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According to M. Savary, both Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Pliny, nearly agree with Herodotus as to the extent of the lake; and, therefore, we of modern times ought surely to pay some deference to such authority. The same traveller informs us, “ The lake at present is only about fifty leagues in circumference; but this diminution does not prove that Herodotus and Pliny were deceived. Examine the map, and you will perceive that the CHAIN OF MOUNTAINS on the left of the Nile, CONTINUED almost from the Cataracts to Fayoum, SUDDENLY departs towards Lybia, and returning eastwards FORMS AN IMMENSE BASIN, though lower than the bed of the river. This land was formerly covered by barren sands, because the stream, impeded by downs and rocks, could not water them. A king, named Mæris, perfectly acquainted with the disposition of the lands, conceived one of the noblest projects that ever entered the mind of man, which he had the glory to execute. He resolved to change this desert into a useful lake; and when swarms of men assembled had dug and cleared the soil in various places, he cut a canal forty leagues in length, and three hundred feet wide! to introduce the waters of the Nile. This grand canal, which is STILL entire, is known by the name of Bahu-Youseph, the river of Joseph. It begins near Tarout Eccherif, and ends at Birquet Caroun, and must have cost IMMENSE sums, being in MANY parts cut THROUGH THE ROCK! To relieve Egypt from the superfluous waters, which, in these distant ages, remained too long on the lands, then much lower than at present, and occasioned sterility, was not sufficient : this great prince rendered them useful to AGRICULTURE by cutting two other canals from the lake to the river, and digging near their mouths SLUICES, which were shut during the INCREASE of the Nile, when the water entering through the canal of Joseph, collected in the vast circumference of the lake Mæris, where they were BOUNDED BY MOUNDS and MOUNTAINS ! When the Nile DECREASED, these SLUICES were OPENED, and a body of water near eighty leagues in circumference, and
thirty feet higher than the usual level of the river, formed a second inundation, directed at will : one part was returned to the Nile, for the purpose of NAVIGATION; another branched into innumerable RIVULETS, watered the FIELDS, and gave fertility even to SANDY HILLS. This work, the most stupendous and useful the earth ever contained, united every advantage, and SUPPLIED the deficiencies of a low inundation by RETAINING water, which would have uselessly been expended in the sea. It was still more highly beneficial when the increase was too great, by receiving that injurious superfluity which would have prevented seed time. Fearful lest this artificial sea might BREAK its BOUNDS and occasion dreadful RAVAGES, a CANAL was cUT THROUGH the MOUNTAIN, by which the superabundant waters were discharged among the Lybian sands. History knows not a work so glorious, nor is it wonderful that antiquity esteems it above the pyramids and labyrinth; for, with the grandeur of the enterprise, it included the happiness of the people.
“ Thus, the Egyptians, who detested the kings by whom they were forced to remove mountains that pyramids might be raised, blessed the memory of Mæris, and his name is everlasting This lake has nearly lost all its advantages; the barbarians, in whose hands Egypt has remained for twelve centuries, have destroyed or suffered most of its monuments to perish. The lake Mareotis is dry, the canal of Alexandria is no longer navigable, and Mæris is only fifty leagues in circumference. Were the rivulets and the canal of Joseph cleansed, in which the mud is very deep, the ancient MOUNDS repaired, and the sluices restored, this lake might again serve the same purposes, might prevent the evils of a too great, and supply the defects of a too feeble, inundation; might extend, as formerly, from Nesle and Arsinöe to the Lybian mountains; and show the astonished traveller the SEA WHICH MAN HAD MADE.'
* “ The canal of Joseph, having its source in Thebais, carried the waters of the Nile, when they began to INCREASE, to the lake Mæris, where being retained on one side by Mountains, and, on the other by MOUNDS AND SLUICES, dug on the canals of Bouch and Tamieh, they EQUALLED the height of the inundation, i. e. were nearly thirty feet higher than the level of the river !”
Here, then, we have a wonderful instance of the WISDOM and POWER of MAN.
In Sale's Preliminary Discourse to the Koran*, it is said that Abd-Shems, surnamed Saba, having built the city, from him called Saba, and afterward Marab, made a vast MOUND, or Dam, to serve as a basin or reservoir to receive the water which came down from the MOUNTAINS, not only for the use of the inhabitants, and for watering their lands, but also to keep the country they had subjected, in greater awe, by being masters of the water. This BUILDING stood like a MOUNTAIN above their city, and was by them esteemed so strong, that they were under no apprehension of its ever failing. The water rose almost to the height of one hundred and twenty feet, and was kept in on every side by a work so solid that many of the inhabitants had their houses built upon it. Every family received a portion of this water, distributed by aqueducts. But at length, God, being highly displeased at their great pride and insolence, and resolving to humble and disperse them, sent a mighty flood, which broke down the MOUND by night, while the inhabitants were asleep, and carried away the whole city, with the neighbouring towns and people. This terrible inundation happened about the time of Alexander the Great, and swept away eight tribes from their habitations; so that it became proverbial to say of people who were carried off by their enemies, or destroyed by disease, “ They are gone and scattered like Saba."
Dean Prideaux says, in reference to the presidency of the temple, “ It was formerly in the possession of Abu-Gabshan, of the tribe of the Cozaites, who were of the ancient
See the thirty-fourth chapter of the Koran, also, under the name of Al-Arem, Universal History of Arabia, Sir William Jones's Discourse on the Arabs.
race of the Arabs, descended from Joktan, and formerly had their dwelling in Yamen, or Arabia Felix, till, being driven thence by an inundation from the breaking down of the banks of the lake Aram, which destroyed their country, they came and settled in the valley of Marry, not far from Mecca, and from thence they were called Cozaites, which signifyeth the cutting off, because, by this remove, they were cut off from the rest of their kindred.”
Bishop Lowth says, “ The immense works made by the ancient kings of Egypt for receiving the waters of the Nile, when it overflowed, for such uses, are well known. But there never was a more stupendous work of this kind than the reservoir of Saba, or Merab, in Arabia Felix. According to the traditions of the country, it was the work of Balkis, that queen of Sheba! who visited Solomon. It was a vast lake, formed by the collection of the waters of a torrent in a valley, where at a NARROW pass BETWEEN two MOUNTAINS, a very high MOLE or Dam was built! The water of the lake so formed was nearly twenty fathoms deep, and there were three sluices ! at different heights, by which, at whatever height the lake stood, the plain below might be watered. By CONDUITS and CANALS from these SLUICES, water was constantly distributed in due proportions, to the SEVERAL lands, so that the whole country, for many miles, became a perfect paradise. The city of Saba, or Merab, was situated immediately below the great dam : a great flood came and raised the lake above its usual height, the dam gave way in the middle of the night; the waters burst forth at once, and overwhelmed the whole city with the neighbouring towns and people. The remains of eight tribes were forced to abandon their dwellings, and the beautiful valley became a morass and a desert. This fatal catastrophe happened long before the time of Mohammed, who mentions it in the thirty-fourth chapter of the Koran.” This, then, is another instance of the amazing ingenuity and strength of man.
But these gigantic works are not confined to antiquity, to Egypt, or Arabia; they may be found scattered over the continent of India at this day.
Bishop Heber says", “ The emperors of Delhi showed favour in many ways to Ajmeer, but in none more than in a noble freshwater lake which they made just above the city, by damming up the gore of an extensive valley, and conveying different small rills into it. The result is, that there is now a fine sheet of water four miles, and during the rains six miles, in circumference; sufficient in industrious hands to give fertility to all the neighbourhood. As it is, it affords the means of irrigation to a large district on its banks; supplies abundance of excellent water to the citizens of Ajmeer; is full of fish; and would, if there were any boats, be an excellent place for sailing."
These works are of such importance, that the Indian governments have regular English engineer officers to superintend and keep them in repair. With one of these gentlemen, Captain C., I had the pleasure of being acquainted, who gave me the following information. Question. “What is the circumference of the largest ARTIFICIAL lake you have seen ?” Answer. Thirty miles. The most common size is from one to two miles.” Q. “What is the greatest depth ?” A. “Sixty feet.” Q. “What is the general height, length, and angle of the MOUNDS ?” A. “ The largest mound I have seen is fifty-four feet in height, at the base one hundred and thirty feet broad, and thirty feet at the top. It is faced on the inner side with loose stones of about three tons weight, at a slope of two and a half base for one in height; but the outer slope is three of base for one in height. The largest mound is twelve miles in length, about thirty feet in height, about one hundred and twenty feet thick at the base, and twentyfour at the top.” Q. “ Is the water given in fixed quantities to the cultivators ?” A. “In every village there is a man whose duty it is to distribute the water; which, however, is the cause of innumerable disputes, excepting in old tanks t, where
* Vol.ii. p. 442.
+ The English call these artificial lakes tanks, but the natives call them kullams.