Imagens da página

olation has spread over regions once “flowing with milk and honey.” The traveller passes by day over scenes of ruin; by night he finds a damp and dismal lodging in the ruined palace of some ancient nobleman or monarch ; or, more likely, lies down by his side in the tomb, and sleeps among the dead. The music that once resounded in the splendid hall, has given place to the cry of the jackal; and the gay forms, that once flitted in the mazy dance, are seen there no more. Silence now reigns, where once was the din of business; and the commerce of the world has found new channels; and these splendid cities have fallen never to rise again.

“ Westward the star of empire takes its way;" and westward, too, moves the star of commerce, and science and the arts. Civilization seems “ rather to have changed its abode than to have extended its dominion.” In those places where it formerly flourished most, nothing now remains but barbarism and deserts; but in lands scarce known when Babylon and Tyre were in the height of their splendor; in countries so little known as not to attract the attention of Alexander, or suggest that in the West he might find the world which he wished still to conquer, have arisen commercial cities that outvie all that was known in Western Asia; and in a new world, then wholly unknown, Boston, and New-York, and Philadelphia, and Cincinnati, have taken the place of Sidon, and Tyre, and Babylon, and Petra, and Carthage. The circle of science and the arts seems to be removed, not enlarged. The centre of civilization is fluctuating and changing. The grove where Plato and Zeno taught, the city where Phidias lived and Demosthenes roused his countrymen to arms, have been trodden by the feet of those who spurned the elegant arts of life; but the record of the eloquence, the philosophy, and the arts of those immortal men have found their permanent abode in the West.

I have said that the man who now travels over Western Asia, travels amidst ruins. In Babylon, should he perchance find the place where it stood, he would see a vast and gloomy pile, without order, or verdure, or comeliness. Around it, he would see a vast marsh, where no mark of culture appears. Such is the testimony of all who have visited that lonely region. “ The abundance of the country,” says Sir R. Ker Porter, “has vanished as clean away, as if the besom of destruction had


swept it from north to south; the whole land, from the outskirts of Babylon to the farthest stretch of sight, lying a melancholy waste.**

Palmyra too is a scene of ruins. « On which side soever we look,” says Volney, “the earth is strewed with vast stones, half-burnt, with broken entablatures, mutilated friezes, disfigured reliefs, effaced sculptures, violated tombs, and altars defiled by the dust." Once ten miles in circumference, now,—such is the desolation, the boundaries can scarcely be traced and determined. The thousands of Corinthian columns of white marble, erect and fallen, covering an extent of about a mile and a half, offer an appearance which travellers compare to that of a forest. “Here,” says Volney, “stand groups of columns, włos2 symmetry is destroyed by the fall of many of them; then we see them ranged in rows of such length that, similar to rows of trees, they deceive the sight, and assume the appearance of continued walls.”

The situation of Petra I need not describe. The travels of our own countryman, Stephens, have made it better known to us than any of the ruined cities of the East. It is a city of tombs, cut from the solid rock. Its busy population has gone. The living are not there; and not a solitary being is now found there, save when the wandering Bedouin, or the passing traveller, spends a night among its sepulchres. Long its very site was unknown; and now that it is known, it is revealed, not to be raised to its former magnificence, but to excite the wonder of the world, that a city, once so splendid, should have become the scene of such utter desolation ;—thus to confirm the words of the ancient prophets of God, and become a proof of the truth of revelation, engraved on the eternal rock. “I would,” said Stephens, when speaking of these ruins, “I would that the skeptic could stand as I did among the ruins of this city, among the rocks, and there open the sacred book, and read the words of the inspired penman, written when this desolate place was one of the greatest cities in the world. I see the scoff arrested, his cheek pale, his lip quivering, and his heart quaking with fear, as the ancient city cries out to him, in a voice loud and powerful as one risen from the dead; though he would not believe Moses and the prophets, he believes the hand-writing of

* For an extended description of the site of Babylon as it appears at present, see an article in the Biblical Repository, Vol. VIII. pp. 158—189.


God himself, in the desolation and eternal ruin around him.” Incidents of Travel, etc., Vol. II. p. 76. .

Nor need I describe Tyre. Volney shall tell what it is. “The whole village of Tyre contains only fifty or sixty poor families, who live obscurely on the produce of their little ground, and a trifling fishery. The houses they occupy are wretched huts, ready to crumble into ruins.' Bruce describes it as

a rock on which fishers dry their nets." The only merchant which Tyre could boast when Volney was there, was a solitary Greek, who could hardly gain a livelihood. In one word, that whole region is now desolate, and it lies under some evident, but mysterious malediction.

What are the causes of these changes ? That there must have been some cause, is past a doubt; and the answer is of more importance than to amuse an idle hour. Great principles have been developed in these changes, and important lessons taught in regard to the mode in which the affairs of the world are administered. Why, when those cities fell, did blighting pass over a once proverbially fertile land ? and why, in the lapse of ages, has it never risen to its former glory? Is it destined for ever to lie waste ? or, in the circling movements of civilization and prosperity, shall that land rise again and become the patron of science and the arts, while the countries, on which the light of learning and the true religion now shines, sink to night?

In suggesting the causes of the changes above described, I mention, first, the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope. I have said that this cape is reported to have been passed by the ancients; but there was then no western world known to which the commerce of the East could be borne; and having been once or twice passed, the ancient navigator seemed to be contented with his achievement. The discovery of the magnetic needle by an obscure citizen of Amalfi in Italy, in 1302, gave a new direction to commerce. The power of the needle, the jealousy of the Italian states labored to conceal from other nations. But it was in vain; and this important discovery “ opened to man the dominion of the seas;" and to the discoverer, if he chose to profit by it, the dominion of the world.* The great object was still to secure the commerce of India. Alexandria, for 1800 years, had enjoyed that commerce undisturbed;

* Qui mare tenet, eum necesse est rerum potiri. Cic. ad Att.


and the plan of Alexander, in founding the city which bore his name, had made Seleucia, and Babylon, and Palmyra, and Petra, a scene of wide desolation, and, together with the thunder of his arms, changed Tyre to a barren rock. New competitors now came into the field. Man had found out the art of leaving the shore, and of going out on the broad ocean. The mariner now felt safe whether he saw the land or not; and whether the sun shone on his pathless way, or whether he moved forward in a cloudy night. The needle pointed in one direction; and he knew the way to his home. Spain and Portugal now came into the field. Columbus launched into unknown seas, and expected to reach India by sailing to the west; and Diaz directed his course to the south and the east. The one discovered the new world, and called it INDIA ;—the other reached the Cape, and called it the Cape of Storms. Yet not thus did the monarch of Portugal regard it. To his sagacious view it was the point indicating hope—the hope of reaching a splendid prize-and he called it the “Cape of Good Hope,” and again fitted out a fleet, which moved on to India. The great discovery was made. A new world was revealed, rich and vast, and capable of sustaining hundreds of millions of civilized men; where cities and towns might rise that would more than equal the splendor of the East; and from whose mines gold might be carried that would yet enrich the East; and from whose shores, too, there might be borne the press, and the Bible, and the lessons of science, and civilization, and law, to change the aspect of the whole Oriental world. The commerce of the East was now to be borne away upon the waves.

Hence those cities which once flourished by its possession, have fallen to rise no more. And this was distinctly predicted by the prophets. The discovery of the Cape of Good Hope alone would have ruined them. And since their downfall, causes have been at work, beyond the power of man to arrest, to render the desolation permanent. There are not on earth now, perhaps, any sites more unfavorable for commerce; and whatever changes may occur in the East, it is certain that those cities can never rise to their former affluence.

Petra is a city of the dead. It has not a single commercial advantage. It has no sea-port; no fertile region around it; no stream on which the steamboat may glide. Nor is there any sea-port near, which can ever make it an important place. It had its consequence only from the fact, that the commerce of the East was borne by caravans; nor would any thing, but the destruction of ships and steamers, and the restoration of caravans, ever make Petra what it was. Tyre, too, is a place of ruin; nor, on the whole coast of the Mediterranean, is there a single place that would not be as commodious a haven as this once celebrated port. Robinson says of its harbor in 1830: “It is a small circular basin, now quite filled up with sand and broken columns, leaving scarcely space for small boats to enter. The few fishing boats belonging to the place are sheltered by some rocks to the westward of the island." Travels in Palestine and Syria, Vol. I. p. 269. Shaw, who visited Tyre in 1738, says of the harbor: “I visited several creeks and inlets, in order to discover what provision there might have been formerly made for the security of their vessels. Yet, notwithstanding that Tyre was the chief maritime power of this country, I could not discover the least token of either cothon or harbor, that could have been of any extraordinary capacity. The coasting ships, indeed, still find a tolerable good shelter from the northern winds, under the southern shore, but are obliged immediately to retire when the winds change to the west or south; so that there must have been some better station than this for their security and reception. In the N. N. E. part likewise of the city, we see the traces of a safe and commodious basin, lying within the walls; but which at the same time is very small, scarce forty yards in diameter. Neither could it ever have enjoyed a larger area, unless the buildings which now circumscribe it were encroachments upon its original dimensions. Yet even this port, small as it is at present, is notwithstanding so choked up with sand and rubbish, that the boats of those poor fishermen who now and then visit this once renowned emporium, can, with great difficulty only, be admitted.” Travels, pp. 330, 33. Ed. fol. Oxf. 1738. Of Babylon it would be easy to show the same thing. The earth does not contain a more unpropitious site for a city than this; and whatever other places may flourish, Babylon is destined to be a heap of ruins.* Some other place on the Euphrates may rise to affluence and splendor, but Babylon has lost all its advantages. The steamboat may

* I refer those who may be desirous of seeing a full proof of this to the Bib. Repos. Vol. VIII. pp, 158–189; Keith on the Prophecies, pp. 182—237; and Notes on Isaiah, Vol. I. pp. 435, seq.

« AnteriorContinuar »