. No
sooner had we reached the edge of the desert, than we were




SECTION OF A PYRAMID.



assailed by numbers of vociferous Bedouins, who, in their
long white gowns, resembled African somnambulists. All
clamored fiercely for the privilege of conducting us to
the summit of the Great Pyramid; but our guide treated
them with indifference, until we were surrounded by perhaps
sixty men, who shouted and gesticulated as if they were



EGYPT



319



demented. Then he called upon the chief of these madmen
to appoint two for each of us. This was finally done amid
the wildest confusion. The rejected men acted like petulant
children, lying down in the sand, throwing it into the air,
howling, and doing other foolish acts indicative of their
chagrin.

At length, the disappointed ones, seeing a new party
of travelers approach, started off like a troop of wild beasts
to meet them, thus giving
us an opportunity to look
up quietly at the prodig-
ious structures, which are
apparently destined to per-
ish only with the world.

No view does justice to
the Pyramids, but the world
contains nothing of human
workmanship quite so im-
posing. They stand upon
the border of the desert, as
other ruins lie beside the
sea. Their vast triangular
forms, with bases covered
by the golden sand, and
summits cleaving wedge-
like the serene blue sky, exceed, when seen thus close at hand,
the most extravagant expectations. A comprehensive idea can
not be obtained from statistics, but one must make use of
figures and comparisons to give to those who have not seen
them some adequate conception of the immensity of these
masses of stone. The original height of the Pyramid of Cheops
was four hundred and eighty-two feet. About thirty feet of
its apex has disappeared, but even now it is higher than the
top of St. Peter's; and if this pyramid were hollow, the vast




A CORNER OF CHEOPS.



320



EGYPT



basilica at Rome could be placed within it, dome and all, like
an ornament in a glass case! St. Paul's in London could
then in turn be easily placed inside of St. Peter's, for the top
of its dome is one hundred feet lower than the summit of the
Great Pyramid. Each of its sides measures at the base seven

hundred and
sixty-four feet.
If its materials
were torn down,
they would suf-
fice to build
around the
whole frontier
of France a
parapet ten feet
high and a foot
and a half thick.
Think of a field
of thirteen acres
completely
covered with
eighty-five mil-
lion cubic feet
of solid ma-
sonry , piled
together with
such precision
and accuracy
that astronomical calculations have been based on its angles
and shadows, since the mighty pile was built exactly facing
the cardinal points of the compass! This solidity of structure
and immensity of mass would seem to assure to the Pyramids
a well-nigh endless existence. "All things," it is said, "fear
Time, but Time fears the Pyramids."




AN EGYPTIAN SHEIK.



EGYPT



323




PYRAMID OF CEPHREN.



Among the
various conflict-
ing theories re-
garding the ori-
gin and mean-
ing of the Great
Pyramid, one
thing may cer-
tainly be af-
firmed : its royal
builder did not
intend to have
it used as a gymnasium by tourists, though scores of them
ascend it every day. The difficulty in climbing it is owing
to the height of the steps to be taken, varying as they do
from two to four feet, according to the broken or perfect
condition of the stone. In ascending it, I made my two
Arab attendants fully earn their money. Giving a hand to

each, and stipu-
lating that we
should go slow-
ly, I was pulled
quite comfort-
ably to the top
of Cheops in
about fifteen
minutes, and
found the sum-
mit to be at pres-
ent a rocky plat-
form about thir-
ty feet square.
One should not
grumble, how-




THE BASE OF CHEOPS.



324



EGYPT



ever, at the difficulty of making this ascent, for it is owing to
their broken surfaces that one is able to climb the Pyramids at
all. On near approach they seem like gigantic flights of stairs.
But originally each presented a perfectly smooth exterior, the

I spaces between

the steps being
filled with stone
blocks, fitted
with the utmost
nicety. The
whole pyramid
was then cov-
ered with ce-
ment and beau-
tifully polished.
In fact, the sec-
ond largest pyr-
amid, Cephren,
almost a rival
of Cheops,
has still around its apex a remnant of the polished coating,
which makes it very difficult to reach the summit. Centuries
ago, however, most of these covering blocks were carried off
to build the mosques and palaces of Cairo.

What was the purpose in erecting these structures? Are
they simply monuments of national or royal vanity? Are
they memorials of Egyptian victories or conquests? Not at
all. Incredible as it may seem, they are merely the colossal
sepulchres of kings the most enormous ever reared by man.
It was customary to build pyramids here as late as the time
of Abraham, twenty-three hundred years before Christ; but, at
a subsequent period, when the capital of the Pharaohs had been
transferred from Memphis up the Nile to Thebes, rock-hewn
sepulchres seem to have been preferred. Cheops is not the




I'VRAMID OF SAKKARAH.



EGYPT



325



oldest of Egyptian pyramids. That of Sakkarah, a few miles
away, probably antedates it by five hundred years. The
whole region for more than forty miles is honeycombed with
sepulchres, and it was all the cemetery of Memphis, that
splendid capital whose tombs have long outlived its palaces
and temples.

The graves in this vast necropolis, including the pyramids,
are, like the tombs at Thebes, all found on the west bank of
the Nile, the side associated with those emblems of mor-
tality, the desert and the setting sun. It is a solemn fact,
therefore, that what remains to us of ancient Egypt has to
do with death, not life, and was constructed with reference
not to time but to eternity. The palaces and capitals of
Egypt's kings have almost vanished from the earth; even
their sites are



often matters of
conjecture; but
the stupendous
temples of the
gods, the rock-
hewn tombs, and
the long line of
giant sepulchres
built in the form
of pyramids,
still survive, to
emphasize the
triumph of the
eternal over the
temporal.

The Greeks rightly said of the Egyptians, that they
looked upon their earthly dwelling as a kind of inn, but upon
the grave as their eternal home. In fact, they did make far
more elaborate preparations for death than for life. Each




F.GYPT1AN FUNERAL CEREMONIES.



326



EGYPT



of the Pharaohs,
as soon as he
ascended the
throne, began
to build his
mausoleum (us-
ually in pyram-
idal form), and
from his neigh-
bori ng pal-
ace in Mem-
phis proudly
watched its
progress and
embellishment.
The pyramid of
Cheops is not, therefore, as some have ingeniously argued,
entirely different from the rest, a structure built by inspi-
ration of God, and intended to preserve for the race a perfect
standard of measurement, or to prophesy by a certain number
of inches the year of the world's destruction. There is no
reason to doubt that it is the mausoleum of one of a long
line of monarchs, all of whom erected similar, though smaller,
tombs. It seems, indeed, too vast to be a casket for one
human body; yet that same body, when alive, had power to
order such a structure to be built, and doubtless thought it
none too massive and imposing for his sepulchre.

The summit of Cheops affords a view unequaled in the
world. Hundreds of miles to the westward stretches the




1'VKAMin OK CHEOPS.




THE SAHARA.



EGYPT 327

vast Sahara, scattering its first golden sands at the very base
of the pyramids. It is an awful sight from its dreary immen-
sity. With its rolling waves of sand it seems a petrified
ocean suddenly transformed from a state of activity into one
of eternal rest. Far away, upon its yellow surface, the sun-
lit tents of a Bedouin encampment glisten like whitecaps on
a rolling sea. In truth, this vast Sahara is an ocean of
sand. It has the same succession of limitless horizons and
the same dreary monotony. Dromedaries glide over its sand
waves, true "ships of the desert," as they are called.




SHIPS OF THE DESERT.

Along its sunlit surface caravans come and go like fleets of
commerce. Finally, like the ocean, it is often lashed by
storms which sweep it with resistless force, raising its tawny
waves to blind, overwhelm, and suffocate the wretched traveler
who may encounter them, until he falls, coffined only in the
shroud of sand woven around him by the pitiless storm-king.
On my last visit to Egypt, this solemn area of antiquity
was spoiled for me in the daytime by the great crowd of
travelers assembled in and about the hotel recently built
almost within the shadow of the Pyramids. Serious contem-
plation and a true appreciation of these monuments are quite
impossible in a place where one or two hundred polyglot



328



EGYPT



guests are eating lunch, enlivened by the strains of Strauss'
waltzes. It is the most glaring illustration of bad taste and
mercenary greed that I have ever seen ; and if the rest of
Egypt were disfigured by such scandalous anachronisms, I
should not wish ever again to set foot on its soil. Accord-
ingly, my only satisfactory visit to the Pyramids and Sphinx,
under the present condition of affairs in Egypt, was made at
midnight and by moonlight. Then, with but one companion,

and freed alike
from crowds of
noisy tourists
and importunate
Bedouins, and
lighted only by
the moon and
stars, I spent
four memorable
hours beside
these architect-
ural mementoes
of a vanished
race, until the
radiance of the
dawn stole up
the eastern sky and flushed the face of the expectant Sphinx.
When standing on the summit of the Great Pyramid, if
we look below us, we see what seems to be an immense,
yawning grave. It is the temple of the Sphinx, partly
exhumed by Mariette from the desert sands. Within it were
discovered nine statues of King Cephren, the builder of the
second pyramid. From this circumstance it is probable that
he was its founder, and from its situation in the Necropolis
of Memphis we may conclude that this shrine was used for
funeral ceremonies. But now it is itself half-sepulchred in




TEMPLE OF THE SPHINX.




THE SPHINX.



EGYPT



33i



the mighty desert. Its altars are abandoned; the feet of
thousands no longer tread its pavement; and if its epitaph
could be traced above it in the shifting sand, it might appro-
priately read: "All who tread the globe are but a handful to
the tribes that slumber in its bosom." *

What thrills one as he stands upon the soil of Egypt-
rich beyond computation with the spoils of time, is the mys-
terious conception that it gives
of all the unknown Past which
must have here preceded Mem-
phis and the Pyramids. The
progress of the race in different
lands from barbarism to a state
of advanced civilization, has
always been a slow and painful
one. Unless the Egyptians,
therefore, were a notable ex-
ception to this rule, they must
have existed here for tens of
centuries before attaining the
degree of culture which was
evidently theirs more than six
thousand years ago. From
manuscripts discovered in their
tombs and temples, we learn

that every kind of literature, save the dramatic, was composed
by them. Astronomy, philosophy, religion, architecture,
sculpture, painting, imposing rituals for the dead, a learned
priesthood and elaborate systems of theology, society, and
government then flourished in the valley of the Nile, and
prove the existence of a still earlier civilization, of which we
know, and shall probably continue to know, absolutely nothing.

*The famous archaeologist, Maspero, recently said: " Egypt is far from being exhausted. Its
soil contains enough to occupy twenty centuries of workers; for what has come to light is compar-
atively nothing."




332



EGYPT



Close by the temple is the Sphinx itself, crouching in
silence by the sea of sand, as if to guard the royal mauso-
leums. This monster, whose human head and lion's body
typified a union of intelligence and strength, was hewn out of
the natural rock on the edge of the desert, and only in places





\



SPHINX AND PYRAMID.



where the stone could not adapt itself to the desired form was
it pieced out with masonry. From the crown of its head to
the paved platform on which rest its outspread paws, it meas-
ures sixty-four feet. The sand has long since encroached
upon this space, but formerly it was kept free from all incur-
sions of the desert, and between its huge limbs stood an altar



EGYPT



333



dedicated to the Rising Sun, before which must have knelt
unnumbered thousands of adoring worshipers.

To-day the Sphinx appears as calm and imperturbable as
it did six thousand years ago. It is probably the oldest relic
of human workmanship that the world knows the silent wit-
ness of the greatest fortunes and the greatest calamities of
time. Its eyes, wide open and fixed, have gazed dreamily out
over the drifting sands, while empires, dynasties, religions,
and entire races have risen and passed away. If its stony
lips could speak, they might truthfully utter the words
;< Before Abraham was, I am." It was, indeed, probably
two thousand years old when Abraham was born.

It is the antiquity of the Sphinx which thrills us as we
look upon it, for in itself it has no charms. The desert's
waves have risen to its breast, as if to wrap the monster in a
winding-sheet of gold. The face and head have been muti-
lated by Moslem fanatics. The mouth, the beauty of whose
lips was once admired, is now expressionless. Yet grand in
its loneliness, veiled in the mystery of unnumbered ages,
this relic of Egyptian antiquity stands solemn and silent in
the presence of the awful desert symbol of eternity. Here
it disputes with Time the empire of the past ; forever gazing
on and on into a future which will still be distant when we,
like all who have preceded us and looked upon its face, have
lived our little lives and disappeared.

O sleepless Sphinx!
Thy sadly patient eyes,
Thus mutely gazing o'er the shifting sands,

Have watched earth's countless dynasties arise,
Stalk forth like spectres waving gory hands,
Then fade away with scarce a lasting trace
To mark the secret of their dwelling-place:
O sleepless Sphinx!



334 EGYPT

O changeless Sphinx!
In the fair dawn of time
So grandly sculptured from the living rock;

Still bears thy face its primal look sublime,
Surviving all the hoary ages' shock;

Still art thou royal in thy proud repose
As when the sun on tuneful Memnon rose:
O changeless Sphinx!

O voiceless Sphinx!
Thy solemn lips are dumb;
Time's awful secrets hold'st thou in thy breast;
Age follows age, revering pilgrims come
From every clime to urge the same request,

That thou wilt speak. Poor creatures of a day,
In calm disdain thou seest them die away:
O voiceless Sphinx!

Majestic Sphinx!
Thou crouchest by a sea
Whose fawn-hued wavelets clasp thy buried feet;

Whose desert surface, petrified like thee,
Gleams white with sails of many an Arab fleet;
Or when wild storms its waves to fury sweep,
High o'er thy form the tawny billows leap:
Majestic Sphinx!

Eternal Sphinx!
The pyramids are thine;
Their giant summits guard thee night and day;

On thee they look when stars in splendor shine,
Or while around their crests the sunbeams play;
Thine own coevals, who with thee remain
Colossal genii of the boundless plain:
Eternal Sphinx!



JOHN L. STODDARD'S LECTURES

COMPLETE IN TEN VOLUMES



CONTENTS

VOLUME I
NORWAY SWITZERLAND ATHENS VENICE

VOLUME II
CONSTANTINOPLE JERUSALEM EGYPT

VOLUME III
JAPAN (Two LECTURES) CHINA

VOLUME IV
INDIA (Two LECTURES) THE PASSION PLAY

VOLUME V
PARIS LA BELLE FRANCE SPAIN

VOLUME VI
BERLIN VIENNA ST. PETERSBURG Moscow

VOLUME VII
THE RHINE BELGIUM HOLLAND MEXICO

VOLUME VIII
FLORENCE NAPLES ROME

VOLUME IX
SCOTLAND ENGLAND LONDON

VOLUME X

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GRAND CANON OF THE
COLORADO RIVER YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK



University of California

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Online LibraryJohn L. (John Lawson) StoddardJohn L. Stoddard's lectures : illustrated and embellished with views of the world's famous places and people, being the identical discourses delivered during the past eighteen years under the title of the Stoddard lectures (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 12)