I started my Halloween-themed reading early, I suppose, when I decided to read a few short stories by Poe, including a satire of his that I’d never read, Some Words with a Mummy, in which a group of Egyptologists apply some electricity from a “Voltaic pile” to an ancient mummy in their possession — and the mummy, which has not had its brain and entrails removed, comes back to life:
Morally and physically — figuratively and literally — was the effect electric. In the first place, the corpse opened its eyes and winked very rapidly for several minutes, as does Mr. Barnes in the pantomime, in the second place, it sneezed; in the third, it sat upon end; in the fourth, it shook its fist in Doctor Ponnonner’s face; in the fifth, turning to Messieurs Gliddon and Buckingham, it addressed them, in very capital Egyptian, thus:
“I must say, gentlemen, that I am as much surprised as I am mortified at your behaviour. Of Doctor Ponnonner nothing better was to be expected. He is a poor little fat fool who knows no better. I pity and forgive him. But you, Mr. Gliddon — and you, Silk — who have travelled and resided in Egypt until one might imagine you to the manner born — you, I say who have been so much among us that you speak Egyptian fully as well, I think, as you write your mother tongue — you, whom I have always been led to regard as the firm friend of the mummies — I really did anticipate more gentlemanly conduct from you. What am I to think of your standing quietly by and seeing me thus unhandsomely used? What am I to suppose by your permitting Tom, Dick, and Harry to strip me of my coffins, and my clothes, in this wretchedly cold climate? In what light (to come to the point) am I to regard your aiding and abetting that miserable little villain, Doctor Ponnonner, in pulling me by the nose?”
The mummy explains that his people’s natural lifespan is hundreds of years, and that he was embalmed specifically so that he could be revived again later, to live his life in installments, across more than one millennium, which surprises the modern men, who assume that ancient Egypt was primitive:
“The long duration of human life in your time, together with the occasional practice of passing it, as you have explained, in installments, must have had, indeed, a strong tendency to the general development and conglomeration of knowledge. I presume, therefore, that we are to attribute the marked inferiority of the old Egyptians in all particulars of science, when compared with the moderns, and more especially with the Yankees, altogether to the superior solidity of the Egyptian skull.”
“I confess again,” replied the Count, with much suavity, “that I am somewhat at a loss to comprehend you; pray, to what particulars of science do you allude?”
Here our whole party, joining voices, detailed, at great length, the assumptions of phrenology and the marvels of animal magnetism.
The satire gets interesting when it moves away from technology and the sci-fi premise that the Egyptians did in fact have higher technology than then-modern “Yankees”:
This disconcerted us so greatly that we thought it advisable to vary the attack to Metaphysics. We sent for a copy of a book called the “Dial,” and read out of it a chapter or two about something that is not very clear, but which the Bostonians call the Great Movement of Progress.
The Count merely said that Great Movements were awfully common things in his day, and as for Progress, it was at one time quite a nuisance, but it never progressed.
We then spoke of the great beauty and importance of Democracy, and were at much trouble in impressing the Count with a due sense of the advantages we enjoyed in living where there was suffrage ad libitum, and no king.
He listened with marked interest, and in fact seemed not a little amused. When we had done, he said that, a great while ago, there had occurred something of a very similar sort. Thirteen Egyptian provinces determined all at once to be free, and to set a magnificent example to the rest of mankind. They assembled their wise men, and concocted the most ingenious constitution it is possible to conceive. For a while they managed remarkably well; only their habit of bragging was prodigious. The thing ended, however, in the consolidation of the thirteen states, with some fifteen or twenty others, in the most odious and insupportable despotism that was ever heard of upon the face of the Earth.
I asked what was the name of the usurping tyrant.
As well as the Count could recollect, it was Mob.
Excellent election-year reading, that.