Page 0029

29

 

Book First: EGYPT.

CHAPTER I-THE COUNTRY.

 

THE oldest civilization began on that continent which seems to be least favorable to the progress of the human 'race. Africa lies under the equator, sun-scorched and I blasted. In the broadest part, through fifteen degrees of latitude, the country is a desert, the upheaved bed of a sea -more impassable than the trackless deep. The whole of the southern portion of the continent is occupied with a vast plateau which, descending to the north, sinks at intervals into jagged hills and anon into a tangle of impenetrable forests, wild and gloomy, where, through untold ages, exuberant forces of Nature have triumphed over the genius and cowed the spirit of man.

The African coasts, though washed on three sides with oceans, are nowhere indented with great bays and inlets. Near the shores the mountains rise, and through these the rivers, gathering their waters in the table-lands of the interior, burst out in cataracts, make a

short and precipitous course to the foot-hills, and then sluggishly traverse the narrow strip of low and marshy land lying between the hill-country and the sea.

NORTHERN AFRICA is a mountainous district occupying the space between the Sahara and the Mediterranean. Near the western extreme the peaks of the Atlas range rise to the region of perpetual snow. Further to the east the mountains sink down into hills and finally terminate in the plain of Barca, which is scarcely a thousand feet above the level of the sea. The northern slope, between the Atlas and the Mediterranean, is occupied with ranges of hills, deep valleys sometimes cleft by mountain streams and sometimes dry and barren plains of greater or less extent, and morasses and flats, characterized by the luxuriant vegetation peculiar to the well- watered portions of Africa.

At the eastern extreme of this northern slope, looking out towards the Mediterranean, opens the VALLEY OF THE NILE, the largest in Africa and most fruitful in the world. It occupies the north-eastern corner of the con