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The position of Ancient Egypt was unique, not in one, but in every sense. To begin at the very foundation of life in that country, we find that the soil was unlike any other on earth in its origin. Every acre of fruitful land between the first cataract and the sea had been brought from Inner Africa, and each year additions were made to it. Out of this mud, borne down thousands of miles from the great fertile uplands of Abyssinia by rivers, grew everything needed to feed and clothe man and nourish animals. Out of it also was made the brick from which walls, houses, and buildings of various uses and kinds were constructed. Though this soil of the country was rich, it could be utilized only by the unceasing co-ordinate efforts of a whole population constrained and directed. To direct and constrain was the task of the priests and the pharaohs.
Never have men worked in company so long and successfully at tilling the earth as the Egyptians, and never has the return been so continuous and abundant from land as in their case.
The Nile valley furnished grain to all markets accessible by water; hence Rome, Greece, and Judaea ate the bread of Egypt. On this national tillage was founded the greatness of the country, for from it came the means to execute other works, and in it began that toil, training, and skill indispensable in rearing the monuments and doing those things which have made Egypt famous forever, and preserved to us a knowledge of the language, religion, modes of living, and history of that wonderful people who held the Nile valley. No civilized person who has looked on the pyramid of Ghizeh, the temple of Karnak, and the tombs of the pharaohs in the Theban region, can ever forget them. But in those monuments are preserved things of far greater import than they themselves are. In the tombs and temples of Egypt we see on stone and papyrus how that immense work of making speech visible was accomplished, that task of presenting language to the eye instead of the ear, and preserving the spoken word so as to give it to eye or ear afterwards. In other terms, we have the history of writing from its earliest beginnings to the point at which we connect it with the system used now by all civilized nations excepting the Chinese. In those monuments are preserved the history of religion in Egypt, not from the beginning of human endeavor to explain first what the world is and then what we ourselves are and what we and the world mean together, but from a time far beyond any recorded by man in other places.