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Vol. III. Part I.
ART. I. The Koran, commonly called The Alcoran of Mu
hammed, translated into English immediately from the original Arabic, with explanatory notes taken from the most approved commentators; to which is prefixed a Preliminary Discourse, by George Sale, Gent. Nulla falsa doctrina est, quæ non aliquid veri permisceat.
Augustin. Quæst. Evang. l. 2. c. 40. 4to. London, 1734.
“Sale is half a Mussulman,” observed the eloquent historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the remark is quoted on the first leaf of the copy of the work now before us, which belonged to one of the wisest, most candid, and virtuous, of modern sages and legislators.--Both applied the sentiment in the spirit of philosophic candor, as a key to the temper in which the work in question was executed, as manifesting their opinion that our author was eminently qualified for the task he undertook, and that he had held the fair and even hand of an impartial historian, translator, and commentator.
But the observation has been echoed by some in a different spirit, that of ignorant prejudice, blind to undeniable historical, and rational inference, swollen with self-sufficient superiority, mistaking dogmatic intolerance for grateful consciousness of the purer lights which it has pleased a gracious Providence to bestow on more favored nations, and jealous of the motives even of the humble inquirer, who wishes to attribute actions to good intentions when he can, and hopes to be able to discern
something short of unmixed evil in a dispensation, which has been allowed for centuries to regulate the morals and religious feelings of millions.
We have selected the work before us, not only as a production of which our country has great reason to boast, as one of the greatest ornaments of her eastern literature, (a department in which she is peculiarly rich,) but that, while we bear our testimony to its literary worth, and the vast accession which its appearance made to popular acquaintance with the subject, we might also admire the candor and impartiality of its spirit, and the unassuming yet intrepid boldness with which it stood forward against the prejudices of the age, to claim some favorable consideration for the instructor and legislator of a whole hemisphere, and to dissipate the cloud of absurd and calumnious fable that had been so long gathering around his name.
Adverting, in the first place, to the literary worth of Sale's labors, let us consider what sort of assistance even the scholar had for an acquaintance with the text of the Koran, or with the vast mass of materials which the annotator has digested, for the illustration of a volume which would otherwise, even when translated, be for the most part nearly unintelligible to an European.
As to the text, though there were several versions extant, there was but one, as he justly observes, which had any pretensions to a tolerably accurate representation of the sense of the original, that by Maracci, published at Padua, in 1698.-In the modern tongues of Europe, (except a bad Italian version by Andrea Arrivabene, from a worse Latin translation, by Retenensis, published by Bibliander, in 1550) there was nothing but a French translation by Andrew du Ryer, a work of little value, “there being mistakes in every page, besides frequent transpositions, omissions, and additions, faults unpardonable in a work of this nature.” From this French version an English one had been framed, by Alexander Ross, who could not, of course, rectify the blunders of his original, and being but indifferently acquainted with the French language added many of his own.Such a version as Sale’s, therefore, we need not add, was an invaluable treasure, and the mode of its execution not only supplied the urgency of the time, but has nearly superseded the necessity for future labors.-We shall have occasion, perhaps, in the course of this article, to quote some passages to serve as specimens of his style, which is admirably adapted to the subject.
With regard to his Preliminary Discourse and Notes, we cannot speak too highly, either of the patient industry and laborious diligence they manifest, or of the soundness of the judgment every where displayed by the author. To the