Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/333

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UNWRITTEN HISTORY.

that which constitutes a man of science is not the pursuit of this or that specialty, but a living faith in the supreme importance of truth, and an unshakable conviction that order reigns over all things, and that chance has no more place in human affairs than elsewhere.

Now, the generation of the science of history took place in this wise: Somewhere in the earlier half of the fifth century, a sort of side skirmish of the Persian wars drove out of house and home a Greek gentleman—one Herodotus, with whose name you will be sufficiently familiar. He was a man of great intelligence and unflagging energy, well versed in all the learning of his time. The magnitude and the interest of the events which bad taken place, either within his own memory or within that of men with whom he had talked, seem early to have taken strong hold of his mind, and he determined to devote his life to writing an account of them, in which truth should be sifted from error, and the causation of events displayed to the best of his ability.

With this end in view, Herodotus was not content with collecting and collating all the information which he could obtain from trustworthy sources, but he determined to become personally acquainted with the chief countries and people implicated in the contest. There lay the primary conditions of the problem which "the father of history" had set himself to study; and there is no better evidence of his strong scientific turn than the conviction on which he acted, that, if he would understand these conditions, he must know them of his own knowledge.

Egypt was one of the countries involved in the Persian wars. Herodotus visited the country somewhere about 450 b. c., and he has left a most curious and entertaining account of his own observations, and of the information which he obtained from the priests of Thebes and the literati of Heliopolis, with whom, his interpreter, or dragoman, as we should now call him, brought him into contact.

I dare say you read the second book of Herodotus, and know a great deal more about it than I do. Nevertheless, it may not be superfluous to remind you that the historian speaks with admiration of the learning of the Egyptians, and of the remarkable pains which they took to preserve the memory of the past in their records. Among a great many other things, they read to him from a papyrus the names of three hundred and thirty monarchs who had reigned over Egypt, from Menes, the first Pharaoh, to their own time.

The average length of the reigns of any long series of Western sovereigns is about twenty-five years, so that, if the records of the Egyptians were to be trusted and the average length of reign among them was the same, Menes should have ascended the throne more than ten thousand years ago.

Within my recollection it was very much the fashion to regard Herodotus as a garrulous old gentleman, who willingly allowed himself