« ForrigeFortsett »
Moorish Spain, and particularly, the kingdom of Grenada. The cultivation of the arts was not impaired by the progress of natural science.—On the contrary, it tended to enrich them. A great number of those inventions which now render life easy, those too, without which, literature could never have flourished, are due to the Arabians. Thus, paper, so necessary at this day to the improvement of the mind, paper, the privation of which, plunged Europe, from the seventh to the tenth century, into such an abyss of ignorance and barbarism, is an Arabian invention. In the earliest antiquity, it was, it is true, made in China, from the threads of silk; but, about the year 30, of the Hegira, (A. D. 649,) this art was brought to Samarcande, and when that flourishing city was conquered by the Saracens, in the year 85, of the Hegira, an Arabian, named Joseph Amrou, carried the process by which paper is made, to Mecca, his native place; he made use of cotton, and the first paper, resembling very nearly that which we now use, was fabricated there, in the year 88, of the Hegira, (A. D. 706) Hence this art spread itself rapidly enough throughout all the States of the Arabians, and particularly in Spain, where the city of Sativa, in the kingdom of Valencia, now San Philippo, was renowned during the twelfth century, for its excellent paper-mills. It appears, that, at this period, the Spaniards had, in the manufacture of paper, substituted flax, which grows abundantly in Spain, for cotton, which is more rare and dearer. It was only about the end of the thirteenth century, that, by the care of Alphonso X. king of Castile, paper-mills were esta
blished in the Christian States of Spain, whence they passed, in the fourteenth century, to Treviso and Padua. Gunpowder, the invention of which has been attributed to a German chemist, was known to the Arabians, at least, one century before we find any mention of it in the European historians. We see it frequently employed in the wars of the Moors of Spain, in the thirteenth century, and some monuments would seem to indicate that it was known in the eleventh. The mariners' compass, the invention of which has been ascribed alternately to the French and Italians in the thirteenth century, was already known to the Arabians in the eleventh. The geographer of Nubia, who wrote in the twelfth, speaks of it as a thing universally used. The numbers, which we call Arabian, but, which ought, perhaps, with more justice, to be called lndian, have, at least, been incontestably, communicated to us by the Arabians. Without these, none of the sciences of calculation could have been pushed to the height they have attained in our days, and to which, the great mathematicians and astronomers of Arabia, had very nearly approached. The number of Arabian inventions which we enjoy, without knowing it, is immense. They were introduced into Europe, from several quarters at once, slowly, and without causing sensation, because, he who imported them, did not appropriate to himself the glory of being their inventor, and met, in every country, people who, like himself, had seen them practised in the East. It is the peculiar characteristic of all the pretended discoveries of the middle age, to be noticed as in universal practice, whenever history makes the first mention of them. Neither gunpowder, the compass, figures, or paper, are mentioned any where as discoveries, and yet, they were destined to change the nature of war, of navigation, of the sciences, and of education. What doubt can there then be, that the inventor, if he existed, would have boasted of an invention so important? and, if he has not done so, ought we not to conclude, that all these improvements have been slowy introduced, from a country where they were already universally known, by obscure people, and not by men of genius?
Such was the lustre with which literature and the sciences beamed forth, from the ninth to the fourteenth century of our era, in the vast countries which were subjected to Islamism. The most melancholy reflections are associated with this long enumeration of names unknown to us, and which were, nevertheless, illustrious;— of works, dormant in manuscript, in some dusty libraries, and which 'yet, for a time, had a powerful influence on the culture of the human mind. What remains then of so much glory? Five or six persons only, have it in their power to visit the treasures of Arabian manuscripts enclosed in the library of the Escurial; and some few hundreds more, scattered over all Europe, have qualified themselves by persevering industry, to explore the mines of the East:— even these persons, can only obtain, with the utmost difficulty, some rare and obscure manuscripts, and cannot ascend high enough, to form a judgment on the whole of a literature, of which they never attain but a part.
Meanwhile, the vast regions
terror over the seas, and who relax from their toils in vile debaucheries, till the plague, which returns annually, comes to mark out its victims, and avenge outraged humanity. Egypt, is nearly lost in the sands which it once fertilized; Syria, Palestine, are desolated by wandering Bedouins, less formidable however, than the Pasha who oppresses them. Bagdad, formerly the abode of luxury, of power, and of knowledge, is ruined; the once celebrated universities of Cufa and Bassora, are shut; those of Samarcande, and of Balch, are also destroyed In this immense extent of country, two or three times larger than our Europe, nothing is found but ignorance, slavery, terror, and death. Few of the inhabitants are able to read any of the writings of their illustrious ancestors; few could comprehend them; none can procure them. The immense literary riches of the Arabians, of which we have only taken a glimpse, no longer exist in the countries which the Arabs and Mussulmen rule. It is no longer there that we must seek either the renown of their great men or their writings. What has been saved of these, is entirely in the hands of their enemies, in the convents of monks, and in the libraries of the kings of Europe. And yet, these extensive countries have not been conquered; it is not the stranger who has despoiled them of their riches, wasted their population, destroyed their laws, their customs, and their national spirit. The poison was within them, it developed itself, and has annihilated all. Who knows, if, some centuries hence, this same Europe, to which the reign of literature and sciences is now transported, which shines with so great lustre, which judges so well of times past, which compares so well the successive influence of ancient literature and morals, may not be deserted, and wild as the hills of Mauritania, the sands of Egypt, and the valleys of Anatolia? Who knows, whether in a country entirely new, per
haps, in the highlands whence flow the Oronoko and the Amazon; perhaps, in the now impenetrable inclosure of the mountains of New Holland, there may not be formed nations with other morals, other languages, other thoughts; nations, who shall again regenerate the human race; who shall, like ourselves, study the times past, and, who, seeing with astonishment, that we have existed, and that we have known what they shall know, that we have believed like them, in durability and glory, shall compassionate our impotent efforts, and shall recal the names of the Newtons, the Racines, the Tassos, as examples of the vain struggles of man, to attain an immortality of renown which fate denies him.
FRAGMENTS ON ITALIAN LITERATURE.
From the French of SIsMoxDI’s Literature of the South.
Translated by John S. SMITH, Esq. of Baltimore.
John Boccaccio,born in Paris in 1313, was the natural son of a merchant of Florence or rather of Certaldo, a small fortress of the Val d'Elsa in allegiance to Florence. His father destined him to commerce, but previously gave him a literary education. At the age of seven years Boccaccio showed his taste for literature, and began writing verses whilst he manifested an extreme repugnance to business—He was in like manner opposed to an apprenticeship to commerce and to the study of the canon law which his father wished him to undertake. However, to satisfy the latter he made several voyages, but returned having acquired more extensive knowledge and a strong passion for study, instead of the inclination for trade with which it was wished to inspire him. He at last obtained permission to devote himself wholly to a literary career; he established himself at Naples where king Robert extended a powerful protection to letters; he engaged in all the sciences which were then taught; he learnt also the first rudiments of the Greek which was then spoken in Calabria, but which the learned scarcely studied at all. He was present in 1341, at the glorious examination of Petrarch which preceded his coronation at Rome; and from that time he was connected with this great poet by a friendship which lasted to the end of their lives. At the same epoch, Boccaccio, who was of a very elegant figure, of a lively and agreeable wit, and passionately devoted to pleasure,
attached himself to a natural daughter of king Robert, called Maria, who had been for seven or eight years married to a Neapolitan nobleman and whom he has celebrated in his writings under the name of Fiammetta. In his love for her, we must not look for the purity or delicacy of that of Petrarch for Laura. The princess Maria had been brought up in the most corrupt court of Italy; she had imbibed its spirit, and it is to her depraved taste that we must attribute all that is most blameable in the Decameron, a work composed by her orders, and for her amusement. On his side, Boccaccio loved her more perhaps from vanity, than from true feeling; and, although she was as eminent in beauty, grace, and wit, as in rank, we do not observe that she exercised a great influence over his life. The conduct, no less than the writings of Boccaccio, show a heart not deeply touched, and an attachment not very profound. Boccaccio left Naples in 1342, to proceed to Florence; he returned to the former, in 1344, and went back again to the latter, for the last time, in 1350. He then fixed himself in his own country, where his reputation had already assigned him a distin
guished rank. From this time, ,
his life was spent between public employments, particularly the embassies with which he was charged, the duties of friendship towards Petrarch, for whom he had always the tenderest attachment, and the constant, indefatigable labours to which he devoted him
self, for the advancement of literature; the search after manuscripts, the elucidation of antiquities, the introduction of the Greek language into Italy, and the composition of voluminous works. He took the ecclesiastical habit in 1361; and died at Certaldo, in the house of his ancestors, the 21st December, 1375, at the age of sixty-two. The Decameron, the work to which, at this day, Boccaccio owes his highest celebrity, is a collection of a hundred novels, which he has arranged in an ingenious manner, by supposing, that during the terrible plague in 1348, a society of young, modest, and enlightened women, and intelligent men, had retired to a charming country residence, to avoid the plague, where they imposed on themselves an obligation to relate for ten days together, each one a tale a-day. The society consisted of ten persons; and the number of novels is, of course, a hundred. The description of the delicious country around Florence, where these joyous hermits established themselves, that of their walks, their banquets, their repasts, has given Boccaccio an opportunity of displaying all the opulence of a style, the most copious, flexible, and graceful. The novels, which are varied with infinite art, both as to subject and manner, from the most touching and tender, to the most playful and, unfortunately, also, to the most licentious, exhibit his talent for recounting in every form and tone: In fine, the description of the plague of Florence, which serves as the introduction, has been ranked with the finest historic paintings which any age has left us. The perfect truth of the description, the choice of those circumstances which make