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sion successfully, not merely by the protection afforded in the natural barriers by which their country is surrounded, but by the unshrinking bravery and determination by which they made the most invincible of the antient warriors respect them. In the course of ages, the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Persian monarchs strove to master the Arabs, but their best efforts were unsuccessful, and this valorous people remained free, until the time of Alexander the Great, to whom they were obliged to yield.
The state of disunion to which the government of that great man was brought after his death, afforded the Arabs an opportunity of recovering their independence, and still maintained it for three centuries. But the Romans ultimately reduced a considerable portion of Arabia to its yoke, while some scattered portions were able to remain in the full possession of their independence. When the Roman power sank, as it did during the imperial dynasty, the Arabs might have shaken off the bondage of that state; but dissensions amongst them destroyed any hope that could arise from a harmonious concurrence of the various tribes, and for three centuries longer were they engaged in a struggle for freedom. At this era were enacted those chivalrous deeds in the mountainous parts of the interior which form the themes of the enthusiastic poetry of the Arabs. About the same period, too, Christianity had taken root in Arabia, and the bishops who preached the gospel amongst the Arabs, established their metropolis at Bosro, in Palestine. Still the antient practice of worshipping the stars was firmly interwoven with their habits, and Arabia, from its peculiar circumstances, in relation to almost all other states which were placed in a still more peculiar position, received from all quarters Jews and persecuted sectarians, such as the Nestorians from the east. The effect of this intermixture of so many varieties of races, each entertaining opinions peculiar to themselves, ultimately produced a complete indifference on the great question of religion ; and there can be no doubt that it is to this negative condition of the population that Mahommed owed the rapid success which his doctrine had attained, and the introduction of which constitutes an entirely new era in the history of this singular nation.
From the earliest times, it appears that the Arabs were separated, by the strongest possible line of demarcation, into two grand classes. The one consisted exclusively of natives of the desert, who pursued a pastoral, and, sometimes, a predatory life; whilst the others were characterized by preferring fixed residences, and engaging in the occupations and arts of life. The distinction between these two divisions is traceable at this moment as conspicuously as it was 2000 years ago. The pastoral community of Arabs are described by our author as having principally directed their attention to their flocks, the only valuable property which they possessed, and the chief source from which their domestic wants were supplied. They held, it appears, little intercourse, and had few connexions with the world around them; but their habits of sobriety raised them above the artificial wants of more refined and civilized nations. It was their constant boast, that little was required to maintain a man who lived after the Bedouin fashion. Their chief nourishment was dates and milk. The camel, the most common, and the most valuable of their possessions, was, of itself, a storehouse of useful commodities. The flesh of the young was tender, though reckoned conducive to a hot and vindictive temperament; the dung was consumed as fuel ; the long hair, which fell off annually, was manufactured into curtains for their tents, and various articles of dress and furniture. Wbile food and raiment were thus supplied by the spontaneous gift of nature, they envied not the tenants of the more fertile and industrious provinces. Their love of liberty was stronger than the desire of wealth ; and the passion for foreign luxuries, which has proved so fatal to other countries, has not yet changed the patriarchal manners of the roving shepherds of Arabia. As all travellers have remarked, the modern Bedouin differs but little from his ancestors, who, in the age of Moses and Mahommed, dwelt under similar tents, and conducted their flocks to the same springs and the same pastures. It is in the lonely wilderness and the rugged, mountains that his attachments centre; because it is there he can live without ceremony and without control. The very wildness of this inhospitable scenery constitutes, in his eyes, its principal charm; and were these features destroyed, the spell would be broken that associates them in his mind with the romantic freedom of his condition. The tent he regards as the nursery of every noble quality, and the desert the only residence worthy of a man who aspires to be the unfettered master of his actions. He cannot imagine how existence can be endured, much less enjoyed, except in a dwelling of goats' hair, which he can pitch and transplant at pleasure. These are privileges which he would not exchange for rubies. Her sterile sands are dearer to him than the spicy regions of the South ; and he would consider the security of cities but a poor compensation for the loss of his independence. It was an antient proverb, of which the Arabs made their boast, that God had bestowed on their nation four precious gifts. He had given them turbans instead of diadems, tents in place of walls and bulwarks, swords instead of intrenchments, and poems instead of written laws.
In the histories and poems, even of the Arabs, we find repeated proofs of the preference which they exhibited (the pastoral portion we are speaking of) for a wandering and uncontrolled existence, and Abulfeda, an Arabian, who wrote an universal history of the world up to 1315, mentions a curious example of the development of this partiality in the case of an Arab lady, named Maizuna, who was inarried to one of the caliphs. The
pomp and splendour of an imVOL. III. (1833) NO. III.
perial court could neither reconcile her to the luxuries of the harem, nor make her forget the homely charms of her native wilderness. Her solitary hours were consumed in melancholy musings; and her greatest delight was in singing the simple pleasures she had enjoyed in the desert. The modern Bedouins decline the shelter of houses when business calls them to visit crowded cities. They are seen passing the night in the gardens or public squares of Cairo, Mecca, and Aleppo, in preference to the apartments that are offered for their accommodation.
On the other hand, if we contemplate the Arabs who constitute the other great division of the inhabitants of Arabia, we shall find their customs, manners, and laws abounding in all the tokens of an essentially industrious people; for the soil being to such an object of interest, and, consequently, of competition, it follows, of necessity, that it should also be an object requiring, in its appropriation, the general consent of the community. Hence the subdivision of the soil was adopted, and the right of property in individuals recognised. Though the Arabs, it is certain, made considerable
progress in agriculture, still of the particulars of their practice we are now ignorant, and our information on the subject is far more scanty than it is upon the other still greater branch of their occupation, namely, their commerce. Every thing connected with their history, local position, their moral necessities, their natural habits, proves that they were the first navigators of their own seas, and the first carriers of oriental produce. The Old Testament, Diodorus, Agatharcides, and other writers, describe the magnificence of the early Arabs. In one district we find there was an abundance of every production which could make life happy; in another, the land plentifully yielded the choicest luxuries; the trees wept odorous gums, and the gales were so perfumed with excessive fragrance, that the natives were obliged to renew their cloyed sense of pleasure by burning pitch and goats' hair under their noses. They cooked their victuals with scented woods ; living in the careless and delightful enjoyment of those blessings which conferred on their country the appellation of Happy. In their expensive habits they rivalled the magnificence of princes. Their houses were decorated with pillars glistening with gold and silver. Their doors were of ivory, crowned with vases, and studded with jewels. The interior of their habitations corresponded with their outward appearance; in articles of plate and sculpture, in furniture, beds, tripods, and various household embellishments, they far surpassed any thing that Europeans ever beheld. Other writers speak in similar terms of the luxury and riches of the people of Saba. Arrian, in the Periplus, mentions their embroidered mantles, their murrhine vases, their vessels of gold and silver elegantly wrought, their girdles, armlets, and other female ornaments. Strabo describes their bracelets and necklaces, made of gold, and pellucid gems, arranged alternately; as well as their cups and other domestic utensils, all composed of the same precious metals; which, we are assured, were so abundant, that gold was but thrice the value of brass, and only twice that of iron; while silver was reckoned ten times more valuable than gold: their mountains producing the latter commodity in vast quantities, nearly in its pure state, and in lumps from the size of an olive to that of a nut.
The various articles which formed the subject of the transit trade of the Arabs have been enumerated by authors; and of the productions which were natural to Arabia, the incense was undoubtedly one of the most important. But none of the information supplied by the old historians can be relied on, respecting these commodities; and both Theophrastus and Pliny, who write some details about them, never travelled in the country. The state of society in this antient period was very depraved. The pride in which the Arabs were taught to indulge, encouraged the tendencies of their minds to war and its attendant cruelties, and the annals of the period before the era of Mahommed, teems with the descriptions of civil wars amongst the tribes. By the custom of the country, however, these wars were periodically suspended, and during the first, seventh, eleventh, and twelfth month of every year, a suspense of all hostile proceedings took place, and the inviolability of these sacred intervals was always preserved with the most strict religious reverence. The Arabs of those antiquated times were characterized by the most generous hospitality, which called forth eulogies that still live in poems and treatises. Their friendly treatment of strangers was not confined to the camp or the tent. On every hill the “ fires of hospitality” nightly blazed, to conduct the wayfaring traveller to a place of safety and repose. Amidst the darkness of winter, the country for miles round was lighted up with these beacons; and the higher and larger they were, the more honourable was the generosity esteemed of him that provided them. It was a matter of glory and rivalry to surpass each other in the number and extent of these kindly tokens. “Thy fires,” says a poet, “are kindled after sunset in every valley. The weary traveller spies these red signals afar through the obscure night.”
Poetry and oratory received considerable attention and encouragement from the antient Arabs, and conventions were held annually by the various tribes, where rival candidates broke their spears, to the great delight of admiring crowds. Mr. Crichton mentions, that the most celebrated of these literary convocations was that which took place every year at the fair of Ocadh, near Taïf. Here thirty days were employed, not merely in the exchange of merchandize, but in the nobler display of rival talents. In loud and impassioned strains the contending poets addressed the multitude by turns, extolling the superior glory of their own tribe, recounting the names of their eminent warriors, and challenging their opponents to produce their equals. Amongst the compositions presented at these meetings, Sir William Jones has translated some which have fixed the attention of the learned. The poetry of Arabia was composed under the greatest advantages; liveliness of fancy, luxuriance of imagery, and unconstrained liberty of indulgence to the imagination, must have afforded extraordinary resources to the Arabian poet, and in the language of the country he found a copious, flexible, highly expressive agent to give full scope to his most delicate or most energetic conceptions. So peculiarly adapted is this language to the exposition of deep feeling, that the Arabs themselves usually say, that a man must be divinely inspired before he can become a complete master of the tongue. That it far outstrips European tongues in this respect, we may be satisfied from the fact that the mere names of a single object, with their explanation, will sometimes fill a considerable volume. The Arabs have two hundred words denoting a serpent, five hundred signifying a lion, and above à thousand different expressions for a sword. Whole treatises have been devoted to the interpretation of these words. Firouzabad, the Johnson of Arabia, the compiler of the great lexicon called the Ocean (Al Kamus), relates, that in his description of the nature and advantages of honey, he has enumerated and explained eighty different names, though there were various others by which it might have been expressed.
Whatever be the immediate cause of the phenomenon, it is at all erents quite certain on the admission of all critics, that this language possesses remarkable delicacy, a bold and energetic sublimity, and that, by its peculiar qualifications, it is adequate to the expression alike of love and melancholy, to the keen severity of satire or the loftiest strains of vigorous and argumentative eloquence. Grammarians, observes Mr. Crichton, have calculated that the inflections of a single Arabic root amount at least to 300 or 350. Supposing the primitive nouns to be 4,000 in number, these, multiplied by 300, will yield a quotient of 12,000 words; the forms of which can be determined with as much certainty as if every one of them were actually in use. Perhaps 10,000,000 vocables may be assumed as the greatest number that has ever been required or employed in any language; allowing this quantity, however, to be doubled, it follows that, in the Arabic tongue, there still exists a million of words that have never yet been called into practice.
Learning and philosophy were but little cultivated amongst the antient Arabs; however, they made up for their deficiencies in this respect in aftertimes: but their knowledge of astronomy must have been acquired at a very early period, inasmuch as they would have naturally availed themselves, as permanently living beneath the unobstructed canopy of the heavens, of the assistance of the stars in guiding their wanderings. Still their measurements of time and seasons showed a very inadequate use on their part of even the opportunities for obtaining astronomical knowledge which they pos
They were a very superstitious race, and numbered amongst them a multitude of magicians, sorcerers, soothsayers, and astro