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INTRODUCTION
BROADLY speaking we recover human history backwards. It is
logical, therefore, that Egypt should have had to wait her turn
for admission to the Legacy series, which is an attempt to assess
our debt to phases of civilization earlier than our own. Now
that turn has come Egypt can show, in her own way, as good
a claim to it as her predecessors—a claim conceded alike by
classical tradition and present-day opinion.
It may be that Egypt's contributions to our way of life are
not alone sufficient to entitle her to an equal place with Greece
and Rome, Israel and Islam, Medieval Europe and India, in an
estimate of our indebtedness to past generations. It is probably
true that, with the possible exception of our alphabet, nothing
that can be traced directly to Egypt in our Western civilization
is so obviously or so integrally a part of it as, for instance,
Roman Law or Greek Philosophy or the Bible, and that nothing
so practically concerns it as the Arabic language or Indian
racial traditions; though in all but the last of these Egypt has
had some part as contributor or transmitter. Yet Egypt has a
unique quality which enables her to present to our judgement
the best possible case for herself, a quality exhibited equally by
the land itself and by the people who inhabited it, namely, a
capacity for conservation exceeding that of any other country
in the world.
This capacity is a matter of geography, and although in its
immediate application it is by now almost a commonplace, its
implications are not easily appreciated except at first hand. A
soil which is sand except for the Delta and the river-banks,
heated by a sub-tropical sun, with its surface continually
shifted by wind, provides a perfect self-sealing medium. As
rocks and ice have preserved for us the whole forms or vestigial
evidence of vegetable and animal life from geological time, so