A BOOK OF THE BEGINNINGS
[The Theosophist, Vol. III, No. 5, February, 1882, pp. 127-28]
If one could summon to his aid the airy flippancy which seems so marked a characteristic of our literary critics as a class, he might dash off his column of remarks upon the strange book that lies before us,* without a thought of the consequences to its author. But one who has ever himself essayed authorship in a conscientious spirit of loyalty to truth, knows too well the pangs that torture the heart of a writer when he sees the monument of his research defiled alike by the fulsome praise or unmerited calumny of its reviewers. Since Mr. Gerald Massey’s great work appeared, numerous criticisms of it have come under our notice. And of these scarcely one has indicated that the reviewer had closely studied the book, while most have shown but too plainly that its pages had been but skimmed over hurriedly and perfunctorily.
This is no paste-and-scissors compilation, made as a commercial speculation, but a conscientious compilation and analysis of all available material which bears upon the history of Egypt or throws light upon the beginnings of her people. That all this gigantic labour was undertaken by the author to support a theory that human speech, if not the human race itself, has sprung from the Nilotic Delta or primarily from the ancestors of the ancient Egyptians, in no way lessens his claim to our admiration for his learning and industry. If we mistake not, most of the world’s
* A Book of the Beginnings. By Gerald Massey. Two Vols. 4to. (London, Williams and Norgate, 1881).
knowledge has come from specialists and ideologists, for only such have sufficient impulse to carry them through all obstacles to the discovery of truth. This book is an encyclopaedia of Egyptology in itself; and though the reader disagree ever so much with Mr. Massey as to an African rather than an Asiatic or American origin of the race, yet he must, all the same, value it most highly as the best repository extant of the data that every student of history and ethnology needs for a comprehension of those subjects. One often feels happy to find in the average volume of the day one fact to remember or one good idea to appropriate: but in this Book of the Beginnings every page teems with the evidences of painstaking research. Mr. Massey’s theory is that man has evolved from the anthropoid apes, and through the Negro races, to the present variety of colour and stage of development. He seeks to fortify his position that Egypt and not Central Asia is the cradle-land of languages by comparative vocabularies of Egyptian words and those in British, Maori, Akkadian, Gothic, Burmese, Sanskrit, and other tongues. Were our purpose to do more than to call attention to this encyclopaedic work and recommend it to Asiatic and Anglo-Indian buyers, we might challenge the accuracy of the author’s philological deductions, as of his ethnic theory. So liberal a thinker as Mr. Gerald Massey will be most unlikely to deny our statement that the last word has not yet been said about the origin and distribution of the races of mankind. Possibly he may even concede to us the reasonableness of our belief that the mist will never be cleared away until the treasures of certain hidden libraries in the possession of a group of Asiatic recluses shall be given out to the world. But be that as it may, we feel too thankful to him for the present compendious contribution to Egyptological literature to attempt any criticism upon a single reading of his book in the hurry of editorial and official duties. One thing we may at least say, that he has traced with minute painstaking the Egyptian parentage of the whole array of Bible myths and miracles. The “impotent attempts” of Bibliolaters to convert mythology into history, dignified with the astounding
title of the “Book of God” provoke the full scorn of one who, like him, has industriously searched out the origines of Hebraic ideas. These attempts, he says, “have produced the most unmitigated muddle of matter ever presented to the mind of man. There has been no such fruitful source of misconception as this supposed source of all wisdom, designated the Book of God, ignorantly believed to have been communicated to man orally by an objective Deity . . . The myths of Egypt are the miracles of the Hebrew writings, and a true explanation of the one must inevitably explode the false pretensions of the other . . . The key of those (the Biblical) writings was lost, and it is found in Egypt.” This is unpalatable truth for our benevolent enemies, the Padris, but Mr. Massey makes out his case. They may revile but they cannot answer him.
But we have one valid complaint to make about the book: it has no General Index. The student unaided must pick out the facts he wishes out of this bewildering heap of facts. This involves great labour and loss of time, and largely impairs the value of the work.