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THE study of antiquity, however cumbered by the tedious minutiæ of the professed antiquary, and the extravagancies of the unbridled theorist, possesses in itself elements of attraction such as very few intelligent minds fail to appreciate. We cannot witness the death of individuals without solemn feelings of sympathy and awe; and, in like manner, we learn to contemplate, with deep emotion, the decay and extinction of mighty nations.
The ruins of historic lands are often far more valuable and trustworthy memorials than the records which contemporary annalists bequeath to us. In the one case we must be content to accept of history imbued with all the prejudices of the writer, of his nation, and his age. In the other case, we are free to read and judge for ourselves, and can feel no hesitation in our conclusions as to the barbarous magnificence of Mexico or Yucatan; the splendour and luxurious pomp of Assyria and Babylon; the cultivation, the intellectual progress, and also the superstition and moral debasement of Egypt; and the high advancement, in literature and arts, of the polished Greek. But the study acquires a far deeper interest when it promises to reveal to us new truths in relation to our own historic ancestry, or to throw fresh light on the pages of sacred story, and add unexpected confirmation to the most remarkable declarations both of fulfilled and unfulfilled prophecy. Viewed in this aspect, we follow, with untiring zeal, the explorer of the antiquities of Jerusalem, or the excavator amid the shapeless mounds of the Assyrian plains. In such investigations the past becomes the great text-book of the present: pregnant alike with solemn warnings, and with lessons abounding in novel truths.
The interest which at all times attaches to the memorials of mighty empires has been greatly strengthened and extended in its influence, of late years, by the researches of intelligent and enterprising travellers. This century has witnessed the re-discovery of Petra; the exploration of Babylon; the restoration from oblivion of the ruined cities and temples of central America; the recovery of the secret by which the records of Egyptian learning have been dumb for nearly two thousand years; and the exhumation of the buried evidences of Assyrian arts and historic annals, leading back to the birth-time of earth's youngest empire. On such themes it is impossible to dwell without exciting the liveliest emotions of sympathy in every intelligent and inquiring mind. This volume is accordingly devoted to a sketch of the whole circle of explorations and discoveries extending throughout the known world. It includes both a review of the earliest notices, and of the most recent disclosures, relating to the traces of former arts, civilization, magnificence, and dominion, of the various kingdoms which have successively played their part on the world's stage. Embracing, as it does, so wide and varied a field, it cannot fail to interest; and it has been no less the aim of the author, that it should also instruct the reader of its pages. The indications of prophetic warning, and the evidences of remarkable fulfilment, have been carefully traced out, and applied to these demonstrations of their solemn import; nor will the thoughtful reader fail to trace, in the unwritten records which the ruins of empires disclose, a consecutive history of our race, more ample and instructive than the ethnologist has to offer him, and far more calculated to elevate the mind, and impress it with the sense of how fleeting and transitory are earth's most stable possessions.