Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/703

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THE "FIND" IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN.

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to have been profitable, in spite of the unscientific processes employed by the ancient world. Since that time two "finds" of the kind have been made, one of which has been attracting attention this week. We do not know the sums extracted from the scoriæ-heaps piled up at the entrances to the silver mines of Laurium, but they have been considerable enough to attract the attention of all Greece, and to be the foundation of heavy lawsuits, and even of international disputes; and now Captain Burton thinks he has rediscovered the ancient Ophir. That may be doubtful, though Dr. Kitto shows that Solomon's ships which sailed there were launched on the Red Sea, and that Ophir was probably in Edom; and though the country does not produce peacocks now, the early Midianites held the carrying-trade between Egypt and further Asia, and they may have had a central depôt, which in popular phraseology gives its name to everything sold thence, as at present in Asia all European goods are said to be London-made; but the explorer has certainly discovered something. He has gone prospecting about the world a good deal, has a keen eye to business — witness his search for sulphur in Iceland — has a regularly-trained engineer with him, and as usual, has reported only what he has seen. If his account is correct, he has made this time a very considerable discovery. He has visited the "land of Midian," the wild and unpeopled country east of the Wady Arabah, the easternmost of the two fiords which jut into Egypt from the Red Sea, the land where Moses crushed the Midianites, whoever they were, for being idolatrous and pleasure-loving — Hellenic and not Hebraistic — and has found it full of the evidences of an ancient civilization, based upon mining operations. There are remains of strong cities, of aqueducts, of smelting-furnaces, and of roads, and evidence of the existence of gold and silver mines, tin mines, and even of turquoise quarries, the latter more attractive to the mineralogist than to the man of business. Turquoises, like garnets, are not very profitable to those who dig for them, except when found in very unusual pieces; they are very destructible, and, if found in considerable quantities, would speedily become almost unsalable. But it is perfectly possible that very important mines, both of gold and silver, may exist in Midian, and have remained almost untouched by races who knew there was gold there, and found some of it, but were perfectly unable to crush quartz, or sink deep shafts, or pursue any process of extraction oy amalgamation. It paid them to work hard for a very little result in weight of metal, one of the facts connected with ancient mining we are all very apt to overlook. There was so little gold and silver in circulation, that a very small bit of either would pay for a week's work, and a treasuryful like that discovered by Dr. Schliemann, though it would now melt down to very little money, so impressed the imagination of men, that the tradition of it descended through the ages. The legend of the riches of Solomon lives forever, but his bank-balance would not in modern money impress Mr. Kirkman Hodgson very much. It is impossible to read the Bible or the "Iliad," or — centuries after — the books of the Middle Ages, without seeing how the excessive value of gold as evidence of wealth impressed the imaginations of men till, in the early Eastern world, the ornaments of the women were the great rewards of the soldiery after the sacking of a city; and in Europe, so much later, gold was credited with any number of mystical virtues. The early alchemists were hunting for a metal of which a small potful meant wealth for life, and a helmetful a fortune. Mines, therefore, could be worked to a profit, and were worked to a profit for centuries without being exhausted, the only outlays being the food of the slaves employed and the cost of a little firing, and the gains worth possibly the equivalent of £100 an ounce. If there are mines at all in Midian, which seems evident, the ancient workings will not have depleted them seriously, and the khedive, with his command of forced and convict labor, guided by European science, may have made a really perceptible haul. We rather hope he has, not for his sake, for he is the far inferior of the Ptolemy who preceded him by twenty centuries, but because every sixpence he gets without taxing or borrowing relieves the most oppressed race on the Mediterranean; and because Captain Burton, much as we dislike most of his books and many of his ideas, deserves that some prize of a kind he wishes for should fall to his extraordinary energy and courage. When a man has the nerve and the nous to hunt in a place like Midian, in the most neglected corner of the most sterile of earthly lands, for a new source of wealth to be suddenly acquired, he deserves the reward he seeks, if only for clearing the way for men with higher aims. A company to work the mines would hardly succeed, free labor in Midian being an unknown quantity and