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LABOURS OF THE ASIATIC SOCIETY OF PARIS.
Seventh and last Article.
In concluding our analysis of the original papers contained in the volumes of the Journal Asiatique,' already published, we proceed to notice the papers connected with various portions of the Turkish Empire. These complete the series of able and interesting articles contained in that work, with the exception only of two notices on the state of modern Hebrew literature, as cultivated by the Jews of France and Germany, whose productions have no connexion with Asia, beyond the language in which they are written.
Armenian literature can scarcely be considered as an object of any great or general interest; for, although individuals of the singularly enterprising race to which it belongs are scattered over every quarter of the globe, penetrating, like their industrious rivals the Jews, into the remotest regions to which commerce has been extended, still their language is no where the medium of communication, except among themselves, and in the enslaved and degraded country from which they derive their origin; while the meagre relics which they possess of the literature of former ages, are barely sufficient to reward the philologist or the historian for the labour of acquiring the scanty information which they convey. Four papers, however, connected with this barren topic, have been admitted into the 'Journal Asiatique.' Two of these constitute one side of a controversy relative to the merits of a Grammar, lately published at Paris by M. Cirbied, the Armenian Professor of the Royal College, whom M.Zohrab, also an Armenian, and a man of considerable literary attainments, declares to possess hardly a school-boy's knowledge of the language which he professes to teach. Into the details of this controversy, we have neither space nor inclination to enter; and, with regard to its merits, we shall merely observe, that the conductors of the 'Journal,' (or rather M. Saint Martin, acting as their representative,) appear fully to concur in the propriety of the sentiments expressed by M. Zohrab.
The other articles are from the pen of M. Saint Martin himself, and consist of a Notice on the Life and Writings of Moses of Chorene, the Armenian Historian,' and an Analysis of an Armenian Tragedy,' represented at Leopol, in Poland, in the year 1668. In the former of these papers, we are presented with the biography of the only writer of extensive celebrity of whom his country can boast. Moses of Chorene was born toward the conclusion of the fourth century, and early attached himself to the then Patriarch, Zahag, a worthy descendant of Saint Gregory, who, in conjunction with Mesrob, (a personage of great importance in the annals of Armenia, as the inventor of the system of letters now in use, which quickly superseded the foreign and insufficient alphabets previously employed,) endeavoured to excite among his countrymen a taste for Greek liteOriental Herald, Vol. 9,
rature, in order to strengthen their belief in the doctrines of the Christian faith. With this view, several missions were sent into different parts of the Roman empire, for the double purpose of studying the Greek language and collecting rare and useful manuscripts, which it was proposed afterwards to translate into the Armenian, written in the new and national character. Of one of these missions, despatched to Alexandria, as the principal school then existing in the world, our author formed a part. His stay in that city, and his subsequent visits to Rome, Athens and Constantinople, appear to have occupied several years, and he returned to his own country about the year 442, imbued with a profound knowledge of Greek, and bringing with him a rich collection of MSS. From this period, during the entire remainder of his life, which his countryman, Thomas Ardzrouni, somewhat unconscionably prolongs to 120 years, he was incessantly occupied with those literary compositions, translations, and compilations, which have justly placed him at the head of the classic authors of his country. His principal work is the History of Armenia,' divided into three books, the first of which treats of the period commencing with Haik, who is regarded as the earliest king of Armenia, and terminating with the establishment of the Arsacidan race; the second closes with the death of Tiridates, the first monarch who made open profession of Christianity; and the third is continued down to the death of his patrons, Sahag and Mesrob. The first edition of this history made its appearance at Amsterdam in 1695 ; and, in 1736, William and George Whiston, sons of the celebrated Adrian, re-edited the Armenian text, to which they likewise added a Latin version, which affords a singular instance of persevering industry, inasmuch, as we learn from the preface, that only two Europeans, besides themselves, were at that time supposed to possess a knowledge of the original language. This edition has now become scarce; a third was printed at Venice in 1751 or 1752, and a fourth is announced by M. Zohrab. The other known works of Moses of Chorene are, a Treatise on Rhetoric,' after the manner of the Greek sophists, published at Venice in 1791; several homilies and hymns, of which latter many are to be found in the collection printed at Amsterdam in 1664; and, lastly, a Treatise on Grammar,' some fragments of which are preserved in the labours of later grammarians. A System of Geography' has also been several times published under his name, but the principal part of this work is translated from the mathematician Pappus of Alexandria, and it admits of considerable doubt whether the additions, which comprise some curious details relative to Persia, Armenia, and the Caucasus, evidently furnished by an Armenian, were written by him. His latter years were devoted, as he himself states, to translation; but none of the antient Armenian versions from the Greek can with any certainty be attributed to him, with the exception, perhaps, of one of Eusebius, which was employed by Dr. Angelo Mai and M. Zohrab, in the Latin translation of that antient chronicler, published by them at Milan in 1818.
The tragedy, of which M. Saint Martin has given an analysis, is
more remarkable on account of the circumstances under which it and several others of a similar character were produced, (from which he has taken occasion to illustrate at some length the condition of the Armenian church in Poland, in which country, as well as in the south of Russia, the Armenians have formed several considerable colonies,) than for any peculiar or intrinsic merit which it possesses. It is, in fact, perfectly analogous to those school-productions, formed upon the model of Seneca, which made their appearance in England, France and Italy, about a century previous, and of which Wilmot's Tancred and Gismund,' the tragedies of Robert Garnier, and the Sophonisba' of Trissino, offer some of the earliest specimens. From one passage in the introductory remarks, we are led to infer, that Armenian literature, properly so called, is entirely devoid of any thing that can lay claim to the title of a regular drama. The piece in question is entitled, Saint Ripsima, Virgin and Martyr,' and its subject relates to the most interesting event in the history of Armenia, namely, its conversion to Christianity. It is written in Armenian verse, but the choruses, which fill up the pauses between the acts, are in the Polish language.
We next turn our attention to the history and literature of the TURKS themselves, connected with which we find four articles, three written by M. Garcin de Tassy, and one by M. Von Hammer. In a Memoir of the Turkish History of Prince Cantemir,' the latter gentleman maintains, notwithstanding the reputation which that work has so long enjoyed, and the testimony of Sir W. Jones to its excellence, and the ability of its author, that the doubts of Gibbon were well founded, and that it is not deserving of the slightest confidence. He adduces a number of examples taken from the first six reigns, tending to prove, on the authority of authentic Turkish chronicles, that Cantemir has grossly misstated many of the most important events of those reigns, while he appears to have been wholly ignorant of others. As an example of misstatement, we may mention that all the Turkish chronicles, without exception, place the field of battle which decided the fate of Bajazet, near Angora; whereas Cantemir, without any authority, transfers it to Broussa, and repeats the old story of the iron cage, in which Timour is said to have enclosed the fallen monarch, which is expressly contradicted by Saad-ed-din, the author whom he professes to follow. An instance of ignorance equally striking is to be found in the circumstance, that he takes no notice whatever of the siege of Constantinople, in 1422, although it is mentioned by the Turkish historians, and although there exists a distinct work on the subject, written by the Byzantine author, John Canano, and printed at Paris in 1651. But M. Von Hammer does not rest satisfied with depriving Cantemir of all pretensions to the character of a faithful historian: he maintains further, and of this also he brings examples from the same portion of the work, that, instead of being, as Sir W. Jones describes him, "eminently skilled in the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish languages," he was profoundly ignorant of the two former, and, although probably able to speak the latter, very im
perfectly versed in its grammatical principles. Such are the charges brought by M. Von Hammer; and he concludes by offering, if the evidence which he adduces is not considered sufficient to substantiate them, to proceed in a similar manner through the remaining seventeen reigns, which complete the work, in order at once and for ever to overthrow the ill-deserved credit which this very defective history has hitherto maintained.
M. G. de Tassy's translation of a passage in Saad-ed-din, which professes to give a relation of the capture of Abydos by the Turks, has too much the air of a romance, although confirmed by the authority of twenty-four Ottoman historians, and by the uniform tradition of the inhabitants, as appears by the testimony of M. Von Hammer and Lady M. W. Montague, to deserve implicit confidence. Moreover, as M. Von Hammer remarks, the ground-work of the story is exceedingly like the denouement of the romance of Sidi Battal,' (as the Cid el Campeador' is denominated in the East,) of which the Royal Library possesses several copies. This veridique relation affirms, that in the year 1327-8, the Sultan Orkhan despatched Kounouz-Alp and Abd-er-rahman, two of his bravest generals, to lay siege to Abydos; but that the strength of its fortifications for a long time baffled their most strenuous efforts; that the Governor's daughter having been rescued in a dream from a situation of imminent peril by the interposition of a youthful warrior, whom she afterwards recognized in the person of Abd-er-rahman, afforded them the means of entering the place secretly by night; that after having purged the citadel from the impurities of Polytheism, (as the Turks designate Christianity, on account of the dogma of the Trinity,) by a zealous application of the scimitar, the victorious Abd-er-rahman was united in marriage to the fair Greek, who was converted to the true faith; and that from their union sprung a son, named Cara-Abd-er-rahman, who, in process of time, became the terror of the Polytheists of Constantinople. An abridged translation, from the same author, of his description of the last named city, contains nothing worthy of observation, the greater part being taken up with the usual ridiculous stories relative to the building of the great mosque of Saint Sophia, under the reigns of Justinian and his successor.
As for the Principles of Wisdom, touching the Art of Governing,' translated from the Turkish of Al-Hissari, it may readily be supposed that little is to be learned from them. M. G. de Tassy appears, however, to deserve well of the priest-ridden government under which he lives, to whom Turkish maxims of policy are becoming daily more familiar, when he declares, that "the noble frankness, the wise boldness, which characterize this treatise, demonstrate that we sometimes meet with more liberty under an absolute despotism, than in a state the constitution of which is democratic." For our own parts, we are quite unable to detect in this performance one sentence which could possibly give offence to "the victorious Sultan, Mahomet the Third, (the shadow of God upon earth, the Sovereign of Greece, Arabia, and Persia; may his empire endure to all eternity!") to
whom the treatise is dedicated, or to any member of his " paternal" government. It is, in fact, as flimsy and innocent a tissue of commonplaces as ever were strung together; more remarkable for the anecdotes with which it is illustrated, than for any silly ambition on the part of the author to figure as a martyr in the cause of truth and justice.
It may be as well to mention here a note on the BALAIBALAN language, by M. de Sacy, supplementary to his account of the grammar and dictionary of that factitious tongue, published in the ninth volume of the Notices and Extracts of the MSS. of the Royal Library.' In this note, M. de Sacy attributes the invention of this curious mixture of the etymological forms of the Persian, Arabic, and Turkish, to the Scheikh Mohyi, who flourished about the year 1000 of the Hejira, and who unfolded, in this new language, the most obscure mysteries of the Koran, which were thus placed exclusively within the reach of the Sofis, for whose peculiar use it was destined.
In speaking of the different portions which compose the Turkish empire, it is with feelings of the deepest shame and sorrow that we comprehend under its barbarous dominion the land of Socrates and Miltiades, of Demosthenes and Epaminondas; but having taken the political divisions of states for the basis of our classification, we are compelled by the Christian policy of the Holy League, united together for the perpetuation of despotism, "in the name of the blessed and undivided Trinity," to recognize with them the legitimacy of that sanguinary tyranny which has now, for nearly four centuries, devastated the soil, and demoralized the inhabitants of that once beautiful and classic land. That this foul stain on the nations and the governments of the civilized world may be speedily wiped out, is the fervent prayer of every friend to the moral improvement of the human race; but, at the same time, we must sincerely avow our rooted conviction that there is nothing which the Greeks have so much reason to dread, because there is nothing which is so well calculated to render the almost certain issue of their present struggle (however sombre may be their momentary prospects) a curse instead of a blessing, as the active interference of the combined despots of Europe.
From this unpremeditated digression, we again turn to the volumes before us, which contain but two papers on the subject of Greece, both of which may be despatched in a few words. The first, by M. Gail, one of the most distinguished Greek scholars of the day, is intended to prove, and does, in fact, very satisfactorily demonstrate, the necessity of the study of the antient Greek, in order to obtain just and accurate notions with respect to the history and revolutions, as well as the geographical positions of the Asiatic nations in antient times. He also adduces the close and well-established affinity between the Greek and Sanscrit, in proof of the advantages which the Oriental student may derive from a thorough knowledge of the former. The other article is a notice on the Sappho of Eresos, by M. Allier de Hauteroche, in which it is clearly shown, from a medal of the time of Commodus, that the opinion entertained by M. Visconti, that there were two females of that name, both Lesbians, the one