If history is the study of the movements of men in relation to the forces which generate motion, and the results that flow from it, then must Saracen history offer to the student a large and varied problem.
Judged by the amount of energy displayed, the career of the Arabians was one of the most brilliant the world has seen. When we consider the time through which it endured, and the extent of territory which it covered, we cannot escape the conviction that powerful forces engendered it, and that correspondingly great results ought to be traced to it. None but a superficial observer could watch those currents of life which, from the seventh to the fifteenth century, swept to and fro over eastern Asia and around the Mediterranean through northern Africa and Spain, baptizing the islands of the great inland sea, and sprinkling the shores of Italy, without raising inquiries concerning the sources and mission of such activity.
It is an error to ascribe all this to one cause. Religion furnished leading motives. That special form of religion introduced by Mohammed consolidated and directed elements which throve in the desert before the Prophet's day. Islam elevated and gave new form to the older Arabic faith or faiths. But Islam was, in an important sense, the outgrowth of former religious experiences. In the desert were the feeling of infinitude and the awe, of solitude. These were merged in Mohammed's Allah. The monotheistic conception was the breath that fanned fires already kindled. Back of Islam lay Saracenism: the desert life, its religious sentiment, its passions, fury, courage. The living, active, wild, and tremendous forces of the Bedouin were intensified and disciplined under Mohammed and his followers.
How strong those forces were is demonstrated in the magnitude and duration of the movements started and maintained by them.
The relatively few thousands who came from the desert sufficed to inspire millions belonging to different nationalities, and carry them along in currents, religious, social, intellectual, which are properly called Arabic. For, although Arabian blood ran in the veins of relatively few of those who accepted Islam, or ran diluted, the civilization adopted and furthered by them was transfused with the Arabian genius. When, therefore, we speak of the intellectual mission of the Saracens, we use some degree of accuracy. They furnished the impulse to intellectual as well as spiritual and political life. To them must be accredited, in large measure, the mission which that life fulfilled.
The nature and value of the mission have been much discussed. The determination of the one and the fair estimation of the other are attended with difficulties, chief among which may be ranked that illusive haze which everywhere spreads itself over Arabian history. There is such a distance between the depths of ignorance from which the nation rose and the heights of culture to which it attained, the advance is so unlooked for and impulsive, it culminates so quickly after the upward direction has been taken, and it forms such a contrast to the intellectual quietude of surrounding nations, that the reader of history in the dark ages turns to this field with something of that admiration with which, in the later ages of Saracen supremacy, the students of the north turned from the colder climates and the coarser civilizations, in which they had been reared, to the softer airs of Moorish Spain.
The profuseness of the Arabian learning, the multiplicity of the departments into which it entered, its zeal, the enormous proportions of the resulting literature, the vast libraries, the schools, the lecture rooms with their thousands of students, the universities, the institutions devoted to special sciences, the observatories and laboratories so royally equipped, the schools of logic and grammar, the whole attractive republic of letters, in which princes mingled with the sons of tradesmen or mechanics, while court favorites vied with impoverished authors for the honors of literature, all the ardor of a great intellectual movement passing before our eyes under Oriental guise, dispose the mind to enthusiastic judgements.
To this difficulty must be added the necessity of a careful survey of the actual product of this activity, in order to determine its nature, its value, and the part it has played in the world's progress.
More particularly, in natural science, philosophy, and mathematics, in which studies the mental powers of any people are most severely tested, and those of the Saracens were especially engaged, an independent judgment can be reached only as the result of an impartial canvass of all that was known in these departments before the period of Islam, and a comparison of that which was so known with the state of knowledge as the decline of Mohammedan power in Spain. The details of such a canvass cannot be introduced here. We must be content with general statements, endeavoring to glean out of these fields, as well as from those of poetry, the material for a just estimate of the mission of Saracen culture to the world.
Writers have differed greatly in their opinions of both the nature and value of that mission. Some, captivated by its brilliant execution, have rated the actors high among the originators of science and the contributors to culture. Others have applied a more critical judgement to the facts of history, and have held the outcome of Arabian originality in much lower esteem. The different results are referable to the standards adopted by the two classes of writers. The severer judges have brought the achievements of the Saracens to the test of progress made in theoretical and systematic science; while the more lenient judges have based their decisions on the extent to which the people carried their general and more superficial knowledge of the departments they cultivated. The points of view are so far apart that we need not be surprised at radically differing conclusions. It is not fair to test the Arabians strictly by either of these criteria. They have a claim on our admiration that does not wholly result from, and cannot be measured exclusively by, the one or the other. Nor would it be right to make up our opinion independently of the circumstances of the nation, the conditions from which it sprang into the rank of a ruling power, the period in which it made its appearance, the resources at its command, and the length of time given to develop its results.
The nation started on its scientific career empty-handed. By its peninsular location it had been largely out of reach of those great civil, religious, and intellectual currents which swept to and fro from the Persian mountains to the Mediterranean, and flowed around the borders of that sea. It came into these movements as a fresh element, bringing nothing that had previously belonged to them save the religious ideas it had borrowed from them. Yet in the possession of mental freshness it brought much, and much that was to its advantage. The Arabians were not an effete people, wearied and worn with questionings and philosophizings. With them knowledge was not a stale thing. They entered a decaying empire of thought as well as of arms, bringing with them enthusiasm and hope, physical vigor and religious zeal. They had the dew of their youth.
In the then existing conditions of the world, and in view of the previous history of philosophy and science, it may be considered an open question whether the isolation of the Arabians had not prepared for them some special advantage in the race they were to run. Certainly, in other respects, they were fortunately placed for a rapid and honorable career. As conquerors they at once became heirs to the ancient seats of civilization throughout the East, Egypt, northern Africa, Spain, and the Mediterranean islands. They controlled all of the value which that civilization had left to the world. They took possession of the chief seats of learning, and were brought into immediate and commanding contact with the representatives of that learning. In the progress of their arms they met the arts of India, opened communication with China, controlled the schools of western Asia, became the lords of Alexandria and her traditions, while, although they could not conquer Constantinople, they were able to demand, and did exact, her literary treasures as a tribute. In a word, they possessed the land. When their attention was once directed to the secrets which the land held, they had the power, the will, and the energy to command their revelation. The Kalifs, moved by exaggerated notions of the value of astrology, and alchemy, as well as by that race pride which characterized them, became the enthusiastic patrons of the sciences.
Nor was the time given for the accomplishment of the nation's mission short. From the death of Mohammed to the expulsion of the Moors of Spain was a period of eight, hundred and sixty-nine years. And if, in order to allow for the rise of literary activity at the beginning of this period and the decline at its close, we date from the year 800 to the year 1300, we have still five hundred years in which the Arabian mind had free scope to work out its results.
What, then, were the results?
The Saracens became a learned and, for those times, a refined people, having acquired whatever luxury the material arts afforded, and whatever culture was to be derived from the departments of knowledge which they cherished, and in which they may be assumed to have known the most of what antiquity had to teach, because they had access to the works of the ancients. In natural science they were the inheritors of the physics of Aristotle and Plato with the more advanced physics of Archimedes, the medicine of Hippocrates and Galen, the botany of Dioscorides, the mathematics and optics of Euclid, the astronomy of Hipparchus and Ptolemy; in a word, the sum of the knowledge of ancient Greece,—and Greece had condensed into her science that of the world. If alchemy were of later birth than other branches of the study of nature, it is yet certain that it did not take its rise among the Arabians. Their most celebrated alchemist, Geber, confesses that he received the larger share of his knowledge from the ancients, and the secrets of the science, if such it could be called, were known in Egypt three hundred years before Mohammed saw the light. In that country Diocletian is said to have broken up the colleges of the priests, and burned the books in which it was believed that they preserved their alchemistic secrets, because the revolts of the country were maintained by the silver which they were able to manufacture out of baser substances. Nor would the fact, that Diocletian attributed such mastery of the art to the Egyptian priests be any proof that it was not practiced elsewhere, but only that a suspicion existed to the effect that what was in other places eagerly sought had become a cherished possession of that mysterious fraternity. That the Egyptians were the teachers of the Arabians has, however, been inferred from the circumstance that the latter exhibit no writings on this subject and show no knowledge of it until after the conquest of the land of the Nile.
In like manner, beside the geometry of Euclid, the Arabians had their version of the Conic Sections of Apollonius of Perga, and we are not to doubt that they received the science of algebra, to which they gave its name, from Diophantus, who wrote at Alexandria before the year 400 of our era.
Since they were, thus, heirs to the science of Greece, and, indeed, of the world, we are not surprised to find the Arabians possessed of those principles of mathematics, astronomy, statics, hydraulics, optics, medicine, and alchemy which they had learned from the ancients through their Christian and Jewish teachers. They were eager pupils in sciences which they had had no part in developing, having received from their instructors the things which are sometimes set down to their credit by those who have advocated their intellectual superiority. The astronomy of Hisparchus and Ptolemy taught them the order, nature, and motions of the heavenly bodies, which it had arranged in systems of eccentrics and epicycles; the inclination of the ecliptic, and the measure of that inclination; the first two lunar irregularities; the form of the earth, and the methods of arriving at its measure. The same astronomy had discovered the precession of the equinoxes, catalogued the stars and given their relative positions for future reference. It had published astronomical tables, and had developed plain and spherical trigonometry for astronomical uses. It is not necessary to say that the principles of statics and hydraulics, together with the connected subject of specific gravity, had been propounded by Archimedes. In optics, the Greeks understood the rectilinear course pursued by unobstructed rays of light, and the equality of the angles of incidence and reflection when a ray of light falls upon a mirror; and they had deduced many of the consequences of these fundamental truths, including their application to concave and convex reflectors. Ptolemy had carefully investigated the refraction which light undergoes in passing through media of different densities, and had applied the principles thus discovered to astronomical refraction. We need not enumerate the features of medical science known to Hippocrates and Galen, nor have we occasion in alchemy to go further than the confession of Geber, that he had derived nearly all his knowledge from the ancients. The facts before us show that the Arabians possessed a valuable inheritance in the learning of the nations at whose feet they sat as pupils. Occupying the birthplaces of much of this learning, they were near the birthplaces of the rest of it, and were in condition to command their resources. As a consequence they became learned. In like manner, they eagerly seized whatever arts had been discovered by other nations, and became refined. They learned to make paper from those who had to receieved that art from the Chinese; they found an explosive powder—whence our gunpowder—already at hand from China or from India; and they did not disdain to send to Constantinople for their architects. The decimal system, which is popularly credited to them, and is one of the most valuable instruments of mathematical calculation, they are known to have introduced from India. On every hand they displayed wonderful readiness of appreciation and facility of adaptation, quickly discerning and making use of advantages. We may therefore, most freely accord to them the praise of enlightenment and culture.
Did they possess a genius for science? Was the Arabian mind scientific in the sense in which the Greek mind had proved itself so, or in the sense in which the mind of Christian Europe proved itself so when, at length, the latter fell heir to the knowledge of the ancients?
If we put the question in this form, we shall find that it cannot be answered by merely enumerating the multitude of things which the Arabians knew. We must consider the use they were able to make of their knowledge. It is an essential characteristic of the scientific spirit that it not only acquaints itself with a multitude of phenomena, but arranges such phenomena in harmonious systems which display pervading laws and point to originating forces. We may have vast accumulations of facts without science, and may go on adding to the store without directly advancing science. Some master mind must come and treat the accumulations scientifically. The discovery of a new fossil species or a new mineral, or, in the present state of chemistry and astronomy, of a new metal or a new asteroid, or, in mental science, the mere noting of a hitherto unnoticed form of action, may be an entirely insignificant event. The process of fact-accumulation often goes on for a long time without any result of importance to science as such. It is not a useless process, because facts are the a, b, c, or the bricks and mortar of science, but they are not science. What we so name is the architectural thought into which the bricks and mortar of facts are wrought, and by which we secure a harmonious unification of phenomena. Of this kind of work we find little or none among the Arabians. They took the systems which were handed over to them, along with a vast amount of material which had not yet been wrought into systems, and they left all substantially as they found it. In one department and another they increased the raw material, but they did not know how to work it up. They toiled perseveringly and with self-denial, travelling to the ends of the earth, examining, collecting, studying, and observing, but they had not constructive genius. In astronomy they made numerous observations with their improved instruments, and published astronomical tables, which, as the Saracens were able to observe more closely than their predecessors, were better than those that existed among the ancients. They measured over and over again the inclination of the ecliptic, and, in order to determine the earth's dimensions, they ascertained by careful toil the length of degrees of latitude in two different regions. But they made but one, or possibly two, new discoveries which might affect the condition of astronomical science: the motion of the sun's apogee, detected by El Batini, and the third irregularity of the moon, by Abul Wefa. The first of these observations reflects great credit upon its author. The propriety of giving to Abul Wefa the merit of the second has been questioned, and by some of the highest, authorities denied. In view of the dispute we must leave his desert undetermined. Whether or not he detected the motion, it is remarkable that the moon's variation, as the third irregularity is called, was lost sight of by the Arabians, if they ever knew of it. Abul Wefa did not pursue the subject, nor was the amount of the variation reduced to measure. The irregularity was so completely forgotten that when it was noticed by Tycho Brahe it was supposed to be an entirely new contribution to astronomical science. The one discovery in astronomy, therefore, which is fully conceded—that of the motion of the sun's apogee—stands as a marked exception in all the work of the Arabian astronomers, extended over a period of five hundred years. In contrast with this result, Christian Europe had not been in possession of Greek astronomy more than three or four hundred years before the whole Hipparchan theory was revolutionized by Copernicus, while Newton's great theory of universal gravitation was woven around the whole solar system only a century and a half later. The Saracens had complained of the unwieldiness of the Hipparchan system, but they lacked either the genius or the independence to break away from it.
Their career in other branches of science is of like character.
Into statics and hydraulics they introduced no new principle, nor were they able to move forward and establish a science of motion or dynamics. Their great physicist was El Hazen, to whose credit is to be placed the further prosecution of Ptolemy's observations on the refraction of light, or perhaps the independent discovery of the laws of refraction; certainly the correction of one of Ptolemy's errors. The particulars of astronomical refraction he also definitely and clearly stated, and for this deserves much of the praise bestowed on him, though the ground had already been trodden by Ptolemy. Beyond this work of El Hazen the Arabians do not seem to have contributed to the science of optics, though there was great need of a further practical knowledge of the use of lenses. Before they were through with science, and as early as the thirteenth century, we have found an Englishman, Roger Bacon, busying himself with lenses, and insisting on the importance of optical improvements for the furtherance of astronomical observations.
It is in alchemy more than anywhere else that the Arabians have the credit of new discoveries. But it is universally conceded that in their hands it never attained to the dignity of a science. In their eager search for the elixir of life and the philosopher's stone, they were stimulated to the preparation of new compounds, some of which have proved of great utility in the arts and as instruments of science, but there was no approach to a scientific handling of facts. They are the reputed discoverers of nitric and sulphuric acid; they prepared absolute alcohol and phosphorus; they put sal-ammoniac, to nitric acid and dissolved gold; but they did not know the composition of the acids which they discovered, nor was there any system which could connect the facts. They worked away with retort and furnace and reagent through five hundred years, but alchemy was still a chaos. It is hard to understand how so learned a writer as Dr. John William Draper can declare, on the ground of Geber's discovery of nitric acid, that his name marks an epoch in chemistry equal in importance to that of Priestley and Lavoisier. What scientific result, may be asked, followed the discovery of nitric acid, valuable as that reagent is? The discovery of oxygen by Priestley, and the decomposition of water by Cavendish, and the promulgation of the oxygen theory by Lavoisier, revolutionized chemistry. In like manner, when the same authority declares of Geber's theory—which makes all metals to be compounded of sulphur, mercury, and arsenic—that, though erroneous, "it is not without a scientific value," we can only accept the statement under narrow limitations.
The experience of the Arabians in philosophy repeats that which is illustrated in the natural sciences and in mathematics. In the school of logic and speculation they were learners, not originators. They devoted themselves to these studies with ardor and perseverance; they became voluminous writers. But in the whole line of philosophers, from El Kendi down to Ibn Tofail, no one is looked back to by modern students as an authority. There was no Arabian Plato or Aristotle. The Mohammedan philosophers are chiefly celebrated for their commentaries on their Greek master, whom they blindly followed. Ibn Roschd, the greatest among them and the last who attained distinction, is quoted as saying that since Aristotle no one had added anything of consequence to logic, physics, or metaphysics; thus denying any originality to the numerous speculative writers of his own faith. Mr. Renan, in his work on Averroes and Averroisin, after having, in one edition, denied any original merit to Semitic philosophy in general, characterizing it as an imitation of Greek philosophy, concedes, in another edition, ten years later, some real originality to the Arabian philosophical writers of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and grants that, as a consequence of maturer study, Ibn Roschd has rather increased than diminished in his estimation. On the other hand, Munk, after saying, that the Arabian philosophy culminated in Ibn Roschd, and that his doctrines were long current in Christian and Jewish schools, where they were both admired and combated, speaks of their author in moderate terms, as capable of being consulted with profit by modern students who would make the study of Aristotle a specialty.
Notwithstanding M. Renan's careful concession, students will generally agree with him that the chief interest attaching to the Arabian philosophical movement rests upon that sympathy which we fed for all intellectual struggles, under whatever faith. The service of the Mohammedan scholars in this department consists not so much in the discovery of anything new as in the preservation and transmission of the old.
In the matter of poetry the case is different. The art and inspiration of verse seem to be indigenous to Arabian soil. Their poetical literature antedates Mohammed, and is a conspicuous feature of the previous times of ignorance. The development of song, among them had a national character. It was not influenced by Greek models. It was Oriental, not Western. Arabians could not have had much taste for the loftier productions of the Greek muses. Though Homer was translated, in part at least, into Syriac and Armenian, and the Arabians were aware of his rank, they did not care to possess an Arabic version. Perhaps his mythology was offensive to their strict monotheism; more likely, his whole style was discordant with the national spirit. Homer was never translated; and, as the Saracens did not read Greek, it was impossible they should understand or appreciate the beauties of the prince among Grecian poets.
In view of these facts, Arabian poetry is, in our present discussion, of peculiar interest. It gives us the working of the national mind uninfluenced by the ancient culture. Left relatively free to run its course, poetry was developed among the Saracens to such an extent that their songsters have been supposed to outnumber those of all other peoples put together. They delighted especially in lyric and didactic compositions, in the former of which their passions found luxuriant expression. To the Arabian adoration of woman, as well as to the Arabian form of verse, the student of literature traces the songs of Troubadours in the south of Europe, and of the German Minnesingers in the north. The mingling of Christians with Mohammedans, under the Moorish sway; the constant intercourse between their courts in Spain; the conquest of Toledo by the Christians, involving a still more intimate contact; the union of the courts of Barcelona and Provence, under Raymond Berenger; and the fixation of the beautiful Romance Provencal, in which the Troubadours sung, furnished the conditions under which European poetry drew its form and a portion, at least, of its chivalric spirit from Arabian sources. The poetic flame flashed from Provence throughout Europe. Sovereigns were proud to be numbered among the composers of songs, in which love and war, devotion and courage, vied for expression.
The genius of the Saracens was poetic. Our review of the question whether it was, in the higher sense of the word, scientific leads us to a negative answer. Poetry and science may be developed together. Probably the highest results of both will be found in their combination. But, strictly speaking, they were not combined among the Arabians.
We are forced to draw a distinction, too often lost sight of, between learning and science. An individual may be learned, and yet be devoid of that constructive and generalizing faculty which is central and controlling in science, and which the Greek mind possessed in large degree. This faculty has distinguished the nations of modern Europe since they came under the influence of Greek thought. A people enlightened by the accumulated knowledge of the ages preceding its existence may yet be so unproductive in the higher fields, where the power of generalization displays itself, as to compel future students of history to deny it a place among the nations conspicuous for their scientific genius. This is the case with the Saracens. They were, for their time, marvelously active and intelligent, enlightened, but not scientific.
One who reads upon this subject will meet the complaint, and nowhere more conspicuous than in the works of Dr. Draper,—to whom, more than to any one else, Americans owe their impressions of the Saracens,—that Arabian science and our obligations to it have been systematically ignored. That author distinctly attributes this to "injustice founded on religious rancor and national conceit." The charges seem ill-founded. If religious rancor and national conceit had at any time prevented the Saracens from receiving the just acknowledgement of their merits, these causes would have operated most powerfully in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, when the antagonism between Mohammedanism and Christianity, Saracen and Latin, was perhaps as pronounced as at any time. But in those ages men who attained distinction as Christians and scholars not only studied among the Arabians of Spain, but afterwards, in their homes, made public acknowledgement of their indebtedness to them, and were loud in their praise of Mohammedan learning. The Arabian sciences, as they were termed by preëminence, were recognized by the best Christian minds of Europe; and the Arabian philosophers were studied, respected, and allowed to influence Christian speculations. Except, possibly in the old Spanish territory, where Moors and Christians fought hand to hand, and where the race prejudice may have perpetuated itself, "religious rancor and national conceit" have probably had little to do with the matter. So far as estimates have been unfavorable, they are quite as likely to have resulted from the application of the stricter standards which some have felt themselves compelled to apply to what must, on every hand, be conceded to be the abundant Arabian learning.
But if it is true that this people gathered a rich harvest from other nations, what is their special merit? What useful part did they play in the history of learning, and what, in this regard, has been their value?
The Saracens appeared in history at a time when the world was undergoing great and painful intellectual transformations. In the East, the Greeks and their immediate pupils had run through their active scientific career. The productive period of Greek science, with the exception, perhaps, of medicine, terminated with Hipparchus. From that time forward little was added by the ancients to systematic knowledge. At the birth of Mohammed, the light of science in the East was struggling for existence; in middle and western Europe it was extinguished among the tossing waves of political commotion. In such an intellectual crisis, the fresh Arabian mind, untutored and not to be fettered even by the restrictions of religion, was attracted by the struggling light. Eager, curious, aspiring, it discerned, or thought it discerned, the value of knowledge. The studies which science offered fell in with its fondness for nature, and that love of mystery which belongs to humanity rather than to any particular race. The passion for such studies went wherever Islam conquered. The Saracens became the custodians of the world's learning. They reached out in every direction, gathering from all sources the ancient treasures of knowledge, and, absorbing them into the body of Arabian science, distributed them with a lavish hand over all Mohammedan territory, and even offered them to the world. The light which was beginning to flicker flamed up and attracted the gaze of the Western nations, awakening them from that intellectual slumber which followed barbarian strife.
This, briefly stated, is the history and mission of Arabian science. It was Greek science rescued from extinction, held in trust, protected, nourished, lifted aloft, delivered over to modern Europe in the breaking up of the Saracen power.
Those who assert an order in human history as determinate, though not as clearly traced, as that which pervades our material environment, and who take pleasure in searching out that order, will derive satisfaction from contemplating, at this distance of time, the appointed mission of the Saracens, as mediators between the thought of the Old World and the New. Christian students discern in other religions a not unguided searching after higher ideals. They will acknowledge that when the awe of the desert found embodiment in the worship of one God, a great step was taken in advance of the former Arabian idolatries, and the way was prepared for a beneficent service to humanity, by the establishment, on the broad basis of monotheism, of a political empire which furthered an intellectual mission. That empire, starting from China, sweeping over the plains where lie the centres of the oldest known civilizations, covering in a broad belt the north coast of Africa, and embracing rich Spanish peninsula, touched, at last, the heart of the life that was forming out of the chaotic elements of early mediæval Europe. Whatever have been the remoter results of Islam as a religion, such an empire, including many peoples, did for ancient science and letters what the earlier Roman Empire had done for Christianity. It paved the way for their preservation and diffusion. When Arabian political unity was ruptured, the republic of letters had been founded. Its unity remained unbroken. Under one language and many bonds of sympathy, those who owed allegiance to different political rulers swore fealty to the expanding culture. The pulses of literary enthusiasm throbbed and gained force as they sped along the channels so opened.
The influence of all this upon European life needs to be appreciated in order that the intellectual mission of the Saracens may be understood. Christian Europe lay between the barbarian of the north and the Saracen civilization of the south. On one side it touched the extreme of rudeness; on the other, the extreme of existing culture. It was moving toward the development of a new civilization peculiarly its own. In that development it was powerfully influenced by the forces on either side of it. The effort of Charlemagne to establish Christian schools was contemporaneous with that of Haroun El Raschid in a like direction. The Two emperors lived in friendly relations and intercourse. We have seen what advantages for such an enterprise the Saracen possessed over the Christian. Haroun was surrounded by a learning to which he had only to open the doors of his mosques. Charlemagne was struggling against an ignorance such as only long ages could dispel. When, finally, the schools of Christian Europe multiplied and took on large proportions, the more advanced scholars, dissatisfied with the meagre instruction afforded at home, attracted by the brilliant light which shone from the Saracen schools, turned their footsteps toward Spain. These men became the advocates, in Christian Europe, of a not only higher but different kind of learning from that which prevailed in the ecclesiastical establishments. They were the pioneer spirits of a broader culture.
On a still larger scale the Christian mind was brought in contact with Saracen learning through the adherents of Christianity who resided in Spain, as well as through court interchanges and protracted conflicts of arms. All along the line from Spain to Palestine, the great currents set in motion by the Crusades brought northern ignorance and enterprise into contact with Saracenic learning and refinement. Christian Europe was now emerging into its most vigorous life. The forces of Islam were beginning to wane. In the period of their decline, the service which the Old World civilization had once rendered to the awakening Arabic intellect was repaid to the awakening mind of Europe.
There is, perhaps, no better illustration of this influence of Saracen culture than that found in the Emperor Frederic II in the first half of the thirteenth century. In his Sicilian court, in the midst of a luxury and splendor which dazzled the world, Christian and Mohammedan stood on easy footing, and held unrestrained intercourse with each other. Influenced largely, no doubt, by the freedom in religious thought that had been developed among the Arabian philosophers, and of which Averroes is, to us, the traditional representative, Frederic, whose birth in 1194 dates four years before the death of Averroes, emancipated himself from the prejudices as well as some of the healthful restraints of his time, and, in the intervals of stirring wars, strove to be the introducer and representative of a new civilization, in which science, philosophy, and poetry, along with the refinements of art, should have a scope known only in Mohammedan society. His court became the wonder and scandal of Europe. His Mohammedan tendencies, exaggerated, we may not doubt, by his enemies, were a reproach. He cultivated the new sciences, was himself versed in them, and largely in their interest, we may presume, he founded the University of Naples. If it is impossible precisely to determine his influence on the intellectual life of Europe, it must be remembered how early and conspicuous was the part taken by Italy in the literary and scientific awakening which followed. The century in which Frederic flourished gave birth, soon after his death, to a Dante; the next century produced a Petrarch; the next, a Columbus; the next, a Galileo. It is worthy of note that Columbus quotes Averroes as one of the authors to whom he is indebted for suggestions which led him to faith in the existence of a new world.
The service which the Saracens rendered in science and poetry was supplemented by a similar service in the arts which they brought from the East, and of which Spain became, in a peculiar sense, the home and the centre of distribution. Her civilization, as presented in cities and cultivated farms, made her seem little less than a paradise to the northern peoples. We need not wonder that, out of the raw life of Christian Europe, men loved to wander into the fair surroundings of tile Spanish university towns; nor that, charmed alike with the sweetness of nature, the beauty of art, and the marvels of science, they went back to their coarser homes in the north wishing, and ready to suffer in securing, for their kindred the advantages of learning. In their self-denials, ostracisins, and persecutions might be found material for a chapter which would redeem them, in some measure, from the slight estimation in which they have been held, in common with all Latin Europe, where the condition of things was bad enough, but where were to be found those who pleaded for and strove after something better.
We might here close our review. But it is difficult to forego one or two suggestions, which, though they arise as after-thoughts out of this history, do, nevertheless, give to it a more than scholarly interest. In the departments of natural science and philosophy we find that the Arabian movement owed to Greece pretty much all that it ever attained. In view of present discussions over great educational problems, it is incumbent on us to note that, while the Arabian coveted Greek science, he could not be induced to acquire the language in which the science was preserved. He knew Greek thought only at second and third hand, which is nearly equivalent to saying that he did not know it at all as Greek thought. Everything was approached through a translation. The Greek genius, the spirit, which could no more express itself in a foreign tongue that could Athens be Athens if set down in the plains of the Nile, had to be clothed in Arabic forms before it could be received by the conquering Saracen. Aspiring to the utilities, the sublimities, of science, but despising the language in which these were embodied, he never caught the excursive, constructive Greek genius. Dependent from first to last on Jews and Christians for interpretations of the ancient masters, he did not breathe the air of freedom; he never climbed Olympus. So we have the remarkable spectacle of a people toiling through centuries to become by means of translations masters of a foreign learning, that might build thereon a science of their own. It is probably the only instance of such an attempt, and we must pronounce this instance a failure.
In this respect, the course of the Saracens stands in contrast with that pursued by the scholars of Christian Europe. We have seen that Italy, France, Germany, England, were stimulated to the cultivation of' the natural sciences by the Mohamedans of Spain. But early in its history Christian learning detected the error which had been committed by the Saracens. Roger Bacon was the pioneer who, in the thirteenth century, some three hundred years before Melanethon, devoted his life to the prosecution and advocacy of a new education, of which the study of the Greek masters in their original tongue should form the basics, and in which the natural sciences should be a conspicuous feature. The Opus Majus of Bacon was scarcely more a treatise on philosophy than on pedagogy. Sound in its arguments, exalted in its enthusiasm, pleading in his tone, it was a bold push for a new intellectual order. It cost him persecution and imprisonment. But the science which finally prevailed in Europe was that for which he uttered his plea. It was founded on Greek culture. Such today is the science of the civilized world. What that of the Saracens might have become under a more thorough baptism in the Greek spirit it is impossible to say. We only know what it failed to accomplish. Possibly the Semitic mind was incapable of a larger sweep. Perhaps the Aryan mind alone has the scientific genius, as the Semitic has the religious.
A second point at which our review bears upon modern discussion is that of the relation of religion to scientific progress.
It is apparent to one conversant with the history of science and philosophy among the Mohammedans that the heights of culture actually attained were reached in spite of the restraints of Islam rather than through encouragement given by it. The religion of Mohammed, founded in opposition to liberal learning, never ceased to oppose that learning. From the time of Haroun El Raschid to that of Ibn Roschd science made headway against a religious fanaticism which manifested itself in the destruction of libraries, the burning of condemned books, the persecution of philosophers. Imprisonment, banishment, popular violence, threats of house-burning, fears of death,—to these were men exposed who cultivated the ancient learning under the rule of princes, who, actuated either by their own prejudices or by the desire of popular favor, used their influence in the interest of religious intolerance.
The zeal for science exhibited by great rulers, like El Mamson, Abd El Rhaman, and El Hakem, must not be allowed to blind our eyes to these facts. Religion, as popularly apprehended, has never been free from the fear of science. Ecclesiasticism, whether in the guise of Islam or of Christianity, trembles before the revelation of its falsehoods.
In the history of Mohammedanism we meet with an early assertion of the right of free inquiry. The impulse given to the Arab mind by conquest carried it out of the fetters of that religion in the name of which the conquests were made. The utilities of science, we might say its superstitions, conquered the superstitions of religion. But the conquest was not final. Learning succumbed at last to the demands of religious belief. The great intellectual movement ended in the downfall of science and philosophy, the supremacy of fanaticism.
On the other hand, the rise of science in Christian Europe was part of a general movement in the direction of freedom from ecclesiastical control. Men learned to distinguish between religion and the church. Then, the shackles being loosed, all truths became sacred. Nature and revelation, parts of one system, must agree in their final outcome. At first faintly visioning its goal, but apprehending it more and more clearly, this faith, firmly held by the finest Christian minds, has kept them calm among the clash of philosophies, the boasts of skeptical assault, and the fears of timorous believers. It has held the way open for the advance of science; securing for scientific investigation the support of Christians, even at the moments when they disputed doubtful conclusions. The deep conviction enunciated by Roger Bacon six hundred years ago, and held by believing scholars since, that science is the handmaid of religion, has given to the study of nature its eminent position. Such men have known that among all oscillations of opinion the ultimate truth is secure. They have been willing to wait until the combined verdict of science and religion should be declared. Whatever might become of systems, or creeds, or ecclesiasticisms, the truth of Nature would be the truth of God. Faith is not hostile to science. Want of faith expresses itself in fears and clamors. A large faith lifts inquiry into those heights where all things are seen in the light of divine unity. Without such a fundamental principle as this the two departments of study cannot go on together. Where such a basis of harmony is wanting, religion, degenerating into superstition, will, as among the Mohammedans, smother the life of science; or science, breaking loose from faith, will pursue its way to the ignoring of spiritual being.