“Had I Still Twenty Years to Live…”

To think that this is the same language that the muslims have now abandoned and take such little pride in.

When Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the dominating literary figure of the 18th century, was granted a pension by the British Government in 1762, he is reported to have exclaimed the following:

Had this happened twenty years ago, I would have gone to Constantinople to learn Arabic as P. Edward did.  1

Turning to the far West, we find that in Moorish Spain, too, the Christian subjects had fallen under the ‘spell’ of Arabic Language and literature. Many of them were so deeply imbued with the Arabic culture that we find a contemporary writer, Alvaro, Bishop of Cordova, bitterly deploring this state of affairs.

“My fellow Christians delight in the poems and romances of the Arabs; they study the works of Mohammedan theologians and philosophers, not in order to refute them, but to acquire a correct and elegant Arabic style. Where today can a layman be found who reads the Latin commentaries on Holy Scriptures? Who is there that studies the Gospels, the Prophets, and the Apostles? Alas! The young Christians who are most conspicuous for their talents have no knowledge of any literature or language save the Arabic; they read and study with avidity Arabic books; they amass whole libraries of them at a vast cost; and they sing everywhere the praises of Arabian lore. On the other hand, at the mention of Christian books they disdainfully protest that such works are unworthy of their notice. The pity of it! Christians have forgotten their own tongue, and scarce one in a thousand can be found able to compose in fair Latin a letter to a friend. But when it comes to writing Arabic, how many there are who can express themselves in that language with the greatest elegance, and even compose verses which surpass in formal correctness those of the Arabs themselves! 2

When John Beckmann (1739-1811), wrote a history of inventions, in reference to the scientific achievements of the Arabs and to the importance of Arabic in this connection he said the following:

What a noble people were the Arabs. We are indebted to them for a great deal of knowledge and many inventions of great utility; and we should have still more to thank them for, were we fully aware 0f the benefits we have received from them. What a pity that their great works should be suffered to molder into dust, without being made available to us; what a shame that those conversant with their rich language should meet with little encouragement. Had I still twenty years to live and could hope for an abundant supply of Arabic works, I would gladly learn Arabic.  3

1 ~ http://www.wikiquote.org/wiki/Samuel_Johnson
2 ~ Spanish Islam- English translation by F.G. Stokes Page #268 (London, 1913)
3 ~John Beckmann (1739-1811), who wrote a history of inventions, in reference to the scientific achievements of the Arabs and to the importance of Arabic in this connection

1 Comment

Filed under Arabic, Classics, From the Pages of History

One response to ““Had I Still Twenty Years to Live…”

  1. Hmmm

    Its funny I should come across this article, just the day before today I was thinking…Arabic is the language for one who loves literature and appreciates it….

    In context, I was reading a hadith (I’m a student of the language) anyway I fell in love with the glimpses of imagery I understood…it was so beautiful….the language is so…complete….

    InshaAllah I just gotta study real hard.


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