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As the following pages may perhaps be found useful to Missionaries and others, who wish to make themselves acquainted with this question, I have thought it might not be amiss to give some notices and extracts from the controversy as it existed prior to the times of Mr. Martyn; especially as that controversy was prosecuted to a much greater length than his, and contains much valuable matter on the subject. It may also be desirable to know where books treating on this question are to be found; because we hear it sometimes affirmed, that a Missionary has not the means, in this country, of acquiring a deep and accurate insight into the opinions of the Mohammedans:--that Grotius, Sale, and others, have left us in the dark, as to their metaphysics, mysticism, &c. and therefore, that it is necessary, not only to learn their language in the East, but also their opinions. As far, however, as my knowledge of this subject goes, I must be allowed to express a different opinion, having no doubt, that both the languages and opinions of the Orientals, can be learned in this country at as little expense, and in as little time as they can in the East, and at a much less risk. Our Public Libraries contain the very best books on every subject connected with Grammar, History, Ethics, Theology, Geography, and every other science; and to which, even in the East itself, access is seldom to be had. Valuable as the labours of Mr. Martyn certainly were, yet I have no doubt, that if he had passed a short time in this country in a preparatory course of Oriental reading, he would not only have done more than he has, but he would have done it better, and with far greater comfort to himself.
Time was when the student of Oriental Literature was almost a singularity in our Universities: and such was the ascendancy obtained by classical and mathematical learning, that a young man must have had more than ordinary courage and self-denial, to engage in studies, which could afford him so little in prospect, with so much difficulty in their prosecution.
The state of the case is now considerably altered. A student may now commence the study of the Hebrew or Arabic without the fear of being cited as a monstrous singularity; or of being met at every turn with the appalling maxim, that Hebrew roots thrive best on barren ground. And,
if he persevere, he may hope not only that a generous public will applaud his endeavours, but that even posterity will allow him a place among those, who have been considered as benefactors to mankind, and the best ornaments of the ages in which they lived. Another consideration, and one which has the greatest weight with me is, a belief that no book, with which I am acquainted, stands so much in need of elucidation as the Hebrew Bible. From the times of Grotius to the present day, I believe we can find scarcely one original commentator. And many, even of his remarks, have been borrowed from the Jews. The Dutch and German Commentaries are the books most worthy of the scholar's regard; but many of these are such, as to make it a question whether they should be recommended or not. Nothing, if we except the dreams of Hutchinson, has come out in England for the last 100 years, in the shape of original investigation. Compilation has long been the order of the day; and names, respectable indeed and valuable in their time, are now appealed to as the only safeguards against innovation, or as instructors in the way of truth. In almost an universal dearth of Scriptural knowledge, this is not to be wondered at: nor is it to be condemned. It is without doubt the best and safest path. But it should not satisfy
the minds of those who have both ability and opportunity for making further progress. And, as the character of the times in which we live, calls for such exertion, it is to be hoped that the call will not be disregarded.
The object of these remarks, however, is not to disparage the institutions of this country: certainly not ; I believe that they constitute one of its greatest excellencies, and best guardians; I would only turn them to a greater public account, by converting a portion of their provisions to a more extensive cultivation of those studies, which have ever been the glory of the Reformed Church; viz. the study of the holy Scriptures : which cannot well be done, without an extensive acquaintance with Oriental literature. The general attention too, that has of late been paid to Missionary exertions, both within and without the pale of the Church of England, constitutes a further motive for the prosecution of these studies; and, I am of opinion, that without an extensive cultivation of them, there is not much reason to anticipate the success, to which it is their object to attain. If I err then in presenting the reader with too much, I shall hope to be excused on the ground of good intention. It was once, indeed, my determination to give, as a sort of prolegomenon, an account of the creed of the Shiah or Mohani
medan sect of Persia, followed by the principal tenets of their mysticism from the Dabistán of Mohsin Fáni* and other writers, to whom I have access ; but, as this work is sufficiently extensive, and has occupied a much larger time than might have been wished in the publication, I shall reserve my materials on these subjects for a future work. We shall now proceed to our notices and extracts from the former controversy.
The books of this controversy which have come into my hands are three. One composed in the Persian language by Hieronymo Xavier, a Catholic missionary. Another, containing a reply to Xavier's work, by a Persian nobleman named
, احمد بن زین العابدین ) Ahmed Ibn Zain Elabidin
written also in the Persian. And the third is a rejoinder in Latin, by Phillip Guadagnoli, one of the Professors attached to the College de propaganda fide, in defence of Xavier's work.
We shall first notice the book of Xavier, which has been preserved in the Library of Queen's College in this University, and which has been lent me by the kindness of the President and Fellows of that Society. Of this Xavier two
* Although Mohsin Fáni is usually cited as the author of this work, it is extremely probable that he is not, &c. See Sir Wm. Ouseley's Travels in Persia, Vol. III. p. 564.