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d'herbelot's Bibliotheque Orientals.
The study of Oriental languages is never likely to become popular in Europe; for, besides that we have generally little interest in making ourselves conversant with them, their genius and structure appear alien from our tastes and notions. The Bible, to be sure, leads us very early to entertain a curiosity respecting the nations of Western Asia, both ancient and modern, and this, in some instances, conducts the enterprising scholar beyond the limits of Hebrew literature, to the language of Arabia, and the remnants that remain of the learning of Chaldea and Syria. But, although we commonly continue to neglect the conjugation of Oriental verbs, Eastern history and manners are far from being indifferent to us. We, in fact, peruse with avidity those numerous Travels and Memoirs which describe the countries of the East; and with great reason, for in them, human nature has always worn its strangest aspects. From thence, whatever is most true and most false in religion, most noble and most degraded in manners, most splendid in science and most contemptible in ignorance, has proceeded. Whether, therefore, we contemplate Asia as the mother of idols, or as the inventress of sciences and arts, still she is an august spectacle; and the author that paints her as he ought, can be no vulgar individual.
Compilation may, at first, appear to require but little genius. Reduced to mere copying, it, of course, asks nothing except industry; but properly to compile, a man must know how to select his materials with judgment, and arrange them with art; appreciate testimonies and actions; examine motives, delineate character, comprehend the importance of events; and, lastly, to deliver the knowledge he extracts from various men in a perspicuous and pleasing style. The difficulty of accomplishing . this is very much increased, if the writer have to compile from the Oriental tongues, should he understand them ever so well; because, whether the Eastern style of composition be worse than Oriental Herald, Vol. 10. B
ours or not, it is exceedingly different, and, with one or two exceptions, has never been relished in Europe. Yet it is very hard for a writer, habitually conversing with particular forms of expression, so to keep watch over his style as that none of these barbarisms, as we call them, shall creep into it. Indeed, it is nearly impossible. For, granting that the writer sets out an orthodox critic, his reverence for the canons of his language lessens perpetually, till he ends at length in admiring what at first it was his chief endeavour toavoid. A man may very justly, therefore, claim indulgenc •, if, in such a task, he fails of guarding entirely against foreign idioms; but indulgence is not praise; and the more frequently an author makes claims upon our generosity, the farther is he from our admiration. However, we relax much of our demands, if, as in the case of the ' Bibliotheque Orientale,' the undertaking of the writer be of great magnitude; as other cares then call away the attention from the elegancies of language.
But Oriental scholars are sometimes liable to adopt the opinions, as well as the rhetorical figures of the East. Sale was nearly, if not altogether, a Mohammedan; and other travellers of more modern date have been known to prefer the Koran to the Hebrew Scriptures. We wish not, in the least, to insinuate that D'Herbelot was infected with Islamism ; his eulogist, the President Cousin, assures us of the contrary; for, as he was no Mohammedan, we may consider his attributing solid piety to our great Eastern scholar, a complete proof that he meant Christian piety, though he does not so qualify it. Our design in mentioning the fact, that the study of Oriental literature has been known to generate a belief in Oriental creeds, is merely to show how very prone we may expect men to be, to pass from those studies to the adoption of a foreign taste, a thing of so much less importance.
The ' Bibliotheque Orientale' is one of those books which are chiefly known to the public at second-hand, from a few scanty extracts scattered about in more popular productions. In itself it is too voluminous to be popular. But we have frequently thought it deserved to be much more extensively known than it has hitherto been; and shall now endeavour, by succinctly informing our readers what sort of entertainment it affords, to recommend it to as many as delight in extending their intellectual empire. To render our notice of this vast compilation as complete as we can, we shall first speak a little of its author, premising only, that we have never yet seen any thing resembling a good biography of him, and gather what we are about to say from the meagre hints of Mr. Cousin's Eloge, and the 'Bifr-' graphie TJniverselle.'
M.t)'Herbelot was born,at Paris, onthe4th of December,1625.
He was descended from a respectable family, and received from his parents the rudiments of a learned education. A predilection for Oriental literature seems to ha,ve taken very early possession of his mind, and may perhaps be traced to the desire he conceived of acquiring an intimate knowledge of the language and history of the Bible. He applied him elf with particular industry to the Hebrew language, and passed by an easy transition from thence to the Arabic. His enthusiasm for the branch of literature he had chosen, at that time cultivated but little in Europe, now led him into Italy, where he expected to meet with considerable aid in the prosecution of his studies, from the conversation of those Armenians, and other Eastern people, whom commerce attracted to the ports of that country. He was received in a very flattering manner by the Cardinals Barbarini and Grimaldi, at Rome; and formed in the same city an intimate friendship with Lucas Holstenius, and Leo Allatius, two of the most learned and celebrate 1 men of those times. Christina, queen of Sweden, was then at Marseilles, in France, and as that princess affected great admiration for learned men, Cardinal Grimaldi introduced our great Orientalist to Her Majesty, who felt exceedingly astonished at his immense erudition. On his return to Paris, after an absence of about eighteen months, Fouquet, the superintendant of finance, invited him to reside at his house, and granted him a small pension, agreeably to the mode then prevalent of rewarding literary merit. After the disgrace of Fouquet, far whom, we are told, D'Herbelot had a particular attachment, the Court promoted him to the post of Oriental Secretary and Interpreter.
Some few years afterwards, he made a second journey into Italy, during which he was introduced to Ferdinand II., Grand Duke of Tuscany, who did him the honour to h Id frequent conversations with him; and moreover, out of respect for his learniner and agreeable manners, gave him a most pressing invitation to his royal palace at Florence. Our author's elogist, the President Cousm, speaks wi h peculiar emphasis of the elegantly furnished house, well covered table, and fine carriage, which His Serene Highness placed at the service of D'Herbelot, during his stay at Florence; but, although we undervalue not the carriage and the good dinners, we are much better pleased with another instance of His Highness's generosity, wnich is one that really reflects honour on his memory. It seems that while the great Orientalist was at Florence, a large collection of MSS. in the languages of the East, was offered for sale: Ferdinand, beirg desirous of purchasing the most valuable of them, requested his illustrious visitor tr, examine the whole, and having selected the best, to fix what he might consider a just price for them. D'Herbelot, who must have felt a pleasure in choosing for the library of so munificent a prince, readily did as he was desired. When the selection had been made, the Grand Duke became the purchaser, and, to give his guest a lasting token of his friendship, presented him with the whole.
The munificence of Ferdinand operated still more for the good of D'Herbelot in another way: it excited the jealousy of the French Government, which, although it might occasionally think proper to neglect a learned man at home, could not consent to stand tamely by, and see him driven to accept the patronage of a foreign prince. Observing, therefore, that D'Herbelot was about to become domiciliated at Florence, to the nosmall reproach of France, Colbert now caused him to be invited back to his country, with strong assurances that he would meet, on his return, with solid proofs of the reputation and esteem he had acquired. It was not, however, without much difficulty that he obtained the Grand Duke's permission to leave Florence; for Ferdinand seems to have possessed sufficient tact to discern in him the marks of an extraordinary man. Returning to> France, he had the honour, and a vast honour it was, in the opinion of his elogist, to converse several times with the king, who, to do him justice, was remarkably desirous of buying up learned men almost at any price, and therefore granted D'Herbelot a pension of fifteen hundred livres per annum. Possessed of leisure, and what was equivalent to a small independence, he now pursued the design he had formed in Italy of writing the 'Bibliotheque Orientale.' At first he very strangely compiled his materials in Arabic; and it was intended by M.Colbert to have Arabic types cast expressly for the purpose, and have the work printed at the Louvre. Fortunately this foolish design, which would have effectually extinguished all M. D'Herbelot's chances of fame, was abandoned; the portions of the work already written were translated, and the remainder continued in French. He lived not to superintend the publication of the 'Bibliotheque Orientale,' which fell to the lot of Antoine Galland, the immortal translator of the ' Arabian Nights' Entertainments.' D'Herbelot did not, however, die young, being within a few days of the " threescore years and ten," fixed by the Bible as the natural period of human life. His character, according to his biographer, was that of an amiable, modest man; his immense erudition having not tended in the least to disturb the original equanimity of his disposition.
It is exceedingly difficult at present to understand the character of a scholar of the seventeenth century: his capacity to labour, his patience in research, his readiness to store his mind with the languages of various nations, are almost inconceivable now. Anxious, as scholars ever must be, to acquire reputation, he never rushed impatiently before the public to demand their praise; his love of fame he nourished in secret, and was abund