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Monday, November 1, 2010

A Nudge for Budge from the one-eyed Organist

One of the joys of doing research for a novel on things as mysterious as obelisks is that you suddenly find yourself in the company of the most interesting people – many long gone. And if you are diving into the secrets of ancient Egypt, you are almost guaranteed to turn up at least one interesting person (or pharaoh, or goddess) each and every day.
E.A. Budge
One such character we stumbled across was Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (1857 – 1934), an Egyptologist who worked for the British Museum and published a fascinating account of his two trips to Egypt to acquire antiquities for the museum.
We will be posting extracts from his book – By Nile and Tigris – A Narrative of Journeys in Egypt and Mesopotamia on behalf of The British Museum between the years 1886 and 1913 – in our posts on this blog.
Budge was introduced to the Keeper of Oriental Antiquities of the British Museum, the Egyptologist Samuel Birch, and to Birch's assistant, George Smith. Birch allowed the young Budge to study cuneiform tables in his office.
According to Wikipedia:
From 1869 to 1878 Budge spent whatever free time he had from his job at W.H. Smith studying Assyrian, and he often walked down to St. Paul's Cathedral over his lunch break to study during these years. When the organist of St. Paul's, John Stainer, noticed Budge's hard work, he decided to help the boy to realize his dream of working in a profession that would allow him to study Assyrian. Stainer contacted Budge's employer, the Conservative Member of Parliament W.H. mith, as well as the former Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, and asked them to help his young friend. Both Smith and Gladstone agreed to help Stainer to raise money for Budge to attend Cambridge University... Sir John Stainer was an English composer and organist ... Because of a childhood accident, Stainer had lost the use of one eye; for a brief period in 1875 he lost that of the other too.
Here is the first snippet from Budge's book, By Nile and Tigris:
"The books which treated of theology and systems of salvation I found dull, and a few of
them were terrifying, but there was much in the hymn books which interested and amused me, and many verses of them I committed to memory. Thus Mr. John Peat, in singing of the end of the world, says:—
" The bishops will then lodge with devils and swine
Instead of a silk gown to clothe the false rubbish,
Or bottle of claret to please his proud heart,
Or fine high-cocked mitre to make him look bobbish.
The waters of death will new torments impart."
Gladstone
... Mr. Gladstone then asked Mr. Seager if a degree could be obtained in Semitic Languages at Oxford, and when he was told that no Semitic Languages School was in existence at Oxford, he consulted Dr. Birch and Dr. William Wright, Professor of Arabic in the University of Cambridge, about the matter. Dr. Birch's view agreed with that of Mr. Seager, but Professor Wright, though sharing their view, said with characteristic vigour and conciseness,"the man who takes up the study of Semitic Languages with the idea of making a living by them in England is a fool. Assyriology has, undoubtedly, a future, but nowhere in England can a man make a living by it except in the British Museum." 
This discouraging opinion of the low commercial value of a knowledge of the ancient Semitic Languages by the greatest master of them then living in England in no way altered Mr. Gladstone's views as to their importance for the study of the cuneiform inscriptions. He proposed that I should continue to work on the lines which I have already described for another year at least, and then go to Cambridge and take a degree in Semitic Languages."
This Budge did.

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