Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

The Arabic Chronicle.

An Arabic chronicle is only valuable from the time of Mahomet. For such is the stupid superstition of the Arabs, that they pride themselves on being ignorant of whatever has passed before the mission of their Prophet. The Arabic chronicle of Jerusalem contains the most curious information concerning the crusades: Longuerue translated several portions of this chronicle, which appears to be written with impartiality. It renders justice to the Christian heroes, and particularly dwells on the gallant actions of the Count de St. Gilles.

Our historians chiefly write concerning Godfrey de Bouillon; only the learned know that the Count de St. Gilles acted there so important a character. The stories of the Saracens are just the reverse; they speak little concerning Godfrey, and eminently distinguish Saint Gilles.

Tasso has given in to the more vulgar accounts, by making the former so eminent, at the cost of the other heroes, in his Jerusalem Delivered. Thus Virgil transformed by his magical power the chaste Dido into a distracted lover; and Homer the meretricious Penelope into a moaning matron. It is not requisite for poets to be historians, but historians should not be so frequently poets. The same charge, I have been told, must be made against the Grecian historians. The Persians are viewed to great disadvantage in Grecian history. It would form a curious inquiry, and the result might be unexpected to some, were the Oriental student to comment on the Grecian historians. The Grecians were not the demi-gods they paint themselves to have been, nor those they attacked the contemptible multitudes they describe. These boasted victories might be diminished. The same observation attaches to Cæsar’s account of his British expedition. He never records the defeats he frequently experienced. The national prejudices of the Roman historians have undoubtedly occasioned us to have a very erroneous conception of the Carthaginians, whose discoveries in navigation and commercial enterprises were the most considerable among the ancients. We must indeed think highly of that people, whose works on agriculture, which they had raised into a science, the senate of Rome ordered to be translated into Latin. They must indeed have been a wise and grave people. — Yet they are stigmatised by the Romans for faction, cruelty, and cowardice; and the “Punic” faith has come down to us in a proverb: but Livy was a Roman! and there is such a thing as a patriotic malignity!

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