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to the left, is a hawk, which should be the letter A. That letter does not occur in the Greek name Ptolemy, neither does it occur in the hieroglyphic transcription. The seventh is an open hand, representing the T, but this character is not found in the name of Ptolemy, where the second letter, T, is expressed by the segment of a sphere. The eighth sign, a mouth, seen in front, ought to be the letter R, and as that letter does not occur in Ptolemy, it is also absent from his hieroglyphic name. The ninth and last sign, which ought to be the vowel A, is a repetition of the hawk, which has that sound in the sixth. The signs of the feminine on each side of this hawk, terminate the name of Cleopatra; that of Ptolemy ends with a bent stalk, which we conclude to be the letter S."
If the reader as he proceeded has compared the letter with the hieroglyphics, he will have perceived that the ingenuity of Champollion had discovered in the hieroglyphical name of Cleopatra, certain signs, which, if alphabetic, served to express the letters I, o, p, a, t; and, that if used for the signs of those letters, they also harmonize very well with the literal spelling of the name of Ptolemy. By means of the two rings,therefore, assuming that these characters were phonetic, he had actually discovered what we should call twelve letters. But how did these palpable images of sensible objects express letters 7 That remained to be discovered: he knew their value as letters, but it was yet to be found out on what principle or rule they were made to have that value. He had observed of one letter T, which occurred in both rings, that, in the one it was indicated by the segment of a sphere, and in the other by an open hand. If the assumption on which he was proceeding were correct, it was obvious that here were two signs for the same letter. Instead of hence hastily con
eluding, as some would have done, that his whole assumption was erroneous, his sagacious mind instantly saw a mode of explanation that removed the difficulty, by the supposition that the principle or rule by which a phonetic value was given to these pictured representations, was the very simple one of taking either the syllable or initial letter of the word, which in the ancient language of Egypt, expressed the name of the thing represented. Thus, if he saw a mouth delineated, phonetically it was R, because the word for mouth was ro. So of an eagle, it was A, because Akhom was the word for eagle. A hand was Tot; phonetically, therefore, it became T. Now it was obvious that the names of a great many different objects used in hieroglyphics might begin with the same letter, and hence that letter might be expressed by different signs, as convenience, or a neat arrangement of the writing, or some other cause, might dictate. Here, then, was the mystery of homophones laid open. All symbols or characters that phonetically expressed the same letter were homophones; and subsequent and long continued examination and comparison could alone show him whether this system of homophones was limited to a certain number of different objects, or was as extensive as the objects themselves. He found them limited, as will be seen hereafter in the alphabet of hieroglyphics. He had now reached a grand result; he proceeded to verify it by an examination of all the royal rings to which he had access, (the number was large,) and he triumphantly established the fact that he had discovered the long buried secret, and applied the true key, which Young had picked up but never used, to the intricate lock of hieroglyphical interpretation; for he read the names in all the rings he examined. Discarding all other methods, acting on Young's hint, he had sought the key to an entire system of deciphering in the hieroglyphics alone; that course led to the discovery of the phonetic signs in the royal rings; and that again led to the discovery of the homophones. The work was done, he was on the right path, and he had but to proceed, for the whole hieroglyphic research was now in his hands; and he, whom we saw as the enthusiastic boy of seventeen with his bold but immature speculations, now knew that the name of Champollion le Jeune would not be forgotten until Egypt herself should cease to be remembered.
It is a curious fact that we so frequently find, in the history both of literary and scientific research, the claims of contemporaneous discoverers to be nearly equally balanced. Champollion's reading of the name of Cleopatra in the royal ring on the obelisk of Philae has already been related, together with his own statement of the ingenuity by which he accomplished it; but the very same thing had been done, as it appears, by Mr. Bankes in 1818. though the fact was unknown to the world until after the publication of Champollion's letter to M. Dacier. The process pursued by Mr. Bankes is fully stated in a long note to a pamphlet on the phonetic system of hieroglyphics, published by Mr. Salt. Champollion, however, was prior in his publication by two or three years, and to him, as Mr. Gliddon has said, "exclusively belongs the merit of putting forth his system at once, and complete beyond all previous anticipation, applicable to every epoch, and to every legend in Egyptian history." Pursuing his investigations, and strictly adhering to the path on which he had entered, Champollion compiled an alphabet of hieroglyphics, and in 1824 gave to the world his magnificent work, "Precis du Systiine Hieroglyphique." A hieroglyphical dictionary, and an Egyptian grammar, are also to be enumerated in the list of his labors. At the age of forty-two he died, leaving behind him the merited reputation of having been discoverer, master, and guide in the intricate mysteries of hieroglyphic interpretation.
It would be unjust to one who has himself acquired no small reputation in the field of Egyptian research, to withhold the generous tribute which Sir Gardner Wilkinson has rendered to the merits of Champollion.
"To have had frequent occasion to introduce the name of Champollion, to whom we are so deeply indebted, without paying a just tribute to his talents, is to me a reproach which I cannot suffer to remain unremoved. I do not wish to enter into the question respecting the discovery of the proper mode of reading the hieroglyphics: suffice it to say, that Dr. Young gave the first idea and proof of their alphabetic force, which was even for some time after doubted by Champollion. And that the merit of originality in this point is due to our distinguished countryman, I can bear a satisfactory testimony, having, with my much-regretted friend, Sir William Gell, as early as the summer of 1821, so far profited by Dr. Young's opinions on the subject, as to be enabled to suggest the supposed value of two or three other characters, beside those he had already ascertained; our taking this view of the question being solely in consequence of his discovery that they were the representatives of letters. But it remained for the genius of a Champollion to kindle the spark thus obtained into a flame, and to display by its light, the path which led to a clear insight into the subject, to perfect the discovery, and to lay down certain rules, applicable in individual as well as in general cases; and in justice to him be it confessed, that, if our knowledge of hieroglyphics were confined to the limited extent to which it was carried by Dr. Young, we should have no regular system to guide us in the interpretation of them, and should know little more than the alphabetic value of a few letters, without the means of affixing a positive construction to a single sentence on any Egyptian monument.
"Had Champollion been disposed to give more credit to the value and originality of Dr. Young's researches, and to admit that the real discovery of the key to the hieroglyphics, which in his dexterous hand proved so useful in unlocking those hidden treasures, was the result of his labors, he would unquestionably have increased his own reputation, without making any sacrifice. In this, as in the case of Mr. Burton's trilinguar (or rather trigrammatic) stone, and in a few other points, he may have shown a want of ingenuousness: all have their faults and vanities; but this is not a reason that the memory of one so respectable as Champollion should be aspersed, or due praise refused him; and we cannot forgive the ungenerous conduct of those who, from private pique, summon up and misapply talents to pervert truth; denying the merit of labors, which every one, acquainted with the subject, knows to have been crowned with unexampled and wonderful success. This is not an era when we could believe men capable of lending themselves to the unworthy office of maligning one no longer living to defend himself, and one who, present or absent, merits and possesses the respect and admiration of every unprejudiced person. Yet have some been found, in more than one country, prompted to this malicious act by personal enmity, envy of his superior talents and success, or by that affectation of skepticism, which, while it endeavors to conceal ignorance, often hopes to acquire credit for discernment and superior knowledge.