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EDWARD ROBINSON, D.D., LL. D.,
To G. P. PUTNAM, Esq.
My Dear Sir :—You request my opinion of Mr. LAYARD'S volumes, entitled “ NINEVEH AND ITS REMAINS,” which you are about to introduce to the American public. I concur entirely with you in regarding this as a work of very high interest and importance; and as destined to mark an epoch in the wonderful progress of knowledge at the present day.
In this general progress the nineteenth century stands preeminent. In physical science, the brilliant discoveries of Davy and others have changed the whole face of chemistry. The steamengine, though in a measure earlier perfected, has first in our day been applied with its mighty energies to navigation, to locomotion on land, and (not least) to the printing-press. The flitting sunbeam has been grasped, and made to do man's bidding in place of the painter's pencil. And although Franklin tamed the lightning, yet not until yesterday has its instantaneous flash been made the vehicle of language ; thus, in the transmission of thought, annihilating space and time. The last forty years likewise bear witness to the exploration of many lands of ancient renown; and our present exact and full acquaintance with the regions and monuments of Greece and Egypt, of Asia Minor and the Holy Land, is the result of the awakened activity, coupled with the enlarged facilities, of the nine
:-In all these discoveries and observations, it is not too much to say, that our country has borne at least her proportionate part.
There is another aspect. For very many centuries the hoary monuments of Egypt-its temples, its obelisks, its tombshave presented to the eye of the beholder strange forms of sculpture and of language; the import of which none could tell. The wild valleys of Sinai, too, exhibited upon their rocky sides the unknown writing of a former people ; whose name and existence none could trace. Among the ruined halls and palaces of Persepolis, and on the rock-hewn tablets of the surrounding regions, long inscriptions in forgotten characters seemed to enroll the deeds and conquests of mighty sovereigns; but none could read the record. Thanks to the skill and persevering zeal of scholars of the nineteenth century, the keys of these locked up treasures have been found; and the records have mostly been read. The monuments of Egypt, her paintings and her hieroglyphics, mule for so many ages, have at length spoken out; and now our knowledge of this ancient people is scarcely less accurate and extensive than our acquaintance with the classic lands of Greece and Rome. The unknown characters upon the rocks of Sinai have been deciphered; but the meagre contents leave us still in darkness as to their origin and purpose.
The cuneiform or arrow-headed inscriptions of the Persian monuments and tablets have yielded up their mysteries, unfolding historical data of high importance; thus illustrating and confirming the few and sometimes isolated facts preserved to us in the Scriptures and other ancient writings. Of all the works, in which the progress and results of these discoveries have been made known, not one has been reproduced or made generally accessible in this country. The scholar who would become acquainted with them and make them his own, must still have recourse to the old world.
The work of Mr. Layard brings before us still another step of progress. Here we have to do, not with hoary ruins that have borne the brunt of centuries in the presence of the world, but with a resurrection of the monuments themselves. It is the disentombing of temple-palaces from the sepulchre of ages; the recovery of the metropolis of a powerful nation from the long night of oblivion.
Nineveh, the great city “ of three days' journey,” that was “laid waste and there was none to bemoan her,” whose greatness sank when that of Rome had just begun 10 rise, now stands forth again to testify to her own splendor, and to the civilization and power and magnificence of the Assyrian Empire. This may be said, thus far, to be the crowning historical discovery of the nineteenth century. But the century as yet is only half elapsed.
Nineveh was destroyed in the year 606 before Christ ; less than 150 years after Rome was founded. Her latest monuments, there. fore, date back not less than five-and-twenty centuries ; while the foundation of her earliest is lost in an unknown antiquity. When the ten thousand Greeks marched over this plain in their celebrated retreat (400 B. c.) they found in one part a ruined city called Larissa ; and in connection with it, Xenophon, their leader and historian, describes what is now the pyramid of Nimroud. But he heard not the name of Nineveh; it was already forgotten on its site; though it appears again in the later Greek and Roman writers. Even at that time the widely extended walls and ramparts of Nineveh had perished; and mounds, covering magnificent palaces, alone remained at the extremities of the ancient city, or in its vicinity, much as at the present day.
Of the site of Nineveh there is scarcely a further mention, be. yond the brief notices of Benjamin of Tudela and Abulfeda, until Niebuhr saw it and described its mounds nearly a century ago. In 1820 Mr. Rich visited the spot; he obtained a few square sun-dried bricks with inscriptions, and some other slight remains; and we can all remember the profound impression made upon the public mind, even by these cursory memorials of Nineveh and Babylon.
We first hear of Mr. Layard in 1840; when, after having in the preceding year travelled with a single companion through all Syria, we find him in company with Mr. Ainsworth visiting the mounds of Kalah Shergat, and the ruins of el-Hather, the ancient Hatra in the desert. As he afterwards floated down the Tigris from Mosul to Baghdad; and passed, some sixteen miles below Mosul, the great mound of Nimroud, the most important of all; he formed the purpose of exploring at some future time these singular remains; and he subsequently called the attention of M. Botta, the Frencb
Consul at Mosul, to this particular spot. Meantime the latter began, in 1843, to excavate the mound of Kouyunjik, opposite Mosul; but soon transferred his labors to Khorsabad, a mound and village twelve miles northeast of Mosul, at the foot of the Kurdish mountains. Here M. Botta's efforts were crowned with success; and Mr. Layard gracefully acknowledges, that “to him is due the honor of having found the first Assyrian monument.” His excavations were continued through 1844; and the results have been given to the world in a magnificent series of engravings, published at the expense of the French government. But most important as are these me. morials, they are nevertheless surpassed in extent and antiquity by those found by Mr. Layard in the larger and more ancient edifices exhumed at Nimroud.
The volumes of Mr. Layard contain an account of the labors carried on by him at Nimroud from November, 1845, until April, 1847; and also of the less extensive excavations made at Kalah Sherghat and Kouyunjik. It has been truly said, that the narrative is like a romance. In its incidents and descriptions it does indeed remind one continually of an Arabian tale of wonders and genii. The style is simple and direct, without ornament and without effort; yet lively, vigorous, and graphic. Many difficulties did he have to encounter with Pashas and Sheikhs, Cadis and Ulemas, with Arabs of the plain and Chaldeans of the mountains, in moulding them for the accomplishment of his great purpose. These are often amus. ing, and are described with effect. In this way the work presents us with a better insight into oriental character and manners and customs, than is often to be found in volumes expressly devoted to these topics. The energy, skill, and perseverance every where displayed by Mr. Layard, as also his singular tact and judgment in the management of the Arabs, are worthy of all praise. This is probably the first instance, in which so many of this wild and excitable race, these sons of the desert, have been for so long a time brought under the influence of a single Frank, and led to follow regular and protracted labor.
In the latter portion of the second volume Mr. Layard gives a summary view of the results of his investigations, and of their hearing upon the history of the Assyrians. The monuments are
yet too few to furnish full illustration ; but they make us in many respects better acquainted with that powerful people, than all the accounts we have heretofore possessed. We may hope that Mr. Layard will yet be spared to prosecute like researches throughout the Assyrian and Mesopotamian plains, teeming as they do with similar mounds; and that the time will come, when all the monu ments of those regions shall be laid open and deciphered.
Besides the specimens of beautiful glass, and the pulley, found at Nimroud, an unexpected discovery is that of the arch. The importance of this rests, not so much perhaps in the mere circumstance of a single small vaulted chamber, as in the fact brought out by Mr. Layard, that "arched gateways are continually represented in the bas-reliefs.” It follows that the arch was well known before the Jewish exile, and at least seven or eight centuries before the time of Herod. Diodorus Siculus also relates, that the tunnel from the Euphrates at Babylon, ascribed to Semiramis, was vaulted. (Hist. ii. 9.) All this serves to remove the difficulty, still felt by some, in respect to the antiquity of the vaults yet existing under the site of the temple at Jerusalem.
During the progress of the excavations, Mr. Layard made various excursions into the adjacent regions. On the west of the Ti. gris he visited el-Hather with a large party from Mosul ; and at another time the mountain of Sinjar, a seat of the Yezidis, in com. pany with the Pasha and his military retinue. The accounts of both these journeys are full of incident, comprising alike the foray and treachery of the nomadic Bedouin, and the deadly fray and pillage of the Turk. On the east of the Tigris, in the border of the Kurdish mountains, he paid a visit to the chief of the Yezidis, and was present at the yearly festival in honor of their great saint. On another occasion he extended his journey into the mountains among the Nestorians; travelled through the district of the Tiyari, still lying desolate after the recent massacre, and passed into that of Tkhoma just before it was in like manner destroyed. Here, too, the narrative is exceedingly interesting; though there is less of new information. The chapter on the history and doctrines of the Nestorian Christians is hardly in its place.
Such being the general character of Mr. Layard's volumes, I