This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Here are the palaces, where their kings dwelt; the temples where their priests deceived; the tombs which have given up their dead for the daily inspection of the curious in modern museums, where death itself has become the subject of impertinence.
The Sphinx was originally a huge block of stone that stood before the pyramids, and it shows the grand taste of the Egyptians to have converted it into the wonderful figure which still remains. The taste of the Egyptians was evidently for a solid, gloomy grandeur; they delighted in massive pillars, in dusky chambers, in broad effects of light and shade, in dark labyrinthine walks, in cavernous edifices guarded by gigantic recumbent figures, or the huge forms of deities, gaunt, awful, oppressive. Their observance of nature was great: it is asserted by some that they derived the fluted column from the simple idea of reeds bound together at the top - and their sacred language is an endless succession of the forms of birds, beasts, fishes and reptiles - in fact, we may say, they wrote in beasts and reptiles: many of their vessels and ornaments are evidently imitated from nature, with great quaintness and versatility of design; but in all they seem to have practiced an almost disproportionate solidity of construction.
Theirs was evidently an architecture of symbolism: their principal buildings being for sacred purposes, they seemed determined to have written the story of their creed in every pillar, every stone; and by that means to give their designs, as it were, an actual, positive sense - to make them a species of embodied poetry - so that every man on seeing the temple, would at once be able to read in its form, proportion, number and color, the scripture of the god to whom it was dedicated and belonged. In their flat country, we perceive that they made their edifices mountainous; that that regard of death with which their religion inspired them, extended a sobering influence to their works; and certainly some of their vast temples could have derived no extra cheerfulness from the fact that they were only magazines of mummied crocodiles and cats; and finally, to repeat, we perceive that their architectural taste was for a gloomy sublimity of symbolism, and that if we were to seek a symbol to express it, we might call it a sarcophagus.
With respect to literature, at which I shall occasionally take the liberty to glance, we have, so far as concerns the Egyptians, small idea of their taste; their painting, such as it was, and their sculpture, wonderful as is the latter in respect of manual skill, appear to have existed only as subordinate aids to the architect, and are simply entitled to share in the above general remarks.
A most ancient, curious, and at one time mighty people, were the Chaldees; a tribe of people, formed probably, from the conflux of many others in those well watered plains, who inhabited the districts of Babylon and Nineveh, and who boasted a dynasty decend-ed from Nimrod, according to some, the same with Ninus and Belus. - the god of the tower of Babel. It is probable they had some connection with the Egyptians. The monuments of Nineveh, recently discovered, wear certainly in many respects an Egyptian appearance. If you examine them, you will observe a similar mystical taste. - a profound disregard of perspective, and a great aptitude for expressing things by signs: thus, a castle sometimes bears a marvellous resemblance to its namesake of chess; a distant river is represented by very lively fish in single file; while, to illustrate the country beyond, you will probably find several indigenous trees appearing to grow out of the fishes' backs. The carvers of the Nineveh marbles seem, nevertheless, to have had a feeling after truth. In the treatment of animals, they may be said comparatively, to excel: the lions in the lion hunts are full of vivacity and expression, although sometimes rather symbolical (I mean in size) in the teeth and claws.
To prove what I say concerning the truth of these lions, you will find depicted on the tips of some of their tails, a claw, whose existence had of late years been disputed, but it is now again established. The procession of captives and beasts on the obelisk is in several respects, and considering its probable antiquity, admirably executed.
To turn to history, we are told almost incredible wonders of Babylon. The walls the city; that there was a bridge of huge stones fastened together with lead, and bound with iron chains: to the west stood the tower of Belus, or Babel, enriched with an in-finity of spoils and golden images; in the New Palace, Nebuchadnezzar, it is said, had raised a hanging garden, on sub-arched terraces, to the walls, to gratify a Median wife, who, having come from a wooded and mountainous country to one which consisted of a vast, flat plain, intersected with streams, and interminable rows of willows, missed, in accordance with what we have observed of natural taste, the beauties of her native land, and desired them reproduced. Now, if all this account were true, it would show that the Babylonians had not only a taste for the sublime, but also for the beautiful; and, besides, had attained a pitch of excellence in the execution of art. Babylon having vanished from the earth under an irresistible doom, we have not even a trace of it left whereby to judge; but it is said to have been about the size of Ninevah, and Ninevah has been proved, by the discoveries of Mr. Layard, to have been sixty miles in circumference. - the exact girth, under the expression of a three days' journey, assigned to it in the book of Jonah. We will then suppose a considerable, at least some portion, of the Babylonian account to be true; and will thence observe, that their taste was kindred to the Egyptian; they might even improve themselves by maritime influences at second hand, having conquered the great and industrious city of Tyre, and carried off all its works of art; and they might, too, have turned to good purpose the genius of the captive Jews educated by Tyre. Their buildings appear to have been raised on huge platforms, in graduated masses, the Pyramidal appearing to be the prevailing form of general outline.