A Book of the Beginnings.

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21st May, 1881.


—Containing an Attempt to Recover and Reconstitute the Lost Origines of the Myths and Mysteries, Types and Symbols, Religion and Language, with Egypt for the Mouthpiece, and Africa as the Birthplace.  By Gerald Massey. Vol I.—Egyptian Origines in the British Isles. Vol II.—Egyptian Origines in the Hebrew, Akkado, Assyrian, and Maori.  London: Williams & Norgate.

THIS work, of which two bulky volumes have been published, containing together nearly twelve hundred large quarto pages, and of which other two volumes are ready for the press, while, at the least, one more volume will be required to complete the work, is more likely, were it for no other reason than its bulk, to appal than to attract readers; and, for more reasons than one, it is well fitted to try the patience of those who may venture upon its perusal.  They will find it a hard out to crack; and the kernel, when got at, will but poorly repay the pains of those who shall have succeeded in cracking it.  The author himself seems to have a notion that he is making unreasonable demands upon the faith and patience of his readers.  Towards the close of the second volume, he remarks, half apologetically, that "conclusions already attained by the writer had to be occasionally stated, glanced at, or implied, which must appear to the reader the sheerest, and sometimes most unwarrantable assumptions, until the evidence for such conclusions can be completely set forth.  He thus stands self-condemned: for nothing can justify an author for bringing forward statements which must appear to the reader the sheerest and most unwarrantable assumptions, without, at the same time, setting forth the evidence by which he proposes to substantiate them.  Were Mr Gerald Massey a vates in the highesh sense of the term—prophet as well as poet—be could scarcely have made a more exorbitant demand upon the faith of his readers, who will, doubtless, reserve their confidence for writers who can convince their judgment.
    The aim of the work is to demonstrate, or, at the least, to render credible, the hypothesis that at some far away time, and somewhere in the interior of Africa, the negro, or primitive man, was evolved from the ape—for the author is nothing it not an evolutionist—and that, in process of time, the negro race descended the valley of the Nile, peopled Egypt, became a civilised and cultured people, sent out colonies all over the world, and spread "mythology, religion, symbols, language," and all that civilisation implies, to the uttermost ends of the earth.  Against this very simple and symmetrical hypothesis stands the obvious fact that the ancient Egyptians, as represented by themselves on their monuments, are not negroes, but, on the contrary, are sharpely distinguished from the negro, who also appears on the same monuments wearing the self-same features which he wears to-day.  Even Mr Massey confesses that the Egyptian "type on the earliest monuments had become liker to the so-called later Caucasian."  This he regards as of no importance, since "the Egyptians themselves never got rid of the thick nose, the full lip, the flat foot, and weak calf of the Nigritian type."  The differentiation of the Egyptian from the negro only demands, in the author's view, a longer period of pre-historic time.

    It is a far cry from Egypt to England ; but the distance in not too far for Mr Massey to bridge across.  How many sensible people will trust to the frail and fantastic structure with which he proposes to span it is another matter.  The Aryan family of languages is so organically distinct from the Hamitic, which includes the Egyptian, that no philologist has yet been able to discover the slightest trace of affinity between them; yet the task of connecting them is not too hopeless nor too vast for Mr Massey to undertake.  Nay, more, he has convinced himself—although it way well be doubted whether he will be able to convince anyone else—that all the languages in the world are descended from the Ancient Egyptian.  The means by which he proposes to reach this conclusion may easily be guessed.  It is none other than the old-fashioned and exploded etymological process in which the vowels count for nothing, and the consonants for very little more; and in which, by juggling with letters, any word in any language may be identified with any other word in any other language of quite another organic structure.  To make way for this process, scientific philology must be swept aside; and this is easily effected by a stroke of the pen:—

"The founders of philological science have worked without the most fundamental material of all, the Egyptian ; this they neglected early and avoided late.  From lack of the primaries to be found in that language, a vast number of their conclusions are necessarily false, and their theory of the Indo-European origin of languages and races is, in the present writer's opinion, the most spurious product of the century.  This list of words, at least, will give no countenance to the theory ; they point to Egypt, and not to India, as the place to look for the origines of the language that first came into the British Isles."

It seems, then, that Bopp and Grimm, the fathers of comparative philology, and their followers, in working patiently and laboriously backwards from the known to the unknown, have for the last fifty years been on the wrong tack, and that the magnificent results which they have achieved are "the most spurious products of the century!"  How far the author is qualified to form an opinion on this subject will be seen presently; but meanwhile it may be remarked that he has put himself, by these remarks, in opposition, not only to comparative philologists, but also to Lord Bacon and to the scientific world generally; since if there is any thing on which scientific men agree, it is that science must work backwards from the known to the unknown, and not conversely from the unknown forwards to the known. 

    If guess-work shall ever take the place of scientific method as a means of arriving at truth, then Mr Massey will come to be accounted a philologist and a philosopher.  It is hard to know what he understands by the "theory of the Indo-European languages and races;" but there can be no doubt that the descent of all the Aryan languages from a common mother tongue is now as definitely established as the law of gravitation.  It is however, still open for Mr Massey to affiliate the Aryan upon the Hamitic stock, provided he can do so scientifically.  Let him compare together all the Hamitic tongues, and from these reconstruct the primitive Hamitic language; and let him compare this with the already reconstructed Aryan language.  Not till this shall have been done will it be possible to determine whether there is any or what connection between English or any other Indo-European tongue and the Hamitic family of languages.  It can lead to no result to attempt to identify modern words, abraded by the friction of thousands of years, and altered both in form and in meaning, with ancient Egyptian words, themselves also similarly abraded and modified by the tear and wear of ages.   In any case the comparison of ready-made words is utterly futile and barren of results.  Roots must be compared with roots, if any important result is to be attained.  This, at any rate, will be universal among those who have any faith in modern scientific methods.  Mr Massey, on the contrary, does not hesitate to affirm that "comparative philologists have not gone deep enough as yet to see that there is a stage where likeness may afford guidance, because there was a common origin for the primordial stock of words," the likeness to which he refers being simply a similarity generally fanciful in sound and sense—a similarity which to the scientific philologist is the surest mark of the diversity of origin.  He does not seem to see that, in assuming a common origin for a primordial stock of words, or indeed a primordial stock of words at all, and in further assuming that this common origin is to be found in the language of the ancient Egyptians, he is simply begging the question—that he is, in fact, assuming the very points which he has undertaken to prove.

    As might be expected, Grimm's law is the special object of his abhorrence; and he treats it as if it were an arbitrary invention, instead of being a natural law, which, in one form or other, must come into action as soon as a language splits into dialects or divides itself into branches.  As Professor Sayce puts it, "Each language or dialect has its peculiar phonetic laws or tendencies: because a particular interchange of sounds takes place in one language, it does not follow that it does so in another."  This is the fundamental principle which underlies Grimm's law—a principle which the author has systematically set at defiance.  He has held himself at liberty to omit, insert, or permute vowels at pleasure, and even to transmute them into consonants; and, in dealing with consonants, he has made use of every possible form of permutation without taking into account the phonetic laws and tendencies of the languages to which the words operated upon belong. A few examples will illustrate his method.

    In the list referred to in the foregoing citation, which he calls a "Comparative Vocabulary of English and Egyptian Words," he defines Eke as "a final tumbler of toddy," and identifies it with the Egypian Hek, "drink".  It is unnecessary to prove that Eke (Anglo-Saxon eac-an) is a native English word meaning add to, and that in Scotland it is used as a substantive, and means "an addition"—that is, "something added."  An eke may be put to a garment, a bee-hive, a law plea, and to a thousand other things. —Nor does it lose its primary meaning when used locally as it is, in some parts of Scotland, to denote, not "a final," but "an additional" tumbler, or rather half-tambler, of toddy.  It still means "an addition"—that and nothing else. It includes neither the idea of drink nor of finality.  So far from its being a final tumbler, topers well know that there may be occasionally a second, a third, or, indeed, any number of ekes. The word, therefore, can have no possible connection with the Egyptian Hek, if that word signifies drink. The Oh, yes ! Oh, yes ! of the town-crier is generally understood to be the old French form of proclamation Oyez ! Oyez ! (Hear ye ! Hear ye !) which has survived from the Norman period of English history.  Mr Massey's account of the matter may be quoted as a fair example of his method of treatment:—

"The exact form of the town-crier's announcement known to the writer thirty or forty years since was 'Hoi-yea-yes,' in some cases 'O yea, yes.'  This formula is abbreviated in the Cornish 'Hoyz,' which has every element of Hoi-yea-yes.  The English Oh and Ah are the Egyptian 'Hai,' and Hai in to hail, address, invoke, and means Oh, Hail!  'Heh' signifies search, seek, go in search of, wander about, or look about and bring to light.  'Hes' is the order to be obedient: Hes, will, order, command. Hat-hek-hes, then, is Egyptian for a command, announced with Hail or Oh, of the 'Ha,' who was the crier and proclaimer of Egypt, to go and seek for and find something 'lost, stolen, or strayed,' according to the mode of 'crying' still in use."

    The identity of the French oyer with the Latin audire is too evident to have escaped the author had he not plunged himself over head and ears into Egyptian darkness.  The English parent and the Latin parens he represents as made up, not of par and the participial suffix ns or nt, hot of pa, the begetter, ren, to nurse, and t the participial or feminine terminal.  Thus parent (Eng.), parens (Lat.), is equivalent to pa-ren-t (Egypt.).  The detaching of the r from the stem and joining it to the suffix is at once novel, ingenious, and unphilological.  We are no longer to regard England as the land of the English—at least etymologically.  Mr Massey has discovered that ankh is the Egyptian word for life, and it is the simplest inference from this that "Ankhland was the land of life in mythology localised by name in England."  One more example, and the patience of the reader shall be taxed no further :—

"Ark, in the hieroglyphics, is the end of a time or a thing completed. P is the masculine article the.  At the end of its lifetime, or completed period, the pig becomes pork, which is, when read in Egyptian, the ended or completed pig.  The period is represented by a circle, the symbol of enclosure, or arking round.  Thus, ark with the article p yields' our word park."

    One is tempted to doubt whether the whole work is one great elaborate joke, or only a clumsy attempt at a kind, of verbal legerdemain; for surely these passages—and there are hundreds quite as absurd—can never have been meant for sober philology.  In any case, the reader may be warned that this spurious etymology pervades the whole work, and vitiates every one of the author's conclusions.  This is a sweeping condemnation; but it is sufficiently justified by the fact that the philologial is at present the sole method by which comparative mythology can work out any trustworthy results; and when this method is wrongly applied, as it is throughout these volumes, it is impossible to put faith in any of the conclusions which are reached.

    It only remains to state that, in the second volume, he attempts to affiliate the Hebrew, the Akkadian, and the Maori races and languages upon the Egyptian, and to prove, after his own peculiar fashion, that the Jews borrowed their religion from Egypt, and that the books of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, and Judges are composed of Egyptian myths, with the slightest possible admixture of the historical element.

    The time may come when the questions here raised may have to be faced; but they will have to be dealt with by a very different person than Mr Gerald Massey, and in a very different method from that which has been employed in these volumes.


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