Page images
PDF
EPUB

wealth, the influence, and the intelligence, of the Mahommedan possessors. Impelled by a spirit of victory which had been fanned by long and singular success, influenced by the proud conviction that heaven itself had declared in behalf of their triumphant prophet, they established an authority which lasted nearly eight centuries, in spite of religious prejudices and enthusiasm, nearly as strong and as active as their own; in spite of innumerable difficulties, resulting alike from the habits of their opponents, from the chivalric ardor soon exerted against them, and from the natural barriers which nature seemed to have erected on behalf of liberty. It would, however, be extremely unsafe to take upon trust the representations of the old Spanish chroniclers, as to the fervor and the feats of the defenders of the peninsula. The more inquiry is made, and the more information is obtained, in connection with the period of the Moorish invasion and early possession of Spain, the less glory will be left, we imagine, to those names which now shine so brightly in the history of Spanish romance. We believe Pelayo himself must be given up as a mere creature of imagination, and we are quite sure that the strange chain of events which are said to have prepared the way for the successes of Tarik, had their first origin in the dreamings of after time. Whether, as we have already hinted, the Goths had not managed to ingratiate themselves with the aboriginal and Latindescended inhabitants, and could not therefore induce them to take up arms in their behalf, certain it is, that, after Roderick's defeat, the Moors found comparatively little opposition to their rapid progress. Opposition, however, was soon afterwards excited, and fanned by the most ardent and glowing patriotism. Aspirations after national liberty led to a thousand deeds of heroism, and to the developement of those circumstances which became the subjects to be consecrated by those beautiful ballads and songs, in which truth wears the graceful drapery of romance, and romance appears the honest handmaid of truth. Till something like a plan of opposition to the intruders could be organized, considerable bodies of the original inhabitants retired to the northern provinces, where, to this day, they have preserved, amidst the Pyrenean mountains, the language of their forefathers; and, like the Cambrians in our island, boast, that the footsteps of a conqueror never stained their soil..

The Moors had to struggle with a people greatly their inferiors in intellectual attainments; a people who had more than once before recognized the hand of a master; a people too little acquainted at any time with the benefits of a good government to estimate correctly the value of liberty, or to exert themselves successfully in its defence. And the Moors bestowed substantial benefits on Spain. They brought with them and left behind

them a spirit of inquiry and a love of literature; they invited the most eminent scholars of the east to settle in their new possessions; they founded those illustrious Hebrew schools, to which Europe has never repaid her debt of grateful acknowledgement; they imposed on the country they had conquered the blessings of a mild and tolerating government; they taught a better and more profitable system of agriculture; they instructed the Spaniards in arts and sciences known, not at all, or very imperfectly, before; and they introduced a new order of metrical compositions, which have tinged all the national poetry of Spain, and given it that oriental coloring and glowing character which distinguish it from that of other countries, whose languages have the most striking affinity to most of the peninsular dialects. In the southern provinces, at least, the Latin tongue became so totally lost, that it was with the utmost diffi. culty any one individual could be found to write a Latin letter. Every body, we are told by Alvaro Cordubense, every body studied Arabic, and wrote it with the greatest possible purity. In the beginning of the eighth century of the Hegira, a list of the celebrated Caliphs, Warriors, Philosophers, and Poets of Spain, was written by Ebn Alchatib Mahommed Ben Abdallah; and this, to which a short account of every individual is added, consists of four thick volumes.

Before enlarging on the subject of the Arabic literature of Spain, we may be allowed, for a moment, to revert to the recent loss of an individual, (too little known in this country,) whose place it would seem impossible now to fill. D. José Antonio Conde, the successor of Casiri, died, a few months ago, at Madrid. We knew him, when in obscurity and poverty he was devoting his ardent and intelligent researches to the elucidation of that period of his country's history, to which we are now referring. His industry, his habits, and his learning, had eminently qualified him for the task, and we were astonished and delighted when he hastily ran over the curious facts he had dug out of the mines of Arabic treasures, and opened the long scroll of interesting names which he had resuscitated from their tombs of obscurity. Had he lived to complete his labors -or were these labors even in their unfinished state before uswe should be enabled to do some justice to this portion of our task. As it is, we can only think and speak of him with respect, gratitude, and admiration; we can only raise over him the humble monument of our affections, and throw one flowret of sympathy upon his grave.

The classical literature of Europe had declined-had nearly departed. The languages in which it had been enshrined were crumbling into barbarism ; the antient seats of learning had sunk into dust. Then it was that a light broke from the east

new institutions-new manners--new books and new instructo rs appeared. Civilization and knowledge came forth from their oriental thrones, and marched, with the language of Arabia, under the banners of the Moors, into the almost benighted west. All Grecian learning seemed to perish with John Philoponus-it made a feeble attempt to revive itself beneath the Comnenus family, and fell, apparently for ever.

It was fortunate for Arabic literature, that it found a basis on which to raise itself, of such distinguished merit as the Koran, which has served in all after time as its standard of classic purity. The excellence of this volume, critically considered, produced, no doubt, the happiest influence on the general character of the works of Arabic genius. The Mussulmans saw united in Mahomet the sublimest of writers and the greatest of prophets, and the contemplation must have tended alike to kindle the aspirations of their literary ambition, and the fervor of their devotional enthusiasm.

If aught of consolation can be derived from the contemplation of those scenes of temporary—not always temporary misery which track the progress of conquering armies, it is in tracing the diffusion of knowledge, which is generally the necessary result. If the invaders be less civilized than the inhabitants of the country they attack, their knowledge advances in consequence of the intercourse that is established; and if, as in the case of Spain, the conquerors be the more enlightened nation, they make some return for the distress and suffering they entail upon the vanquished, by introducing arts and sciences unknown before, and giving an impulse to the general tone of society. The Moors, on their parts, added much to their stock of literature by their communion with the west. The most illustrious of the writers of Greece and Italy were translated into the language of the Koran; and, under the patronage of Almansor and Harun Al Raschid, the light of Athens and of Rome was reflected on the oriental world. On the other hand, the great masters of eastern philosophy were introduced into Europe, and with all the eclat they could receive from the splendid military successes of the Mahommedan power.

Of the Arabic schools in learning, those established by the Moors in Spain obtained extraordinary renown. In fact, it seems to have been the ambition of the Caliphs to give to these new possessions all the splendor which literature could throw around them, and, by their liberality and moderation, they succeeded in encouraging men, the most illustrious for learning, to accept their offers of protection, and to avail themselves of the extraordinary advantages possessed by situations which blended all the learning of the Mussulman and the Christian world.

as in the Wence of the inthey attack, their civili

The ambition of Abdorrahman the Third seemed gratified when he had placed Cordoba on the proudest eminence of Arabic literature. He was himself an author, and his active mind was habitually employed in directing its best energies to the spread of knowledge. He founded the Cordoba university; he established schools wherever his influence extended, and his own library is said to have consisted of six hundred thousand volumes, the catalogue alone of which consisted of forty-four. The general character of the Ommajad dynasty is most honorable to its members. They, at least, had not mistaken the character of true glory, in giving all possible extension to the triumphs of civilization and of knowledge.

So general and so just was the appreciation of Arabic learning, that we may trace a succession of literary pilgrimages made by the eminent scholars of the middle ages to the Mahommedan schools and colleges. Gerbert, afterwards Silvester the Second, established an intercourse with the sages of the east, in order to avail himself of their philosophical attainments; and we find Adelard, the Benedictine monk of Bath, passing a long time amongst the Moors of Spain, of whose writings he availed himself largely in his different publications on physic and medicine. Great circulation and popularity were given to the works of the most learned Arabic writers through the Spanish schools; among others, the name of Daniel Morley is often referred to, as having enriched the west of Europe with much oriental learning, which he brought with him from the university of Toledo.

The waxing crescent seemed in Spain to rise triumphantly over the waning cross. Aldrete says, that if the infinite goodness of God had not been specially exerted, had not Spain been under His peculiar care, the Castilian language would have been wholly extinguished. It was preserved and cherished only by the few unconquered and unconquerable wanderers among the mountains. In towns and villages, Mahommedanism had made immense progress. The Christian records were almost wholly lost. Had they existed in the vulgar tongue, they would probably have maintained alike the language and the religion of Spain. But, during the mournful progress of many a century, the patriot of Spain had little to contemplate, except the progress of his conquering invaders—the gradual extinction of the language of his forefathers—and new instances of defection among his brethren from Christian faith and national fidelity.

Protected by the tolerating spirit of the Moorish caliphs, the Jews, who, for a long time, had suffered persecution in all its forms, were advanced to a station by no means discreditable in the pages occupied by the Arabic masters of Spain; and it will not perhaps be deemed out of place, if we here slightly sketch their literary history as connected with that country.

From the period of the destruction of Jerusalem down to that of the expatriation of the Jews by the cruel decrees of Ferdinand and Isabella-decrees which were carried into effect with an inhospitality as barbarous as that which dictated them -their number in Spain had always been very considerable. Under the Gothic dynasty, they had to suffer a variety of indignities; they were pillaged, imprisoned, expatriated, condemned to death, according to the caprice of the reigning monarch, and the only cessation of persecution was owing rather to the individual humanity of the ruler, than to any legal or positive protection they could claim. The fifth Toledo council went so far, as to compel every Gothic king to swear, before he was crowned, that he would extirpate the Jews; an arrangement which Lope de Vega seems to have contemplated with infinite satisfaction.

“The sceptre was denied in days of yore
To the elected king, until he swore,
With his own royal hand,
To purge the fertile land
of the vile tares that choak the genuine grain,

And write the holy law upon the crown of Spain."* No doubt, the Jews welcomed with joy the Moorish conquerors of Spain ; and, bound together by the strong tie of common sufferings, they prepared the way, in many instances, for the successes of the Mahommedan power. Under the caliphs, they rose from their depressed and degraded state, and reached a literary eminence, higher than they had ever before or have ever since attained. Great numbers of Jews were driven to Spain by the persecutions with which they had been visited in the east under the Mahommedan princes. They were imbued with Arabic and Persian literature, and they arrived, at a fortunate moment, to give splendor to the schools of Cordoba and Toledo, which were then in infancy, but which had already given the fairest promises for futurity.

* “Vedando el concilio Toledano
Tomar el cetro al rey sin que primero,
Limpiase el verdadero
Trigo con propria mano,
De la cizaña vil que le suprime
La Santa Ley en la corona imprime."

« PreviousContinue »