« PreviousContinue »
tiers and opinions, as any European whatever. It is not possible to be too lavish in the praises of that excellent work, which has the uncommon merit of being no less agreeable than learned; and though it is disposed according to the order of the alphabet, yet it is so judiciously contrived by the help of references, that with all the convenience of a dictionary, it may be read for the most part like a regular treatise.
The History of Timur or Tamerlane, written originally in Arabic, by a native of Damascus, and translated into French by M. Vattier, deserves to be credited, as far as it relates to the conquests of that hero in the Lower Asia, and to his war with the sultan Bayazid the First, who was forced by the Tartars to raise the siege of Constantinople. The actions of Tim&r are related at large in this elegant work, which displays a faithful and interesting picture of the Asiatic manners in the fourteenth century; the author of it was contemporary with the Tartarian warrior, and was eye-witness of the principal facts which he records.
The Tales of the forty Visirs, translated by M. de la Croity are also undoubtedly authentic; and though they are very inelegant, and in some parts trifling, yet upon the whole they are ingenious, and shew in some degree the turn of mind of the people for whom they were invented; but the most useful translation of a Turkish book that has yet appeared, is that in Italian, of an admirable history by the Mufti Saadeddin, which reaches indeed no lower than the reign of Selim the First; but for the beauty of its composition, and the richness of its matter, may be compared with the finest historical pieces in the languages of Europe.
It will seem ridiculous to place a Turkish dictionary among these authorities; but it is certainly true, that the great repository of
t Eastern Eastern learning, compiled by Meninski, contains not only the clearest explanation of common words, and proper names, but exhibits the most exact specimens of the colloquial expressions and forms of speech used by the Turks; and a judicious writer will not fail to observe the minutest phrases, or even the commonest proverbs of a nation whom he intends to describe, since they sometimes comprise an allusion to local customs, and often include some maxim or received opinion, which may serve to set the character of the people in a striking light. It is a remark of Mr. Pope, in answer to a line of Lord Hervey, that a dictionary, which gives us any thing but words, must be not only an expensive, but a very extravagant one; yet, methinks if a dictionary can be found, which is not very expensive, nor very extravagant, it cannot reasonably be censured for giving us a little real knowledge as well as words.
The History of the Turksby the prince * Cantemir, far surpasses, in authority and method, every work on the same subject in any*
* It will give me pleasure to pay a small tribute in this place to the memory of that excellent man, by vindicating his character from the very unjust and groundless charges of M. de Voltaire, who allows indeed, that he possessed the united talents of the ancient Greeks, a taste for polite letters, aud a skill in the art of war. He adds, this Cantemir was supposed to be a descendant of Timur, known by the name of Tamerlane, because Timur and Temir sound nearly alike, and because the title of Kan, which Tamerlane bore, is found in the name of Cantemir. Now the truth is, that the syllable Can is not
khan, a title of honour, but ^jty kin, blood; and the words 'Timur; or Temir,
are used indifferently in the Turkish language for Demir, that is iron, which was the precise meaning of Tamerlane's true name: so that Cantemir literally signifies t/te. blood of Timur; and the propriety of this name was confirmed by a Tartarian chief, who assured Demetrius, that a prince of his nation, lineally descended from.' ^amerlane, had married a Christian woman, from whom the family of the Cantemirs had their origin. But, continues the Trench historian, whatever might be the lineage of Cantemir, he owed all his fortune to the Turkish court ; and was no sooner invested in his principality of Moldavia, than he betrayed the sultan, his benefactor, to the Russian emperor, from
European dialect. He was educated at Constantinople, and acquainted from his earliest youth with the genius and manners of the Turks i and as he was eminently skilled in the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish languages, he was enabled to. draw his knowledge of their
whom he had hopes of greater gain: the Czar, he adds, relying on his promises, ad- vanced in the month of June to the banks ©f the river Hierasus, or the Pruth, where, by depending on Cantemir, he met the same hardships, that his rival Charles had suffered at Pultava by having trusted to Mazeppa. It must have cost this ingenious writer some pains to have crouded so many errors into so few words. Cantemir inherited an ample fortune from his father, and .lived at Constantinople in a splendid retreat, where he amused himself with building palaces near the Bosphorus, and adorning them with the fmest remains of old Grecian sculpture, that could be procured: while he was engaged in these, and other agreeable pursuits, Brancovan, prince of Vaiachia, was accused of holding a secret correspondence with the Czar; and Cantemir, who accepted, mucb against his inclination, the title of Prince of Moldavia, was sent by the Turkish court with orders to seize the person of the rebel. As his revenues were not sufficient to support his new dignity without some indulgence from the court, the sultan promised to dispense with his paying the usual fine* upon his investiture, and to defray the additional expences thai he might incur on account of the war; but the prince had no sooner reached the capital of Moldavia, than he received orders from the ministers to remit without delay the fines due to the sultan and the visir; to collect provisions for an army of sixty thousand Turks; to complete the bridge over the Danube; and to march in person towards Bender before the festival of St. George. The prince, on receiving these commands, with which it was not in his power to comply, resolved to join the Czar, and was of signal service to him, as it appeared by the great regard, which that monarch professed for him till the hour of his death. The distress of Peter was owing to his dependence on the promises of Brancovan, who had engaged to supply the Russians with provisions, yet remained an idle spectator of their calamity, till their camp was threatened with a famine. Thus, one of the finest writers of our age accuses a generous and amiable prince of ingratitude, avarice, and perfidy, merely for the sake of comparing him with Mazeppa, and of drawing a parallel between the conduct of Charles XII. and Peter I.; and he deserves still more to be censured, for deviating knowingly from the truth, since it appears from some parts of his General History, that he had read the works of Cantemir, and admired his character. See the Life of Charles XII. book v.; and the History of the Russian Empire, vol. ii. chap. ii.
* Called by the Turks . fiX^, pishkesh.
affairs affairs from the fountain-head: for which reason, if his narrative were not rather too succinct, and if he had dwelt somewhat longer on the subject of the Eastern government and literature, or had unfolded all the causes of the greatness and decline of the Othman empire, his work would have been complete, and my present attempt entirely superfluous. As to his piece, considered as a literary performance, it contains all the qualities which Tully lays down as necessary to constitute a perfect history*: nothing is asserted in it that has the appearance of falsehood; nor any essential thing omitted that has the least colour of truth; there is no reason to suspect the writer either of partiality or disaffection; the order of time is accurately preserved, and the description of remarkable places frequently inserted; the author gives his judgment, openly, on the counsels of kings and generals; he relates the circumstances of every memorable act; and shews both the causes and consequences of every important event: with regard to the persons, he describes the lives and characters not only of the sultans, but of all the eminent men who bore a considerable share in the great transactions of the nation: and he dresses the whole piece in an easy, natural, and flowing style, without affecting any merit, but that of clearness; except where, for the sake of variety, he drops a few flowery expressions in the Oriental manner. To which may be added, (a qualification that Cicero seems to have omitted in the passage just referred to,) that he has made his work extremely agreeable, and has infused into it that exquisite charm-f-, so necessary in all finished compositions, which makes the reader leave it unwillingly, and return to it with eagerness. It is almost needless to say, after this just encomium, that Cantemir's history renders the compilations of Knolles and Rycaut entirely useless; though both of those works
* Cicero de Oratore, ii. 15.
t tf'/Xrfov wxt liiyyot, as the Greeks called it.
3 s arc are well written, and the former even elegantly for the age in which the author lived: yet I must do them the justice to acknowledge, that I have borrowed several hints from them, though I could not make any positive assertion upon their authority, as they were both ignorant of the Turkish language; and since a very sensible writer * observes even of Plutarch, that though he was supposed to have resided in Rome near forty years at different times, yet he seems never to have acquired a sufficient skill in the Roman language to qualify himself for the compiler of a Roman history, the same objection may certainly be made to the two historians above mentioned, one of whom spent most of his time in a college, and the other, though he resided many years in Turkey, was forced to converse with the Turks by the help of an interpreter.
The letters of a lady, famed for her wit and fine taste, are in every body's hands; and are highly estimable, not only for the purity of the style, and the liveliness of the sentiments, but for the curious picture they give of the Turkish manners in the present age, and particularly of the women of rank at Constantinople, whose apartments could not be accessible to a common traveller.
The author of Observations on the Government and Manners of the Turks had, from his residence in their metropolis, and the distinguished part that he bore in it, an opportunity of inspecting their customs, and forming a just idea of their character. It is a singular pleasure to me to find many of my sentiments confirmed by the authority of so judicious a writer; nor do I despair, if this essay should fall into his hands, of giving him a more favourable opinion of the Turkish language, which he supposes to be formed of the very dregs of the Persian and Arabian tongues; and a higher notion of
• Middleton, in the preface to his Life of Cicero.