Page images
PDF
EPUB

Men of every country and of every religion who were distinguished by their abilities and acquirements were invited, were rewarded, and were honoured at his court; and such was his admiration of learning, that strange to say, he actually invaded the dominions of the Emperor Theophilus in the year 830, for no other apparent reason than the refusal of that Emperor to permit Leo the learned Archbishop of Thessalonica to avail himself of an invitation on the part of Al-Mamon to visit the court of Bagdad.

That the Caliph should have made war on Theophilus for no other reason than his having prevented the visit of the learned Leo, certainly seems most extraordinary; Helen is said to have been the cause of the Trojan war, and Thais occasioned the burning of Persepolis; but how surprised would Horace have been if he had lived in the time of Al-Mamon, and had learned that the names of Helen and Thais were to be coupled with that of an old Archbishop of Thessalonica, in a sort of co-partnership concerning their respective claims as the "teterrima belli causa!!!"

But if this question be seriously considered, we may be allowed to observe, that enmity had long prevailed between the Caliph

Mamonis tempora referenda esse, qui ita se statorem literarum omnium maxime Philosophicarum præbuit, ut æternum sibi nomen famamque inter veteres et recentiores comparaverit; idque non immerito. Ut enim Natura dotibus eum prorsus singularibus exornaverat, quibus et imperio præesse feliciter, et bonis artibus literisque parentem se et promotorem præbere possit, ita hunc potissimum sibi Divina Providentia principem deligerat, cujus studio barbarici quæ omnem fere orbem occupare cœperat, Obex poneretur, et inter Arabes scientiarum studia excitarentur."

Historia Critica Philosophiæ, Bruckeri, Tom. III. pp. 31, 32. "Khondomir finit le portrait de Mamon en disant qu'il fut sans contredit le plus grand et le plus renommé Prince de la Race des Abbassides, Race le plus féconde en grand personnages de toutes celle qui ont regné parmi les Musulmans. Son regne fut de vingt ans et huit mois, pendant lesquels il favorisa indifférement toutes les personnes doctes de quelque Religion qu'ils fussent, lesquels reciproquement contribuoient beaucoup a la gloire de ce Monarque par les présents qu'ils lui faisoient des leurs Ouvrages

and the Emperor, so that very probably the refusal of the latter to allow the departure of the Archbishop from the Imperial City, was expressed in terms and in such a manner as seemed to be personally insulting to the Caliph; this probably was the real cause, for it is quite certain that Theophilus did not detain the learned Archbishop from affection for his person, or value for his learning, since he suffered him to languish in the most abject poverty, and compelled him to seek the means of subsistence by keeping a school for some of the slaves of Constantinople.*

Possessing such an ardent love for learning, it is to be regretted that an inordinate partiality for his country, and for the language and celebrity of his people, is said to have induced Al-Mamon (after the translations had been made) to have caused the works of the Greeks and of other nations which he had obtained by so much trouble and expense to be burned, in the vain hope that the Arabic versions might be regarded as the original works, and that their merits might therefore be ascribed to his Arabian subjects.†

But supposing him to have been guilty of this weakness, the Caliph Al-Mamon must nevertheless be regarded as the bravest, the wisest, the most tolerant, the most munificent, and the most learned Sovereign of his time, whose court by its refinement, learning, and splendor, formed a Rembrandtic contrast to the thick darkness of ignorance and barbarism which at that time

recueillis de tout ce qu'il y avoit de plus rare chez les Indiens, les Mages, les Juifs et les Chretiens Orientaux de toutes les Sectes."-D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale. • L'Art de verifier les Dates.

+ "Dolendum tamen inepto gentis linguæque suæ amore dictum Al-Mamon post conditas istas versiones Arabicas, teste scriptore Arabico Geuzi apud Leonem Africanum, πρшτóτva Græca comburi jussisse. Ita enim factum est, ut solis istis versionibus standum esset, quas infeliciter satis fuisse confectas infra pluribus dicemus: et cum simili modo Saraceni, etiam in Africa circa libros Græcorum furerent, magna inde Codicum Græcorum inopia exorta, qua tot desideratissimis veteris eruditionis thesauris carere nos oportet."-Historia Critica Philosophiæ Bruckeri, Tom. III.

P. 38.

p.

overspread the greater part of that which is now called polished. and enlightened Europe.

*

• Al-Mamon succeeded to the Caliphate in 813, and died in 833 or 834. He was the second son of the celebrated Haroun Al-Raschid, and was contemporary with our Egbert and Louis le Debonnaire of France.

says

Al-Mansor the Grandfather of Al-Mamon laid the foundations of Bagdad, the imperial seat of his posterity during a period of five hundred years, and as Mr. Gibbon observes, Al-Mansor after his wars and buildings left behind him in gold and silver about thirty millions sterling; which treasure was, however, exhausted in a few years by the vices and virtues of his children. His son Mahadi, in a single pilgrimage to Mecca expended six millions of dinars of gold. A pious and charitable motive may sanctify the foundation of cisterns and caravanseras, which he distributed along a measured road of seven hundred miles; but his train of camels laden with snow could serve only to astonish the natives of Arabia, and to refresh the fruits and liquors of the royal banquet. The courtiers would surely praise the liberality of his grandson Al-Mamon who gave away four fifths of the income of a province, before he drew his foot from the stirrup. At the nuptials of the same prince, a thousand pearls of the largest size were showered on the head of the bride, and a lottery of lands and houses displayed the capricious bounty of fortune. The glories of the court were brightened rather than impaired in the decline of the Empire, and a Greek Ambassador might admire or pity the magnificence of the feeble Moctader (in the year 927). "The Caliph's whole army," the Historian Abulfeda, "both horse and foot was under arms, which together made a body of one hundred and sixty thousand men. His state officers, the favourite slaves stood near him in splendid apparel, their belts glittering with gold and gems. Near them were seven thousand Eunuchs, four thousand of them white, the remainder black. The porters or door-keepers were in number seven hundred. Barges and boats, with the most superb decorations, were seen swimming upon the Tigris. Nor was the Palace itself less splendid, in which were hung up thirty-eight thousand pieces of tapestry, twelve thousand five hundred of which were of silk embroidered with gold. The carpets on the floors were twenty-two thousand. A hundred lions were brought out with a keeper to each lion. Among the other spectacles of rare and stupendous luxury, was a tree of gold and silver spreading into eighteen large branches, on which and on the lesser boughs, sat a variety of birds made of the same precious metals, as well as the leaves of the tree. While the machinery affected spontaneous motions, the several birds warbled their natural harmony. Through this scene of magnificence the Greek Ambassador was led by the Visir to the foot of the Caliph's Throne."-Translated from Abulfeda by the learned Mr. Harris of Salisbury in his Philological Enquiries, and quoted by Mr. Gibbon, Vol. V. p. 420, also D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, p. 595. Maestricht, 1776.

Amongst the learned men who distinguished themselves under the patronage of the Caliphs, the celebrated Geber or Giaber ought especially to be mentioned, there is much reason to believe that he was living about the year 830, which would be three or four years before the death of Al-Mamon.

Geber appears to have well deserved the title of Father and Founder of the Chemistry of the Middle Ages by the works which he wrote, combining according to the manner of his time Pharmaceutical Chemistry with Alchemy.

These writings of Geber must astonish every one, not only by proving how much he knew of Chemistry in that dark age, but also by the multiplicity of chemical instruments, operations, and productions, of which many continued to be adopted and employed in succeeding ages.

In these works Geber describes many instruments, processes, and products previously unknown, and has accompanied these descriptions with many judicious remarks. He well describes the processes of Calcination, Sublimation, and especially Distillation, and also gives an account of a variety of furnaces and vessels adapted to those purposes.

These and many more have been described by Geber, but to suppose that all of them were originally discovered and invented by him, would be exalting the inventive powers of his mind infinitely above every thing of the kind which has been possessed by man, and even such personages as Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus whom I have recently mentioned, would appear very inferior beings when compared to him.

The question, however, is satisfactorily settled by his own candid acknowledgment that his works are only an abridged compilation from those of Ancient Philosophers.* But he has not stated who were the Ancient Philosophers from whom he had * Totam nostram metallorum transmutandorum scientiam quam ex libris antiquorum Philosophorum abbreviavimus compilatione diversa, in nostris Voluminibus hic in

derived so much knowledge, and from all that has come down to us we have every reason to believe that he obtained but little from the traditions of the Egyptians, or from the works of the Greeks and Romans.

The Chemical knowledge of those nations may in general terms be reduced to the arts of Decoction, Digestion, Evaporation, Inspissation, Filtration, Vitrification, Amalgamation as described by Vitruvius, (Lib. 7. c. 8.) and in a very confined sense Distillation per descensum. They knew the seven principal Metals, and it must be confessed compounded some of the alloys most admirably, especially those formed of Copper and Tin; but their only acid menstruum was the acetous acid or vinegar; this is all that the most scrupulous and industrious scrutiny of learned Chemists has been able to discover, and therefore Geber could not have borrowed his enlarged notions of Chemistry from these people, nor yet from the Persian Magi, of whom indeed but little has been transmitted to us by ancient authors, excepting, that according to Diodorus, there was a College at Persepolis after the plan of the Egyptians, and that the chief attention of their learned men was directed to the visionary schemes of Alchemy.

The Chinese are not mentioned amongst those people to whom the agents of Al-Mamon were sent to seek information, and although they have from a very remote period been acquainted with many chemical arts and productions, yet from their aversion to communicate with other nations, it is not probable that the unam summam redegimus.

Gebri Alch: Cap. 1, Edit. Zetzneri, 1512, but (as Bishop Watson remarks in his Chemical Essays) the words metallorum transmutandorum are omitted in Tanchen's edition, published in 1681.

This however is of little consequence, for in those times and during many subsequent ages, Chemistry and Alchemy went hand in hand together, and wherever the former was cultivated, the other to a certainty was to be found, for in fact they were in a great measure identified with each other.

D

« PreviousContinue »