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brought down to the year A. D. 640. From his own accounty he took great care in investigating the subjects which he records, and its accuracy may be generally depended upon. His work has been continued by other hands to the year A. D. 768.
Beda, or the venerable Bede, was born at Weremouth, in Northumberland, in the year 672, and acquired the elements of learning in the monastery of St. Peter. Possessing a heart devoted to learning and an uncommon degree of application, he made himself familiar with every branch of literature wbich could be acquired at that time. He became so celebrated, that his fame reached the ears of Sergius, the sovereign pontiff, who invited him to Rome to consult him on subjects of great importance to the church--the temporal aggrandisement of which, then formed one of the prominent objects of the papal court. Bede, however, preferred the retirement of the cloister, and the peaceful pursuit of knowledge, to the bustle of a court. He continued his studies, therefore, with renewed application, and drawing largely from all the stores of ancient learning within his reach, he made himself master of every branch of literature that it was possible for any man to acquire in the age in which he lived. He composed and published many works, the most valuable of which is his “Ecclesiastical History,” which is still relied upon by modern historians as a work of high authority. He was held in high estimation for his moral and religious, as well as literary character, and his homilies were appointed to be read publicly in the churches. He was the first who translated parts of the Bible into the language of the country, which was then Saxon. All his other works were composed in the Latin language, in an easy and perspicuous style, but often deficient in purity. He died A. D. 735, and was buried in the monastery at Tarrow; his body, however, was not suffered to remain there, but was removed to Durham, and placed in the same coffin with that of the renowned St. Cuthbert.
After the death of Beda, learning having lost its principal support, rapidly declined in England. William of Malmsbury, one of the earliest and best of the English monkish historians, says, that “the death of Beda was fatal to learning, and particularly to history, in England; insomuch, that it may be said, that almost all knowledge of past events was buried in the same grave with him, and hath continued in that condition even to
our times. There was not so much as one Englishman left behind him, who emulated the glory which he had acquired by his studies, imitated his example, or pursued the path of knowledge he had pointed out. A few indeed of his survivors were good men, and not unlearned; but they generally spent their lives in an inglorious silence; while the far greatest number sunk into sloth and ignorance, until by degress the love of learn: ing was quite extinguished in this island for a long time."*
Sketch of the history of the literature of the Arabians, from the time
of Mahomet to the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, with a sketch of Spanish literature after that period.
BEFORE we proceed any farther with our sketch of the li-. terature of the European nations, we will attempt a review of the state of literature among the Arabians. We have adopted this plan because, when the christian world was sunk in ignorance, literature among the Arabians was in a high state of cultivation, and because the success of learning among the Arabs of Spain, contributed to its revival in the other kingdoms of Europe.
The Arabians are supposed to be the descendants of Ishmael, and occupied that portion of Asia, known by the several names of Arabia the Stony, the Sandy and the Happy, appellations intended to express the nature of the soil and climate. The former lies adjoining Egypt, and is of a rocky and unfruitful soil; the second extends along the foot of the mountains of Chaldea, and is washed on the north by the Euphrates; it presents to the eye nothing but barren deserts, relieved by fertile spots like islands in the sea, upon which the wandering Arabs pitch their tents and remain until the pasturage is exhausted; the latter, or Arabia the Happy, is surrounded by the Red sea, the Indian
* Rank. Hist. of France; Edin. Ency.; Giv. Rom. Emp.; Millot's Gen. Hist.; Enf, Hist. of Phil.; Mosh. Eccl. Hist:
Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and the Sandy and Stony Arabia. From the fertility of its soil, mild climate and pure air, it acquired the name by which it is distinguished.
The Arabians were divided into two classes; those who dwelt in towns and cities, and carried on the operations of trade and commerce; and those who lived in tents, and led a wandering and unsettled life, like the aborigines of our country—a kind of life still pursued by the Bedowin Arabs. Their religion was originally that known by the name of Sabianism or Zabianism, or the worship of the heavenly bodies, which they probably derived from the Chaldeans. With regard to this system of religion, we have already had occasion to speak; it is, therefore, unnecessary to repeat what has already been said. This system of starworship was afterwards changed by the inventions of the priesthood, until their religious system settled into one much less rational, and in the Caaba or sacred temple of Mecca, they had no less than three hundred and sixty idols. This sacred temple, until the time of Mahomet, was visited with superstitious veneration every year, by crowds of devout and enthusiastic pilgrims, who resorted thither to present their offerings, kiss the sacred stone, and walk seven times round the sacred edifice that contained the objects of their idolatrous devotion.
The learning of the Arabs before, and some time after, the time of Mahomet, consisted only of a slight knowledge of astronomy, such as could be obtained by observing the appearance of the heavenly bodies, without the aid of instruments, and that species of poetry which was common to almost all rude nations. When the Alcoran was published, they were so utterly ignorant, that even in the district of Yemen, one of the most populous and flourishing of Arabia, not a single person could be found who could read or write Arabic, and the Jews and Christians of the country were distinguished by the title of the people of the book."
Such was the superstition and ignorance that prevailed in Arabia, that Mahomet, the Arabian prophet and legislator, de termined not only to found a new empire, but overturn the prevailing system of idolatry, and establish in its stead, a system, having for its basis the fundamental doctrine, that "there is but one only God.” Mahomet was one of those extraordinary mer who are only permitted to appear on earth at intervals, to an
swer some great design of the all-wise Creator. Illiterate and uneducated, but valiant and persevering, and possessing in no inconsiderable degree, that kind of eloquence which is calculated to strike a rude and illiterate people, he succeeded in establishing an empire which continued under fifty-six successive caliphs, and a religion which has spread over almost all the eastern world. Mahomet was not, as many
have asserted, of low and obscure parentage, but being a Korashite, he belonged to the noblest tribe of all Arabia, and he thus enjoyed advantages, that to an adventurer of humbler origin, would have been denied. He declared he was commissioned by God to destroy polytheism and idolatry; for this purpose he delivered a new law, known by the name of the koran, or alcoran, the original of which he taught them, was laid up in the archives of heaven, and that the angel Gabriel brought him the copy of it, chapter by chapter, as circumstances rendered it necessary they should be published to the people. The success of Mahomet and his successors in the propogation of the new religion, was rapid beyond example, but was in a great measure occasioned by the terror of their arms. Besides, his religion was artfully adapted to the corrupt nature of man, and the particular manners and opinions of the eastern nations, where its success was most rapid; and the bitter dissentions and cruel animosities, which at that time existed among the different christian sects, rendering the very name of christian odious and contemptible, assisted the propogation of Mahometanism, among many of the nations which were then united with the eastern empire,
Mahomet, as we have observed, was illiterate himself, and he seems to have thought it necessary to keep his followers ignorant of every thing, except what was contained in the koran; for we find that soon after his power was established, he issued an edict, whereby the study of the liberal arts and sciences was declared a capital offence, at the same time proclaiming, that the koran contained every thing that was necessary to be known. Agreeably to this principle, Omar, the third caliph in succession from Mahomet, ordered his general Amrou, to destroy the books in the libraries of Alexandria, that had been accumulating for ages, and contained inestimable treasures of ancient learning. This cvent took place in the year A. D. 641, and if true, is a strong
proof the contempt of the Arabians for learning, at that period of their history.*
Ali and Moawihah, the fourth and fifth caliphs after Mahomet, extended some protection towards learning and learned men, notwithstanding the edict of Mahomet above-mentioned, but it was not until the accession of Abbas, the founder of the dynasty of the Abbasides, in the 749th year of the christian era, that the light of learning began to spread abroad over the Arabian empire. Abbas himself, in consequence of being involved in wars for the establishment of his throne, did not do much more than open the way for the promotion of literature, by rejecting the absurd notion, that every thing necessary to be known was contained in the koran, and giving his countenance and protection to men of letters. Abbas died in the 30th
age, and was succeeded by his brother Al-Manzor, a renowned patron of learning, and from whose reign the Arabian writers date the origin of their literature.
Al-Manzor, as a sovereign, is represented as cruel and implacable, but as a private individual, mild and affable; he greatly contributed to soften and subdue the ferocious character of his subjects, and, in order to instil into them a taste for refined and elegant pleasures and amusements, his attention was directed to the encouragement of the liberal arts and sciences. Al-Manzor removed the seat of empire from Damascus to Bagdad, which, by him and his immediate successors, was quickly embellished with splendid palaces, and in a short time it became the seat of commerce, as well as of literature, science and art. Bagdad, when it became the capital of the caliphate, was the residence of many christians, who were celebrated for their knowledge of medicine and other sciences, some of whom Al-Manzor caused to be introduced into his court, where they soon confirmed his taste for literature and philosophy, and under them, he himself studied astronomy. He offered liberal rewards to those who would translate the works of the Grecian philosophers, in the various branches of learning, many of which were introduced into the empire by the Nestorians and Jews, who had been compelled to fly from the persecution of the orthodox christians of the empire of the east. By this means, the Arabians became
* Prideaux's Life of Mah.; Gibbon's Rom. Emp.