Austen Henry Layard and the Periodical Press: Middle Eastern Archaeology and the Excavation of Cultural Identity in Mid-Nineteenth Century Britain
- Victorian Review
- Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada
- Volume 22, Number 2, Winter 1996
- pp. 152-170
- Additional Information
AUSTEN HENRY LAYARD AND THE PERIODICAL PRESS: MIDDLE EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE EXCAVATION OF CULTURAL IDENTITY IN MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY BRITAIN SHAWN MALLEY The University ofBritish Columbia And did diose feet in ancient time WaUc upon England's mountains green? — Wffliam Blake, Milton (Preface 1-2) To commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Rudyard KipUng wrote what is arguably his most famous poem, "Recessional." In contrast to the martial pomp and circumstance that crowned sixty years of Imperial rule, the poem warns British revellers to guard against "frantic boast and foolish word" and to reflect upon the passage of ancient empires. Kipling draws diis moral by appealing to the memory of lost worlds. He writes, Far-called, our navies melt away; On dune and headland sinks the fire: Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre! Judge of die Nations, spare us yet. Lest we forget — lest we forget! (13-18) In 1897, Kipling's reference to Nineveh carried the weight not only of biblical allusion but also of material history, for the existence of the ancient city had for half a century been established as an archaeological fact by Sir Austen Henry Layard, who unearthed die vanished city during his two expeditions of 1845-47 and 1849-51. Kipling's refrain "lest we forget" is, furthermore, a leitmotif in the lively discoveries and writing. At mid-century, remembering Nineveh was nothing short of a Victorian Review 22.2 (Winter 1996) SHAWN MALLEY153 national pastime, such diat this hitherto obscure and distant world quickly became absorbed into Britain's own historical consciousness. An examination of the response in the periodicals to Layard's excavations will show diat die Victorians uncovered the origins of tiieir own culture as uiey peered into die archaeologically-recovered past of die Middle East. In the account of his first expedition, Nineveh and Its Remains (1849), Layard writes diat the British Museum's collection of Assyrian antiquities measured in 1845 a "case scarcely three feet square," which, from Britain's perspective, "enclosed all diat remained, not only of die great city, Nineveh, but of Babylon itself!" (1 :xxv).! By 1849, however, Layard had brought to Ught die semi-mythical world of ancient Assyria for the British.2 His finds were spectacular. In October 1848, fifty cases containing the material remains of a once proud and mighty empire arrived at die British Museum from Mosul (located on the west bank of die Tigris River). Among them were colossal reliefs of Assyrian deities and kings; friezes depicting royal hunts, batdes, and sieges; entablatures inscribed in an unknown cuneiform (which, when translated by Henry Rawlinson in the late 1850s, became invaluable records of die Assyrian world); die Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser ?? (fig. 1); and, perhaps most famous of all, monumental sculptures of human-headed, winged lions and bulls (fig. 2). These relics remain the heart of die British Museum's Assyrian collection. Figure 1: The Obelisk 154Victorian Review Figure 2: Human-Headed and Eagle-Winged Bull Layard's recovery of this lost city stirred a frenzy of public excitement, much as Schliemann's discovery of Homer's Troy would do in the 187Os. The Trustees of the British Museum were, as Layard remarks with a touch of irony in his autobiography, "elated at die success of die first expedition and delighted at the crammed houses which die new entertainment brought diem" (1903, 1:191). Victoria at once dispatched Albert to die newly appointed Nineveh room (fig. 3); Prime Minister Lord John Russell, himself awed by die exhibit, ordered a naval vessel to pick up a winged bull and lion diat remained at the docks in Basra on die Tigris River (Brackman 227). In fact, die Shipping of the Great Bull was treated as a national event by The illustrated London News (fig. 4), which entreated the government to fund Layard's pauiotic work. He ultimately received a small stipend from die Trustees of die British Museum as well as tiieir financial backing for the second expedition of 1849.3 Figure 3: The Nineveh Room at the British Museum SHAWN MALLEY155 Layard found himself nothing short of a national hero upon his return to...