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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/121

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Bk. I. Ch. I.





IN any consecutive narrative of the architectural undertakings of mankind the description of what was done in Egypt necessarily commences the series, not only because the records of authentic history are found in the Valley of the Nile long before the traditions of other nations had assumed anything like tangible consistency, but because, from the earliest dawn down to the time when Christianity struck down the old idolatry, the inhabitants of that mysterious land were essentially and pre-eminently a building race. Were it not for this we should be left with the dry bones of the skeleton of her history, which is all that is left us of the dynasties of Manetho; or with the fables in which ignorant and credulous European travellers expressed their wonder at a civilization they could not comprehend.

As the case now stands, the monuments of Egypt give life and reality to their whole history. It is impossible for any educated man capable of judging of the value of evidence, to wander among the Pyramids and tombs of Memphis, the Temples of Thebes, or the vast structures erected by the Ptolemys or C├Žsars, and not to feel that he has before him a chapter of history more authentic than we possess of any nation at all approaching it in antiquity, and a picture of men and manners more vivid and more ample than remains to us of any other people who have passed away.

As we wander among the tombs or temples of Egypt we see the very chisel-marks of the mason, and the actual colors of the painter which were ordered by a Suphis or a Rhamses, and we stand face to face with works the progress of which they watched, and which they designed in order to convey to posterity what their thoughts and feelings were, and what they desired to record for the instruction of future generations. All is there now, and all who care may learn what these old kings intended should be known by their remotest posterity.