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Dr. Layard is labouring, amid his wild Arab hords, to secure the long hidden treasures of Assyrian art, Major Rawlinson continues to attract attention to the study of these new elements of ancient history, by his ingenious and elaborate deductions. The universal interest felt in these inquiries was proved by the audience which assembled at the rooms of the Royal Asiatic Society, to hear the communications of Major Rawlinson on the Babylonian and Assyrian inscriptions. The chair was occupied by His Royal Highness, Prince Albert, and among the auditors were noted the Chevalier Bunsen; Mr. Hallam; Sir R. Murchison; Mr. Hamilton, and other distinguished scholars and men of science.
Many of Major Rawlinson's deductions from the cuneiform inscriptions furnish entirely new elements for filling up the long intervals which have heretofore remained a total blank in early Asiatic history. In the course of his remarks, he explained the process, to which we have already referred, by which the inscriptions of Babylonia and Assyria have been rendered legible. There are in Persia a vast number of cuneiform inscriptions of the Achæmenian kings, tri-lingual, and tri-literal; that is, composed in three different languages, and expressed by three different alphabets. These languages are Persian, Scythic, and Babylonian, agreeing with the three great lingual families into which the empire of Cyrus and Darius was divided. The Persian inscriptions are comparatively easy, being written in a language closely allied to the Sanscrit; and the alphabet being sufficiently regular. They were accordingly first studied, and by dint of a careful analysis, have been completely deciphered.
The next step was to apply the alphabetical key thus acquired to the Babylonian transcripts. A list of about eighty proper names was soon obtained, of which the approximate pronunciation was known from their Persian
correspondent; and from these names an alphabet was drawn up, giving the value of about one hundred Babylonian characters. A diligent collation of inscriptions has since increased the number of known signs to about one hundred and fifty; and such, Major Rawlinson observed, is the extent of his present acquaintance with the Assyrian and Babylonian writing.
In its nature and structure, the Assyrian alphabet appears to bear undoubted marks of an Egyptian origin. It is partly ideographic, and partly phonetic; and the phonetic portion is partly syllabic, and partly literal. It will be obvious to the reader that, if this inference be confirmed, we must still turn to the hieroglyphic records of Egypt for the world's first history. Major Rawlinson remarked that he could not admit that the phonetic system was entirely syllabic, as had been sometimes stated. There is, no doubt, an extensive syllabarium, and the literal characters, moreover, require a vowel sound, either to precede or follow the consonant; but such vowel sound, in so far as he has yet observed, is rarely uniform; and he prefers, therefore, distinguishing the literal signs, as sonant and complemental, leaving the vowels to be supplied according to the requirements of the language. Non-phonetic signs, he conceives, were used as determin atives, in the same manner, though not to the same extent, as in Egyptian; while the names of the gods were usually represented, either by arbitrary monograms, or, perhaps, by the dominant letter of the name. Some characters, indeed, he remarked, may be used to express a syllable, or the dominant sound in that syllable; while others are employed to represent two entirely dissimilar alphabetical powers, very great confusion and uncertainty prevailing in consequence. He also drew attention to the fact that there appears a very marked poverty of the elemental alphabetical powers; the want of distinction between the hard and the soft pronunciation of the consonants;
the mutation of the liquids and other phonetic powers, not strictly homogeneous; and the extensive employment of homophones: and he endeavoured to illustrate all these obscurities of alphabetic expression, by suggesting that, as the Assyrian system of writing was borrowed from that of Egypt, so each cuneiform sign must have been originally supposed to represent a natural object, and the phonetic power of the sign may have been in some cases the complete name of the object, and in others, the dominant sound in the name, whether initial, medial, or final. Thus minute are the inferences already deduced from the observations made in this early stage of the inquiry.
The reader does not need to be informed that Major Rawlinson's observations are to a great extent independent of, and even prior to, the labours of Dr. Layard. During his long official residence in the neighbourhood of Behistun, he had abundant opportunities of carrying on investigations on the remaining antiquities and inscriptions of Assyria, nor did he overlook the probability of such hid treasures being recoverable, as have since so amply repaid the labours of Dr. Layard. Several very remarkable sculptures were recovered by him in the same way, and have been brought safely home to this country.
But besides these, the Major employed himself in securing fac-similies of cuneiform inscriptions, by a process, the simplicity and utility of which can hardly fail to interest the reader; and may even be applied by him with great effect to similar purposes at home. A piece of stout paper is taken and thoroughly soaked in water until it is quite soft and pulpy. It is then laid on the face of the inscription, or piece of incised sculpture, and pressed into all the lines and crevices by means of a long haired brush, or any similar convenient apparatus. It is generally necessary to add one, two, or even more sheets of paper above the first, after preparing them by a similar process,
and when the whole dries, it furnishes not only an exact reversed fac-simile, as perfectly trustworthy for reference as the original, but, if the paper be impregnated with a strong size, it will even suffice, in many cases, for a mould from which permanent casts may be taken. Under the warm sun of Assyria the process is extremely rapid; but even in our own climate, on a dry and sunny day, the same plan may be made available for taking fac-similies of runic sculptures, incised slabs, or bas-reliefs.
Paper casts of many Babylonian inscriptions, which had been taken in this manner, by Major Rawlinson, were suspended round the walls of the Asiatic Society's Rooms in illustration of his observations; and among them was a cast of the Babylonian translation of the great Behistun inscription-this cast being as valuable, Major Rawlinson remarked, for cuneiform decipherment as was the Rosetta Stone for the interpretation of the hieroglyphic writing of Egypt. On this point, however, it must be noted that some actual progress had been made by Grotefend and others, in deciphering cuneiform writing prior to the discovery of the Behistun inscription, so that though it may be fully as valuable to the Assyrian student, as the Rosetta Stone proved to Young and Champollion, it does not possess the peculiar interest of the former; nor, indeed, even of the vases of Paris and St. Marc's. From this Behistun document, from a complete copy of the Babylonian inscription at Naksh-i-Rustum, which Major Rawlinson also fortunately secured, and from the many published copies of the tri-lingual tablets, a vocabulary has now been formed of more than two hundred Babylonian words, of which the sounds are known approximately, and the meaning certainly. Furnished with this basis of interpretation, and instructed as to the general grammatical structure of the language, Major Rawlinson has carefully gone through the whole of the materials available to research. He has diligently compared and analyzed the
inscriptions of Assyria, of Babylonia, of Armenia, of Susianna, and of Elymais; not merely extracting the historical and geographical information of value which such inscriptions contain, but anatomizing the sentences, collating similar phrases wherever they occurred, and submitting the whole mass to a thorough examination, both philological and mechanical.
The labour involved in such a process can only be very partially comprehended by most readers. The result has been that the vocabulary is now increased to about five hundred standard words, and a sufficient knowledge has been obtained of the language to enable Major Rawlinson to interpret the historical inscriptions pretty closely, and to ascertain the general purport of records of various ages and on very diverse subjects. He, however, warned his audience, at the meeting of the Asiatic Society, against running away with the idea that the science of Assyrian decipherment was exhausted, and that nothing now remained to be done but to read the inscriptions and reap the fruits of our knowledge. He observed, that in the alphabetical branch of the subject there is still much to be verified—much, perhaps, to be discovered; whilst the vocabulary of five hundred words, which is at present the only manual of interpretation, does not contain a tenth part of the vocables used in the inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia. He likewise drew attention to the fact, that although fifty years had elapsed since the Rosetta Stone was first discovered, and its value recognised as a partial key to the hieroglyphs, during which period many of the most powerful intellects of modern Europe had devoted themselves to the study of Egyptian; nevertheless that study, as a distinct branch of philology, has hardly ret passed through its preliminary stage of cultivation." 'How then," he justly asked, "could it be expected that in studying Assyrian, with an alphabet scarcely less difficult, and a language far more so than the Egyptian-with