Atlantic Monthly

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Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 1, No. 7, May, 1858

Project Gutenberg's Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 1, No. 7, May, 1858, by Various This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net
Title: Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 1, No. 7, May, 1858
Author: Various
Release Date: May 18, 2004 [EBook #12374]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. I.--MAY, 1858.--NO. VII.

AMERICAN ANTIQUITY.
The results of the past ten or fifteen years in historical investigation are exceedingly mortifying to any one who has been proud to call himself a student of History. We had thought, perhaps, that we knew something of the origin of human events and the gradual development from the past into the world of to-day. We had read Herodotus, and Gibbon, and Gillies, and done manful duty with Rollin. There were certain comfortable, definite facts in antiquity. Romulus and Remus were our friends; the transmission of the alphabet by the Phoenicians was a resting-spot; the destruction of Babylon and the date of the Flood were fixed stations in the wilderness. In more modern periods, we had a refuge in the date of the discovery of America; and if we were forced back into the wilds and uncertainties of American History, Mr. Prescott soon restored to us the buried empires, and led us easily back through a few plain centuries.
Beyond these dates, indeed, there was a shadowy land, through whose changing mists could be seen sometimes the grand outlines of abandoned cities, or the faint forms of temples, or the graceful column or massive tomb, which marked the distant path of the advancing race: but these were scarcely more than visions for a moment, before darkness again covered the view. Our mythology and philosophy of the past were almost equally misty and vague. History was to us a succession of facts; empire succeeding empire, and one form of civilization another, with scarcely more connection than in the scenes of a theatre;--the great isolated fact of all being the existence of the Jews. All cosmic myths and noble conceptions of Deity and pure religious beliefs were only offshoots of Hebrew tradition.
This, we are pained to say, is all changed now. Our beloved dates, our easy explanation, and popular narrative are half dissolved under the touch of modern investigation. Roman History abandons poor Romulus and Remus; the Flood sinks into a local inundation, and is pushed back nobody knows how many thousands of years; an Egyptian antiquity arises of which Herodotus never knew; and Josephus is proved ignorant of his own subject. Nothing is found separate from the current of the world's history,--neither Hebrew law and religion, nor Phoenician commerce, nor Hindoo mythology, nor Grecian art. On the shadowy Past, over the deserted battle-fields, the burial-mounds, the mausolea, the temples, the altars, and the habitations of perished nations, new rays of light are cast. Peoples not heard of before, empires forgotten, conquests not recorded, arts unknown in their place at this day, and civilizations of which all has perished but the language, appear again. The world wakes to find itself much older than it thought. History is hardly the same study that it once was. Even more than the investigations of hieroglyphs and bass-reliefs and sculptures, during the past few years, have the researches in one especial direction changed the face of the ancient world.
LANGUAGE is found to be itself the best record of a nation's origin, development, and relation to other races. Each vocabulary and grammar of a dead nation is a Nineveh, rich in pictures, inscriptions, and historical records, uncovering to the patient investigator not merely the external life and actions of the people, but their deepest internal life, and their connection with other peoples and times. The little defaced word, the cast-away root, the antique construction, picked up by the student among the vestiges of a language, may be a relic fresher from the past and older than a stone from the Pyramids, or the sculpture of the Assyrian temple.
In American history, this work of investigation till recently had not been thoroughly entered upon. Within the last quarter of a century, Kingsborough and Gallatin and Prescott and Davis and Squier and Schoolcraft and M¨¹ller have each thrown some light over the mysterious antiquity of our own continent. But of all, a French Abb¨¦, an ethnologist and a careful investigator,--M. BRASSEUR DE BOURBOURG,--has, in a history recently published, done the best service to this cause. It is entitled "Histoire des Nations Civilis¨¦es
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