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Vol. III. Part I.
ART. I. The Koran, commonly called The Alcoran of Mo
hammed, translated into English immediately from the original Arabic, with explanatory notes taken from the most approved commentators; to which is prefixed a Preliminary Discourse, by George Sale, Gent. . Nulla falsa doctrina est, quæ non aliquid veri permisceat.
Augustin. Quæst. Evang. l. 2. c. 40. 4to. London, 1734.
“SALE is half a Mussulman,” observed the eloquent historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the remark is quoted on the first leaf of the copy of the work now before us, which belonged to one of the wisest, most candid, and virtuous, of modern sages and legislators.--Both applied the sentiment in the spirit of philosophic candor, as a key to the temper in which the work in question was executed, as manifesting their opinion that our author was eminently qualified for the task he undertook, and that he had held the fair and even hand of an impartial historian, translator, and commentator.
But the observation has been echoed by some in a different spirit, that of ignorant prejudice, blind to undeniable historical, and rational inference, swollen with self-sufficient superiority, mistaking dogmatic intolerance for grateful consciousness of the purer lights which it has pleased a gracious Providence to bestow on more favored nations, and jealous of the motives even of the humble inquirer, who wishes to attribute actions to good intentions when he can, and hopes to be able to discern
VOL. III. PART I.
something short of unmixed evil in a dispensation, which has been allowed for centuries to regulate the morals and religious feelings of millions.
We have selected the work before us, not only as a production of which our country has great reason to boast, as one of the greatest ornaments of her eastern literature, (a department in which she is peculiarly rich,) but that, while we bear our testimony to its literary worth, and the vast accession which its appearance made to popular acquaintance with the subject, we might also admire the candor and impartiality of its spirit, and the unassuming yet intrepid boldness with which it stood forward against the prejudices of the age, to claim some favorable consideration for the instructor and legislator of a whole hemisphere, and to dissipate the cloud of absurd and calumnious fable that had been so long gathering around his name.
Adverting, in the first place, to the literary worth of Sale's labors, let us consider what sort of assistance even the scholar had for an acquaintance with the text of the Koran, or with the vast mass of materials which the annotator has digested, for the illustration of a volume which would otherwise, even when translated, be for the most part nearly unintelligible to an European.
As to the text, though there were several versions extant, there was but one, as he justly observes, which had any pretensions to a tolerably accurate representation of the sense of the original, that by Maracci, published at Padua, in 1698.-In the modern tongues of Europe, (except a bad Italian version by Andrea Arrivabene, from a worse Latin translation, by Retenensis, published by Bibliander, in 1550) there was nothing but a French translation by Andrew du Ryer, a work of little value, “there being mistakes in every page, besides frequent transpositions, omissions, and additions, faults unpardonable in a work of this nature.” From this French version an English one had been framed, by Alexander Ross, who could not, of course, rectify the blunders of his original, and being but indifferently acquainted with the French language added many of his own.-Such a version as Sale's, therefore, we need not add, was an invaluable treasure, and the mode of its execution not only supplied the urgency of the time, but has nearly superseded the necessity for future labors.-We shall have occasion, perhaps, in the course of this article, to quote some passages to serve as specimens of his style, which is admirably adapted to the subject.
With regard to his Preliminary Discourse and Notes, we cannot speak too highly, either of the patient industry and laborious diligence they manifest, or of the soundness of the judgment every where displayed by the author. To the literary world they too were and continue to be of immense yalue. Where could the inquirer into the history of the obscure tribes, among whom Mahomet started into notice, or into the opinions and customs which form the basis of his system and are interwoven with its whole texture, have sought for the gratification of his curiosity? The ponderous labors of D'Herbelot, Pocock, Reland, Hide, or the folios of Arabian historians, might have been accessible to the scholar who devoted himself to the research under favorable circumstances; but to the mass of readers the subject was a dead letter, in comparison with the light which the facilities now afforded have thrown around it.In this point of view, therefore, and considering the spirit of its execution, the admirer of his work will hardly lament that • Sale is half a Mussulman;" that he came to the work thóroughly acquainted with all the mysteries of the system, so as to throw himself into the conceptions of his author, to imbibe the spirit and energy of his language, and to see even his failings with a charitable eye.
But Sale it is, perhaps, added, is “half a Mussulman,” in a more serious point of view; in one, we admit, much more subject to misrepresentation and suspicion, in as much as it touches certain passions and prejudices, which have, perhaps, the strongest hold on the mind, and are at the same time those which it is the most delicate task to encounter, because they often have their foundation in virtuous motives, in devotional feelings of gratitude and veneration for the blessing of a pure and ennobling system of religion-he has seen and ventured to indicate some points of dignity and utility in a character and system which had hitherto been the subjects of indiscriminate abuse-he has showed that “they were greatly deceived who imagined this faith to have been propagated by the sword alone,” and that “ there was something more than was vulgarly imagined in a religion which had made so surprising a pro
This we are disposed to consider one of the greatest merits of Sale's publication. It was idle and ridiculous to bestow nothing but insolent opprobrium and ignorant declamation upon one of the most powerful instruments which the hand of Providence has raised up to influence the opinions and destinies of mankind through a long succession of ages. The whole subject, whether viewed with relation to the extraordinary rise and progress, either of the founder personally, or of the system itself, cannot be otherwise than one of the deepest interest; and we are persuaded that of those who have considered the comparative influences of the Mahometan and Christian religions, there are few who have not at times found themselves confounded at the survey, and compelled to admit that even the former must have been ordained for many wise and beneficent purposes, and to confide in its instrumentality in the production at any rate of great eventual good.
We shall see, more plainly, the obligation which the cause of fair and candid inquiry is under to Sale, when we consider that the bigoted self-sufficiency which was displayed by the Christian world towards the votaries' of Mahomet, was, in great measure, owing to the profound ignorance in which it was involved. From the æra of the Crusades down even to a very late period, this ignorance of the nature and character of the Mahometan system, its founder, and history, was extreme. Mahomet was sometimes described as a pagan deity, at other times as an idol, and scarcely ever ranked as less than a magician. So far from being aware that he was a zealous advocate of the unity and perfections of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the Christian church openly pronounced a curse upon the Deity, whose worship he proclaimed, and it required all the influence of the Emperor Manuel Comnenus to remove this anathema, by a compromise, to the shoulders of the prophet himself.
Of the old historians, Grafton, in his chronicle, gives, we think, as fair a sketch of the rise of the prophet and his system as any one of his day, and we quote it that our readers may see what a precious compound it is, of some truth with no small dose of error and misrepresentation, probably by no means intentional, though characteristic of the degree of information which was then prevalent on the subject.
“Mahomet of Arabia, at this time, when there was great confusion of things both in the east and west, then began his career. He came out of a base stock, and being fatherless, one Abdemonaples, a man of the house of Ismael, bought him for his slave, and loved him greatly for his favour and wyt, for which cause he made him ruler of his merchandize and businesse. Then one Sergius, a monk, which for heresie fled into Arabia, instructed him in the heresie of Nestorius. In the same season his master dyed without children, leaving behind him much ryches, and his wife, a rich widowe of fifty years of age, whom Mahomet married, and when she dyed he was made heire, and greatly increased in ryches, and for his magicall artes was had, also, in great admiration and honour of the foolish people. Wherefore, by the counsayle of Sergius, he called himself the prophet of God, and shortly after, when his name was published, and then taken to be of great authoritie, he devised a law or kinde of religion called Alcaron, in the which he tooke some parte well neere of all the heresies that had been before his time. With the Sabellians he denied the Trinitie, with the Manichees he affirmed to be but two persons in the deitiehe denied the equalitie of the father and the son with the Eunomians-and sayed with Macedone, the holie ghost was a creature, and approved the mul