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Britain itself we owe more of the rights and freedom we enjoy to those hordes, which have been held up to indignation as the ravagers and destroyers of every thing great, and good, and glorious, in government and literature, during that revolutionary struggle, which compelled the Romans to withdraw their legions and their colonists from our remote island, and reduced the enfeebled natives to call in the aid of the Saxons to repel the inroads of the Picts and Scots; we owe more to these vilified savages than to their illustrious victims, whose fate has so often excited the compassion of historians, poets, moralists, and declaimers of every class. Yet it must be acknowledged, after all, that the Romans, from their degeneracy, were worthy of no better a fate; nay, they were so irrecoverably corrupt and emasculate, that the infusion of purer blood from the full fountains of the north had become requisite to restore human nature itself in the south of Europe to health, vigour, and temperance, the true standard both of mental and bodily enjoyment and perfection.
The fate of the Eastern Empire was longer held in suspense it stood a thousand years on its new base, at the point where Europe and Asia meet on the opposite shores of the Hellespont; but it fell, in the sequel, after many a long and furious struggle against the encroachments of the Saracens and the Turks. Nothing in history is more extraordinary than the sudden rise, the rapid progress, and the amazing extension of the empire of the former. In less than a hundred and fifty years the Saracen arms had conquered all the western, southern, and eastern provinces of the Roman world, including Spain, Barbary, Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, and the adjacent regions; to which were added Arabia, whence they issued, with Persia, a great part of Tartary, and in process of time the whole of India within the Ganges, where the eagles of Rome had never even alighted, much less gathered themselves to
gether upon the prey. It is true that all these countries were never, at the same time, under the immediate sovereignty of one prince; but it is not the caliphate of Bagdad alone of which we now speak, -the reference is to the domination at large of the Saracens, whom their kindred origin, language, manners, religion, and the rage, first for conquest, and afterward for knowledge, assimilated with each other, and distinguished from every people under heaven besides.
At the beginning of the seventh century, an untlettered slave and a renegade monk invented a new form of superstition, a triple cord to bind the human spirit, composed of certain parts of Judaism, Christianity, and paganism, so subtly and inextricably implicated, that to this day it continues to hold in captivity as great a multitude of our divided race as ever professed the same form of faith.
Among the innumerable millions of those who have lived and died in this world of change and mortality, if we were to fix on one whose existence, opinions, and actions, in their results, have more extensively influenced the destinies of a larger proportion of their fellow-creatures than those of any other, we should name the false prophet of Mecca. There have been warriors, legislators, and fanatics, who, in their circle, have equalled and even excelled him in prowess, policy, and extravagance; but not one can be brought into entire competition with Mahomet for the spread and permanence of his fame, either as conqueror, lawgiver, or impostor. His empire, institutes, and superstition have been rooted and perpetuated over so vast a portion of the old world, that the tail of his elborach (the beast which carried him on his miraculous journey to Paradise), -the tail of his elborach, like that of the dragon in
the Apocalypse, may be said to have drawn after him a third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them down to the earth. Interpreting these stars agreeable to the hieroglyphic language of prophecy, as signifying kings and their kingdoms, states and their people, this has been literally the case for twelve centuries, a longer date than that of any single empire, ancient or modern. In this view Mahomet may be called the greatest and most extraordinary man that ever had being on earth.
The former part of this impostor's life, compared with the latter, presents one of the most striking contrasts that can be found even in the fictions of poetry. According to the generally received accounts, he was the posthumous son of his father, early left an orphan by his mother, and adopted by an uncle, who, being too poor to provide for his wants, sold him into bondage at sixteen years of age. Then, however, he grew into such favour with his master that he was intrusted by him with many valuable mercantile enterprises,-and into such favour with his mistress, that, on the decease of her husband, she conferred on her slave her person and her wealth.
Had one of the numberless deaths that lie in ambush day and night around the path of man, and to which, from the ill-fortune of his childhood, and the misery of his circumstances till he had passed maturity, Mahomet was more imminently exposed than it is the chance (so to speak) of most people,-had one of those deaths cut him off, in some unexpected moment, it is impossible to imagine what would have been the actual religious and political condition of many of the richest provinces of Asia, Africa, and Europe, during the ages upon ages in which his successors as true to his religion as that religion is true to the worst passions of human nature,-have followed him in his track of blood; carrying the sword and the Koran from the heart of Arabia to
the extremes of east and west of the ancient continent. What has been the condition of those most magnificent, and, from sacred and classic associations, those most venerable countries of the globe, is well known, and need not be particularized here.
But it is humiliating to the pride of human intellect, that the most comprehensive moral change that ever was effected by a mere man in the character of an immense proportion of the species was the work of a barbarian, unacquainted with the literature and science of his own Arabia, as scanty at that time as the herbage in its deserts; and it is yet more derogatory to the vaunted pretensions of human virtue, unaided by a really divine influence, that this moral change was itself the greatest moral evil from one source with which our race has been visited since the serpent beguiled Eve with his subtlety. The Koran, which contains the oracles of this anomalous heresy, anomalous, yet so admirably adapted to all the fierce and licentious passions of our nature that it required no miracle to aid the sword in its promulgation, finding or making a traitor in every evil heart which it assailed,-the Koran is said to be a model of elegant Arabic composition, and though antiquated, by no means deserving the character which the celebrated John Hutchinson gives of it; namely, that it is a jargon of dialects never spoken by man. The learned Hebraist, in this instance, was probably prejudiced by his abhorrence of the doctrines which this apocryphal volume contains. On the other hand, if the diction be so pure, it could not have been the work of the arch-deceiver himself, or he was not the illiterate personage whom he affected to be, perhaps for this very purpose, that the eloquence and knowledge displayed in this pretended revelation might appear supernatural, and self-evidence that he was verily inspired.
Be this as it may, Mahomet and his immediate successors, in all other respects, were brutal, re
morseless, fanatical conquerors, ravagers, and overthrowers of nations and of letters. It was in the reign of Omar, the third of this ferocious line, that the celebrated Alexandrian Library was condemned to be burned, on the shrewd assumption, that if the books were in consonance with the Koran, they were useless; and if contrary to it, heretical. This has been deemed the greatest loss which learning ever sustained; and certainly, in bulk, if not in value; as one single calamity, and a calamity for ever irreparable, it was the greatest that could even be imagined within the range of possibility. Two libraries, however, of nearly equal amount in number of volumes, and probably much more precious in the selection, had been previously consumed by fire in the same situation. Those, therefore, who take it for granted that if the third had been spared by the Arabs, its contents would have been preserved as an inheritance to enrich all posterity, may console themselves for its wanton destruction, by reflecting, that if two libraries of the kind, and on the spot, guarded by the vigilance and jealousy of the most enlightened people of the earth, were destroyed in the course of two centuries between the age of Julius Cæsar and that of the Antonines, it is scarcely probable that this, for eight hundred years longer, would have escaped fire, dispersion, or ruin, by violence, neglect, or accident, while Egypt was in possession of one race of barbarian masters after another.
The Literature of the Saracens.
The spoilers themselves, in this instance, ultimately made all the compensation that was in the power of man to make for this one act of unexampled havoc. The Arabs-the Saracens, as they were afterward called-had scarcely exhausted their first military fury, in the march of uninterrupted conquest, east, west, north, and south, than they began to