Obrázky na stránke

appreciate the intrinsic worth of books. Learning avenged herself nobly on these her enemies, by first making them her captives, then her friends, and finally her champions, by whom she was, in the sequel, preserved from all but utter annihilation in those very lands where she had once held sovereign sway. The Saracens, with an eagerness of search strikingly contrasted with their recklessness of devastation, in this respect, collected, wherever they could be found, copies of the Greek authors of the classic ages, which, being translated into their own tongue, they made the text-books of schools and colleges, established by authority in every country wherein they had gained a settlement; and they employed their own most eminent scholars to write commentaries on the same. Their princes even entered into treaties with the eastern emperors, at Constantinople, for rare manuscripts, which had now become to them of the value of provinces.

In process of time-ay, within two centuries from the conflagration of the Alexandrian Library,—the works of Aristotle and other Grecian philosophers, poets, and historians were retranslated from the Arabic versions into Latin, and the other languages of the west; nay, so complete was "learning's triumph o'er her barbarous foes," that through these vehicles, imperfect as they must have been, the polemical schoolmen of the middle ages derived their ill-digested learning. It is lamentable to think that so many of the latter-men of gigantic intellect,— wasted their strength for the most pigmy purposes. These wandering stars, amid the night of ages, shooting singly through the settled gloom that hung over the whole horizon of Europe, or occasionally revealed in constellations through rifted clouds that closed upon them in redoubled darkness; these schoolmen, as they are still called, were proofs, that under the most repressing circumstances, there are, in every generation, minds which cannot be kept

down; minds which, by their native energy and buoyance, will struggle into liberty of thought, and exercise the sovereignty of genius over the ignorant and passive multitude, at least, if they can find no better subjects. From the Arabs chiefly, this race of hunters after quiddities and crudities, of wranglers about straws and hairs, bubbles and atoms, learned what they knew of mathematics, metaphysics, chymistry, and natural philosophy, with such arts and sciences as were then in repute, though very defectively understood, and little improved, from century to century.

Charlemagne the great, and our own Alfred, a greater than he, commanded the original writings of Arabic authors, as well as their versions from the Greek, to be translated into the vernacular tongues of their respective people; and thus each of these truly great princes laid the foundation of the future literary fame of his own country.

To the Arabs, also, Europe is indebted for the numeral figures and the invaluable cipher, without which neither the mathematics, nor the sublime and interesting sciences which depend upon these for their proofs and illustrations, could, by any other conceivable means, have been carried to their present perfection. If he who invented the alphabet (the letters of which are the numerals of writing) was the greatest intellectual benefactor of his species, he who invented the signs of the numeration table (which are the alphabet of the mathematics) was only second to him in the boon which he bequeathed to posterity. Every moment of every hour of every day, in every country where letters and figures are known, there are thousands of individuals exercising the privileges and enjoying the benefit of these two inestimable inheritances. The discovery of the golden key of numbers, with its ten wards, which has unlocked to us the starry heavens, as well as the infinitesimal series of things on earth, has been ascribed to the

Indians; but so far as can be shown, at least, those from whom we received it are entitled in equity as well as gratitude, to that credit from us.

But the Saracens not only excelled their contemporaries in arts and sciences, useful and abstruse; from them, more than from all the classic models of antiquity, modern Europe derived the character, materials, and embellishments of its poetry. The new-discovered world of romance, likewise, for the most part belongs to Arabia and the East, having been as little known in the ages of Pericles and Augustus as were the unvisited regions beyond the Ganges. The songs of troubadours, the tales of novelists, the legends of chivalry, were all, more or less, borrowed or imitated from Saracen originals. The marvellous and terrific imagery of these works of melancholy or mirthful imagination were equally of oriental or African lineage; and those features, wherein they claim affinity with classic prototypes, were not impressed upon them from the originals in Greek or Roman song, but were transmitted, and transformed by transmission, to them through the enchanted medium of Arabian genius, seizing whatever it found of beauty or grandeur in the productions of taste, and making all it seized as much its own in appearance as though it were indigenous to the soil, whither in reality it had been recently transplanted

The Revival of Literature in Europe.

Giants, dragons, necromancers, griffins, and a thousand other antic forms of men and animals, that people poetry and romance, were all either natives or foundlings of the East: so were the more delicate progeny of fairies, gnomes, sylphs, salamanders— spirits of the elements entirely distinct from the mythological beings which classic fable had created there. Of fairies, especially, the delight of childhood, and, in their place, not less the delight of age,

renewing in luxurious revery the feelings of childhood of fairies it may be said, that nothing was ever invented by the wit of man so finely fancifulso real, and yet so aerial; that to this hour, when their existence is no longer even a vulgar error, they continue to be so exquisitely marvellous, and withal so natural, that they are the very population of the world of poetry. Without these brilliant and awful creations of enthusiastic sensibility-I now allude to the gigantic and terrible, as well as to the minute and beautiful,-in every form of fear, and love, and hope personified, in warmer, richer, fairer lands, where mechanical labour is little known, and where, from the earliest times, traditional lore of wonders has been the literature of tribes, fierce, fiery, and roving, like the Arabs, or a people indolent and voluptuous, like the Persians; without these brilliant and awful creations of oriental minds, the poetry of modern Europe might never have arisen above mediocrity-the freezing point of imitation, where all may be as splendid, yet as cold and unsubstantial, as figured frost-work, or drifted snow, or transparent ice. Modern poetry, we may presume, scarcely could have risen above this inanimate me. diocrity, because it would have wanted machinerya race of supernatural beings of ethereal origin, to supply the vacant thrones of Olympus.

The mythology of Greece and Rome, in their native songs, fills the mind and transports the imagination, but rarely touches the affections: the divinities of these highly intellectual people were as little calculated to excite human sympathies (though invested with human passions, and boundless impunity in the indulgence of them) as their own images in marble and brass in their temples, and by the public ways. That kind of epic machinery belonged exclusively to the periods during which it was the religion of the multitude, and while it remained the secret whereby the great and the

learned held that multitude at once in ignorance and subjection. Hence the deities of Homer and Virgil have never been introduced with happy effect into modern verse of high order. There is not a popular heroic poem in any living language in which they have been well employed; nay, there is not one in which they have been employed at all where they are not an absolute encumbrance-not to say nuisance. The truth is, that they destroy poetical probability the moment they appear on the scene; disenchanting the glorious unreality, which the man of true genius makes a million-fold more real to the feelings and fancy of his readers than the most accurate and elaborate representation of facts in history can be. There are, indeed, some lyrical pieces, especially Italian canzoni, and, in our own language, some playful love songs, and other trifles, in which the divinities of ancient times are quite at home.

But from "the highest heaven of invention” Jove and his senate are for ever and for ever fallen; so that it would be as rational, and about as easy, to rebuild their temples, and restore their worship, as to reinstate them in the honours and immortality which they once enjoyed on Parnassus, and which, as their only immortality, they will possess so long as the literary relics of Greece and Rome are studied and admired. On the other hand, the oriental mythology, if I may so style it, as soon as the revival of letters in the south of Europe revived the most elegant of all the forms which letters can assume,-Poetry, which is the language of the noblest minds, and itself most noble when most intelligible, the oriental mythology at once supplied a machinery, gloomy, splendid, gay, and terrible, for every occasion, as the one or the other might be wanted. The poems of modern date (those I mean which have outlived their century) most celebrated, and which will be longest remembered, owe

« PredošláPokračovať »