Page images
PDF
EPUB

mamun invited Jahia the son of Actam, one of his favourites, to attend him on horseback, and view what was brought. They went, accordingly, and beheld the treasure arranged in the finest order, and the camels, too, which had brought it, richly decorated. The prince admired both the quantity of the money and the elegance of the show; and as his courtiers looked on with no less admiration, he bid them be of good cheer. Then turning about to Jahia, “O! Abu Mahommed,” says he, “ we should be sordid, indeed, were we to depart hence with all this money, as if it were scraped up for ourselves alone, whilst our longing friends look on to no purpose.” Calling, therefore, immediately for a notary, he commands him to write down for such a family so many thousands, for such a family so many, and so on, never stopping till, out of the thirty thousand pieces, he had given away twenty-four thousand, without so much as taking his foot out of the stirrup.

From munificence we pass to another quality, which, though less amiable, is not less striking and popular, I mean magnificence.

The splendour of the caliph Moctader, when he received the ambassador of the Greek emperor at Bagdad, seems hardly credible. We relate it from one of their historians, precisely as we find it.

The caliph's whole army, both horse and foot, were under arms, which together made a body of one hundred and sixty thousand men. His state-officers stood near him in the most splendid apparel, their belts shining with gold and gems. Near them were seven thousand eunuchs; four thousand white, the remainder of them black. The porters, or door-keepers, were in number seven hundred. Barges and boats with the most superb decoration were swimming on the Tigris. Nor was the palace itself less splendid, in which were hung up thirty-eight thousand pieces of tapestry; twelve thousand five hundred of which were of silk, embroidered with gold. The carpets on the floor were twenty-two thousand. An hundred lions were brought out, with a keeper to each lion.

Among the other spectacles of rare and stupendous luxury, was a tree of gold and silver, which opened itself into eighteen larger branches, upon which, and the other less branches, sat birds of every sort, made also of gold and silver. The tree glittered with leaves of the same metals, and while its branches, through machinery, appeared to move of themselves, the several birds upon them warbled their proper and natural notes.

When the Greek ambassador was introduced to the caliph, he was led by the vizier through all this magnificence.!

But besides magnificence of this kind, which was at best but | Abulfeda, p. 189.

the Christian era, happened in the year % Abulfeda, p. 237. This, according to 917.

temporary, the caliphs gave instances of grandeur more permanent. Some of them provided public buildings for the reception of travellers, supplied the roads with wells and watering-places, measured out the distances by columns of stone, and established posts and couriers. Others repaired old temples, or built magnificent new ones. The provision of snow (which in hot countries is almost a necessary) was not forgotten. Add to this, forums, or public places for merchants to assemble; infirmaries; observatories, with proper instruments for the use of astronomers; libraries, schools, and colleges for students; together with societies, instituted for philosophical inquiry."

In the account of the Escurial Arabic manuscripts, lately given by the learned Casiri, it appears that the public libraries in Spain, when under the Arabian princes, were no fewer than seventy: a noble help this to literature, when copies of books were so rare and expensive.

A transaction between one of the caliph of Bagdad's ambassadors and the court of Constantinople is here subjoined, in order to illustrate the then manners, both of the ambassador and the court.

As this court was a remnant of the ancient imperial one under the Cæsars, it still retained, (as was natural,) after its dominions were so much lessened, an attachment to that pomp and those minute ceremonials, which in the zenith of its power it had been able to enforce. It was an affection for this shadow of grandeur, when the substance was in a manner gone, that induced the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus to write no less than a large folio book upon its ceremonials."

It was in consequence of the same principles, that the above ambassador, though coming from the caliph, was told to make a humble obeisance, as he approached the Grecian emperor. This the ambassador (who had his national pride also) absolutely refusing, it was ingeniously contrived that he should be introduced to the emperor through a door so very low, as might oblige him, however unwillingly, to make the obeisance required. The ambassador, when he arrived, no sooner saw the door, than he com

h Many things are enumerated in this For infirmaries, Abulphar. p. 210. 343. paragraph, to confirm which we subjoin For observatories, public schools, &c. the following references among many Abulphar. p. 216. omitted.

For learned societies, Abulphar. p. 217. For buildings to accommodate travel- Abulfed. p. 181, 182, 183. 210. 274. Bo lers. Abulfed. p. 154. Abulphar. p. 315, hadin Vit. Salad. p. 25. 316.

Among their philosophical transactions For wells upon the road, watering-places, was a mensuration of the earth's circumand mile-stones, Abulfed. p. 154 ; for posts ference, made by order of the caliph Aland couriers, the same, p. 157. 283. mamun, which they brought to about twenty

For temples, Abulfed. p. 125. Abulphar. four thousand miles. p. 210. 315, 316.

i Vid. Biblioth. Arabico-Hispan. vol. ii. For snow, Abulfed. p. 154. Abulphar. p. 71. Matriti, 1770. p. 26). Bohadin, p. 70.

* See before, p. 471, note m.

prehended the contrivance, and with great readiness turned about, and entered the room backward.'

We have said little concerning eminent Arabians during this period in Spain. Yet that we may not be wholly silent, we shall mention one fact concerning Averroes, the famous philosopher and lawyer, who was born at Corduba in the eleventh century.

As he was lecturing one day in the college of lawyers, a slave, belonging to one who was his enemy, came and whispered him. Averroes turning round, and saying, “ Well, well,” the company believed the slave had brought him a message from his master. The next day the slave returned, implored his pardon, and publicly confessed that, when he had whispered him, he had spoken a slander. “God forgive thee,” replied Averroes; “thou hast publicly shewn me to be a patient man; and as for thy injury, it is not worthy of notice." Averroes after this

gave

him money, adding withal this monition, “ What thou hast done to me, do not do to another.” m

And here, before we conclude this chapter, we cannot help confessing, that the facts we have related are not always arranged in the strict order of chronology.

The modes, indeed, of history (if these chapters merit that name) appear to be different. There is a mode which we may call historical declamation; a mode where the author, dwelling little upon facts, indulges himself in various and copious reflections.

Whatever good (if any) may be derived from this method, it is not likely to give us much knowledge of facts.

Another mode is that which I call general, or rather public history; a mode abundant in facts, where treaties and alliances, battles and sieges, marches and retreats, are accurately retailed; together with dates, descriptions, tables, plans, and all the collateral helps, both of chronology and geography.

In this, no doubt, there is utility. Yet the sameness of the events resembles not a little the sameness of human bodies. One head, two shoulders, two legs, &c. seem equally to characterize an European and an African; a native of Old Rome, and a native of Modern.

A third species of history still behind, is that which gives a sample of sentiments and manners.

If the account of these last be faithful, it cannot fail being instructive, since we view through these the interior of human nature. It is by these we perceive what sort of animal man is ; so that while not only Europeans are distinguished from Asiatics, but English from French, French from Italians, and (what is still more) every individual from his neighbour, we view at the same time one nature, which is common to them all. | Abulphar.

m Fabric. Bibl. Græc. vol. xiii. p. 283, 284.

Horace informs us that a drama, where the sentiments and manners are well preserved, will please the audience more than a pompous fable where they are wanting.” Perhaps what is true in dramatic composition, is not less true in historical.

Plutarch, among the Greek historians, appears in a peculiar manner to have merited this praise. So likewise Bohadin among the Arabians, and to him we add Abulpharagius and Abulfeda, from whom so many facts in these chapters are taken.

Nor ought I to omit (as I shall soon refer to them) some of our best monkish historians, though prone upon occasion to degenerate into the incredible. As they often lived during the times which they described, it was natural they should paint the life and the manners which they saw.

A single chapter more will finish all we have to say concerning the Arabians.

CHAPTER VIII.

ARABIANS FAVOURED MEDICINE AND ASTROLOGY-FACTS RELATIVE TO

THESE TWO SUBJECTS—THEY VALUED KNOWLEDGE, BUT HAD NO IDEAS OF CIVIL LIBERTY-THE MEAN EXIT OF THEIR LAST CALIPH, MOSTASEM END OF THEIR EMPIRE IN ASIA AND IN SPAIN-THEIR PRESENT WRETCHED DEGENERACY IN AFRICA-AN ANECDOTE.

sons.

The Arabians favoured medicine and astrology, and many of their princes had professors of each sort usually near their per

Self-love, a natural passion, led them to respect the art of healing ; fear, another natural passion, made them anxious to know the future; and superstition believed there were men, who, by knowing the stars, could discover it.

We shall first say something concerning medicine, which we are sorry to couple with so futile an imposture.

It is commonly supposed that the prescriber of medicines and the provider, that is to say, in common words, the physician and the apothecary, were characters anciently united in the same person. The following fact proves the contrary, at least among the Orientals.

In an army commanded by Aphshin, an officer of the caliph Al-Mostasem, it happened that Aphshin and the army physician, Zacharias, were discoursing together. “I assert," says Zacharias,

‘you can send for nothing from an apothecary, but, whether he has it or has it not, he will affirm that he has." Aphshin, willing to make the trial, bids them bring him a catalogue of unknown people, and transcribing out of it about twenty of their names, sends messengers to the apothecaries to provide him those mediSup. p. 445, in the note.

• Abulphar. p. 160.

cines. A few confessed they knew no such medicines; others affirmed they knew them well, and taking the money from the messengers, gave them something out of their shops. Aphshin, upon this, called them together, permitted those who said they knew nothing of the medicines to remain in the camp, and commanded the rest that instant to depart.P

The following story is more interesting. The caliph Mottawakkel had a physician belonging to him, who was a Christian, named Honaïn. One day, after some other incidental conversation, “I would have thee," says the caliph, “teach me a prescription, by which I may take off any enemy I please, and yet at the same time it should never be discovered.” Honaïn, declining to give an answer, and pleading ignorance, was imprisoned.

Being brought again, after a year's interval, into the caliph's presence, and still persisting in his ignorance, though threatened with death, the caliph smiled upon him, and said, “Be of good cheer; we were only willing to try thee, that we might have the greater confidence in thee.

As Honaïn upon this bowed down and kissed the earth, “What hindered thee,” says the caliph," from granting our request, when thou sawest us appear so ready to perform what we had threatened?” “Two things,” replied Honaïn ; “my religion, and my profession : my religion, which commands me to do good to my enemies; my profession, which was purely instituted for the benefit of mankind." “Two noble laws," said the caliph; and immediately presented him (according to the Eastern usage) with rich garments and a sum of money.9

The same caliph was once sitting upon a bench with another of his physicians, named Bactish, who was dressed in a tunic of rich silk, but which happened on the edge to have a small rent. The caliph, entering into discourse with him, continued playing with this rent, till he had made it reach up to his girdle. In the course of their conversation, the caliph asked him, “ How he could determine when a person was so mad as to require being bound ?” “We bind him," replies Bactish,“ when things proceed to that extremity, that he tears the tunic of his physician up to the girdle.” The caliph fell backward in a fit of laughing, and ordered Bactish (as he had ordered Honaïn) a present of rich garments, and a donation in money."

That such freedom of conversation was not always checked, may appear from the following, as well as the preceding narrative.

The caliph Al-wathick was once fishing with a rod and line, upon a raft in the river Tigris. As he happened to catch nothing, he turned about to his physician John, the son of Misna, then sitting near him, and said a little sharply, “Thou P Abulphar. p. 167. 9 Ibid. p. 172, 173.

r Ibid. p. 171.

« PreviousContinue »