Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

worth inaking, as it will assist in the understanding of some remarks which we shall afterwards have to offer upon particular geographers and their writings, and especially on the work of which the name stands at the head of this article. s ro ... The favourite oriental division, and that generally used in these works, is that of climates; but this, though convenient for reference, gives a very straggling air to their cosmogony. A climate is a zone of land and water, reaching from the extreme known west i tol the extreme known east, and varying in breadth from 3. to: 79 of latitude. Of these climates there are seven, making altogether a breadth of something less than 37o. The immense difference between this quantity and the usually calculated extent of habitable latitude is explained by the supposition already alluded to, that the tropics, the arctic circle and all the land in the southern hemisphere, are uninbabitable—the part south of the tropic of Cancer from its intense heat and great drought, and the northern polar circle froin its cold; for the Arabic astronomers appear to have supposed the increase of heat discovered on approachiug the equator to have continued after passing it, and thus to have included the south pole in the same category of barrenness and unfitness for animal life with the torrid zone. Leaving aside this division as one 'tending to produce confusion in a conspectus of eastern geography, by artificially dividing countries without respect either to their natural or political boundaries, and beginning with Africa, we find that, as before stated, the Arabic geographers were better acquainted with this portion of the globe than their Christian brethren of the middle ages. The Barbary coasts they could describe accurately enough; further south, nearly as far as the Guinea coast, they mark out with tolerable accuracy the situation of towns and of kingdoins, many names of which agree curiously enough with those known in our own tiines. Egypt, so long an Arab kingdon, was necessarily well-known to them, but they had much less knowledge of Abyssinia; the famous source of the Nile, so long a verata quæstio with the learned of the west, was already settled, at least to the satisfaction of the less captious Orientals, early in the middle ages, and described with as much, confidence and minuteness as if the ground had been surveyed with the chain. Leaving Africa, we find the towns of Spain minutely and in general accurately enumerated, an observation which may be extended a little distance into the south of France; but as we go further north in this and the adjacent countries, truth mixes more and more largely with fable. England is described in some geographers (in Edrisi, for example), but of anything further north they had but a faint idea, and speak of the Teutonic and Scandinavian races, the sea kings whose strength was felt by

Spain, Barbary, and probably by the extremest coasts of the Mediterranean, by the common appellation of Majúsi.i.? Is this an allusion borrowed from the name given to the priests of the Persian fire-worship, and pointing at a supposed general resemblance between the two races in the one fact of their being idolaters, or is it from the word Majouj, which, in conjunction with Hajouj, is used in eastern geography to denote a'race in the extreme north of Asia and perhaps also of Europea sort of half men, half demons-the people of Gog and Magog in short, of the Hebrew prophets ?. The knowledge of Edrisi on the subject of these northern countries is more extended than that of his fellow writers; as might naturally be expected from his position at the court of a Christian prince, and within reach of such geographical information as Europe afforded during the middle ages. Turning southward from Spain and France, we find Italy and Greece, as well as the countries immediately north of the latter, well known to the writers of the best ages of Arabic learning-well known, that is comparatively, and always making due allowance for the very singular misconceptions in which the most learned of the Arabs have indulged. Russia and Poland, before the rise of the Turkish empire, were but little known in the least, and we might extend the remark to the west also. The relations of Persia, and the Mahommedan empire with the Tatars, gave a certain knowledge of their country to the Arab writers, diminishing in accuracy and distinctness with every degree of north latitude, though the conquests of Timour had early made known to the south of Asia the existence of a country where the sun was for many months beneath and as many above the horizon at one time, and where therefore (an important corollary for Moslem soldiers) it was necessary mat terially to modify the laws regulating daily prayers and other observances depending upon the revolution of the sun.' India eastward may be considered as the extreme limit of accurate geographical knowledge in that direction, and the adjective is used with some laxity when thus applied, but much information had been collected by Mahominedan travellers, some of them enjoying peculiar advantages, who had penetrated into that country. China was known as a country of porcelain and perfumes, and desperate Kafirs, though the eastern romances (for we are come now to the point where fact and fiction more than meet) represent the inha. bitants of the celestial empire as polished, wealthy, and inge: nious.* The sea east of India is the great repository of islands full of marvels (the Arabic romancers are fond of islands, and

* China,'or Sin, is the scene of one half of the eastern roinances, a princess of that' country being the frequent object of the errant pursuit of a Mabommedan lover.

groland of?, and

by choice make them the scene of their stories)-marine monsters, enormous birds, and tremendous serpents. We hardly know whether an Arab topographer would class with real or fictitious existences the mountain of Kaf, the chosen abode of the Anka, Simorg, Phænix or Griffin-that “ secular bird,” which in eastern as well as western fable lives a life of many ages, aloof from all other creatures, dies on a pile of its own collecting, and leaves to a single successor its solitary and mournful grandeur. The mountain of Kaf is said to encompass the world, and in some stories a series of seven concentric Kafs is mentioned, each circle the abode of a race of Ginns, or tolerated spirits, something less dangerous than the actual demons—the Deeves or Afrits.

Lest however we should be lost in regions “a hundred years beyond the earth,” as has happened to the heroes of some of the stories we have been alluding to, we return to our more immediate subject, the earth as described by Edrisi, an Arabic writer of the twelfth century. Such of our readers as are disposed to compare Edrisi with El Bekri may consult the excellent manuscript of the latter in the British Museum, No. 9577, and Mr. Cooley's recently published work on the Negroland of the Arabs. Edrisi's accuracy in many statements is more than disputable when compared with El Bekri. His distances of places are rectified by a comparison with El Bekri. Edrisi certainly copied from El Bekri, with some variations of his own, which are rarely accurate; and it would have been far better for his reputation to have adhered more closely to the source from whence he derived reputation. The circumstances under which this description was composed are sufficiently pointed out in the original preface, which for the information it affords, as well as for the sample it contains of our author's style, we think will be found interesting enough to justify our quotation of the whole.

"Thanks be given to God, the existence essentially great and powerful, incorporeal, endued with goodness, beneficence and long suffering, the sovereign judge who has all power, who is clement and merciful, who possesseth infinite knowledge, who hath given perfect forms to all that he hath created, the knowledge of whom is graven in all hearts and reposes in all minds upon visible and incontestable proofs.

"His strength and his power are certain and evident indices of his glory. All tongues publish his goodness, which the true faith confirms. The perfect conformation of beings, emanating from his divine will, constrains us to recognize his existence and his eternity. Amongst the master pieces of this will, the heavens and the earth are signs of high instruction for him whose mind is just and his perceptions right; first he admires the heaven, its immense eleration, the beauty of the stars and the regularity of their courses amongst them the sun and the moon

Bekri ments is

sbining in the firmanent—the sun the focus of light which produces the day, the moon the torch which dissipates the darkness of the night. These miraculous signs tell him of the march of seasons and the revolutions of ages. Then he remarks the earth of which this same will fixed the first site and determined the extent from whose entrails it caused the waters to spring, the vital principles of vegetation, and the necessary food for the fruitfulness of the fields and the fertility of the meadows; the earth which it left for the delight and the dwellingplace of man, the object of preference in all the movements impressed on the celestial bodies. - Man whom this same divine will inspired with the instinct necessary to distinguish good from evil and useful from dangerous, and granted to him the facility of transporting himself whither he pleased, by sea or by land, across the immensity of space. All proves the existence of the Creator!

“ Amongst the number of the beings formed by this divine will, the eye cannot note nor the mind imagine one more accomplished than the illustrious Roger King of Sicily, of Italy, of Lombardy and of Calabria, the Roman prince. This great king, whom heaven has crowned with glory and power, the protector of the religion of Christ, is the most celebrated and the best among all monarchs. His absolute will is the moving principle of his conduct in all affairs. He binds and unbinds according to bis pleasure, he governs and judges his people with equity and impartiality, and hears their complaints with patience and attention. He has established in the administration of his estates the most admirable order and the elements of the most perfect happiness; he has carried his victorious arms from the rising of the sun to its setting-witness the countries near or distant which he has brought into obedience to him, witness the sovereigus of the same religion as himself whose pride be has humbled. He owes this astonishing success to the valour of his armies well provided with all things to the power of his fleets, whose operations heaven protects. His glory shines in the eyes of all men, bis name fills the world, is in all mouths, sounds in all ears. What desire does he form which is not followed by the promptest accomplishment? What project, difficult as it may appear, does he not succeed in executing?

“Honours and dignities are the portion of his partisans and his friends, ruin and humiliation of bis antagonists and his adversaries. Of how much greatness has be not laid the foundation? The lustre with which be surrounds these dignities shines in the world with the brilliancy of the flowers in a parterre, and is beautiful as the verdure of the shrubs which ornament the groves.

“ This great monarch joins the good qualities of the heart to nobility of birth, purity of manners to beauty of actions, courage to elevation of sentiments, profundity of judgment to mildness of character, acuteness of mind to an admirable perception of affairs, and a penetrating glance, wbich, like a rapid arrow, goes straight to the mark and enables him to judge of every thing without error. The gates of future events, closed to others, are open to him. All the art of government has fixed itself in his person; even the dreams of his sleep are benefits for the future, justice and impartiality are the bases of his administration; his liberalities, resembling the waves of the ocean, are as beneficent as the rains which fertilize the earth. His acquirements in mathematics and in literature are immense; the deep study wbich he has made of the sciences has conducted him to the most extraordinary discoveries, in short the reputation which this great prince enjoys is so superior to that of other sovereigns, that it is useless to seek to prove such a truth by examples, the chief cities of the earth are filled with his name. If I bad to enumerate the wonders which he bad produced, my lungs would be fatigued, and my breath would not suffice. Who is there, who, wishing to count the pebbles of the universe, could succeed in ascertaining accurately the number of them ?

" When the extent of his possessions had increased, the respect which his subjects bore him was every where come to its height, and he bad subjected to his power dominions conquered from the Christian princes, this monarch, as a consequence of the interest which he took in noble and curious studies, occupied himself with the statistics of his vast states. He wished positively to know not only the limits in wbich they were circumscribed, the routes by land and sea which traversed them, the climates in whicb they were situated, the seas which batbed their shores, the canals and the rivers which watered them, but also to add to this knowledge that of other countries than those which depended on bis authority in the whole space which it has been agreed to divide into seven climates, resting on the authority of the writers wbo bad treated of geography and bad sought to determine the extent, the subdivisions, and the dependencies of each climate. For tbis end he bade consult the following works:

“ The book of marvels, of Mas'oudi. “ The book of Abu Nasser Said-el-Jibáni. “ The book of Abulcassem Adballah ben Khordadbeh. “ 'The book of Almed ben al A'dri. “ The book of Abulcassem Mohammed el Hankali el Baghdadi. " The book of Janakh ben Khacan-el-Kimaki. “ The book of Mousa ben Casem-el-Cardi. " The book of Abmed ben Yacoub, known under the name of Yacfouli. “ The book of Is'hak ben al Hasan, the astronomer. " The book of Kedamah el Bassri. “ The book of Ptolemy of Claudias. “ The book of Eresios of Antioch.

“Instead of finding in these works, clear, precise and detailed accounts, having met only witb obscurities and motives for doubt, he sent for persons specially skilled in these matters, and proposed to them questions which he discussed with them, but neither thus did he obtain more light. Seeing that things stood thus, he took the determination of ordering that in all his states they should seek for well informed travellers ; be bad them called into his presence, and questioned tbem by means of interpreters, together or separately. Every time that they agreed and their account was unanimous upon a point, this point was admitted and considered as certain. When it was otherwise, their information was rejected and put aside.

« AnteriorContinuar »