Page images








In 1785, the King having created a class of eight free members in the Academy of Inscriptions, M. de Sacy was included in the number. Immediately upon this appointment, he applied himself to the composition of his two memoirs on the ancient history of the Arabs, and on the origin of their literature. In the first he endeavored to fix the precise epoch of an event which holds an important place in the traditions of the peninsula, viz. the breaking of the dike of Irem, in Arabia Felix. This event, which occasioned dreadful disasters, obliged a great number of families to abandon their country and settle at Mecca, on the borders of the Persian Gull, and even in Syria and Mesopotamia. M. de Sacy places this event, which he considers the starting point of our historical knowledge concerning the Mahomedan nation, in the second century of our era, and then gives a table of the Arabian dynasties after the emigration. The second is devoted to the original vestiges of Arabic literature, and gives a brief summary of its most ancient relics.

In the same year in which he drew up his memoirs on ancient Arabia, he married. He was also nominated a member of a committee which had been formed in the Academy of Inscriptions, appointed to make known, by analyses and extracts, the most important unedited works in the Royal and other libraries throughout the kingdom. These analyses and extracts were to form the materials of a new selection to be published by the Academy. M. de Sacy applied himself to the examination of various Arabic and Persian works. Shortly after this he commenced his admirable memoirs on various antiquities of Persia. The sources of these memoirs were bas reliefs found near Persepolis and copied by Niebuhr, which had three inscriptions, one in Greek, and two in unknown characters; bas reliefs, found on the frontiers of Kurdistan, and a numerous collection of medals. The unknown characters, were found to be in the Pehlvi and Zend languages, as well as the legends of the medals. These papers, four in number, were read at the Academy in 1787, 1788, 1790, and 1791, and we scarcely know which to admire most in them,-extent of research, acuteness of discernment, or the importance of the conclusions. It is proper to notice the cautious spirit which animated M. de Sacy, during the whole course of his labors. This caution was so great, that when some words were not sufficiently distinct in the copies before him, he confined himself in this part of his labors to simple conjectures, which have in almost all cases been subsequently verified. These memoirs of M. de Sacy were published in 1793, in the height of the revolutionary paroxysm. As might have been expected, they produced at first but a slight sensation ; but when men's attention returned to pursuits so interesting, every one was struck with their merit, and they were by common consent ranked among the noblest monuments of French erudition.

Meanwhile M. de Sacy continued his biblical labors, and composed a memoir on the Arabic version of the books of Moses in use among the Samaritans, and on the known manuscripts of this translation. He might now, in his thirtysecond year, be considered a scholar of the first order ; while his position in society was a highly honorable one. In 1791, he was named by the king, one of the commissioners general of the inint; and the following year a vacancy occurring among the titular members of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres, he was elected by a majority of votes.

But the revolution had now taken a direction which threatened all orders of society ; France in particular, was on the eve of a total subversion. M. de Sacy, although the father of a family, and far from affluent, threw up all his public employments. In June 1792, he resigned his office at the mint; and as the Academy of Inscriptions as well as other learned and literary bodies, soon sunk below the revolutionary level, he found himself condemned to live in strict retirement. It was perhaps this retirement which saved him. With his decided and inflexible character, he would have been more exposed than most men to the fury of the tyrants, who oppressed France. M. de Sacy withdrew with his family to a small country house, some leagues from the capital, where he divided his time between his literary labor and the cultivation of his garden ; and he might be seen by turns, wielding the pen and dressing his trees,—engaged in the most arduous studies, and attending to the produce of his field. His literary researches, however obliged him to visit the capital weekly ; and it was in fact, under these melancholy circumstances that he was engaged in publishing his memoirs on the antiquities of Persia. They had been intended for the collection of the Academy of Inscriptions; but that academy no longer existed. M. de Sacy used to walk from his house in the country to Paris, with a stick in his hand, and a bottle of beer in his pocket to quench his thirst.

The neighboring peasants, though at the time much excited, were not unmindful of his greatness. On Sundays and festivals, the churches being shut, M. de Sacy had mass publicly celebrated in his house. Penalties of extreme severity were affixed to the violation the laws of the day ; but no one sought to molest M. de Sacy. Once he was required, for the ascendant regime took pleasure in sporting with the liberties of the citizen, to go and thresh corn in the barn, along with the peasants of the district. The peasants who had learned to know him, remonstrated in his favor ; they represented that, from his diminutive stature, and the weakness of his sight, he would be “ more a hindrance than a help," and offered to perform his part of the task themselves.

M. de Sacy employed his leisure moments principally, in his great work, on the Religious System of the Druses. It is known that the Druses still form a pretty numerous population on the heights of Libanus. They profess peculiar doctrines, which resemble the creed propagated in Persia and the East generally during the first centuries of our era, and only began to form a regular system about the end of the tenth century. The first who systematized these doctrines was a sectary named Hamsa, aided by his disciple Moctana. The principal article of faith, consisted in the belief that the Divinity had become incarnate in the person of Hakem, and that the Universal Intelligence, which contains in itself all doctrines and religious truth, had manifested itself under the aspect of Hamsa. In 1700, a Syrian physician visited France, and presented to Louis XIV. four volumes in Arabic which contained a great part of these doctrines. M. de Sacy translated this work, and accompanied his version with that of various passages from Arabic authors relating to the Druses. Owing to the confused state of the materials, and the supposed existence of other similar treatises yet untranslated, in the library at Oxford, and other libraries of Europe he judged it advisable to defer the publication of a work, which had served to engage his mind in those unhappy times.

But the spirit of violence, which had marked the rule of terror, had begun to subside ; and men seemed anxious to return to those labors, which have contributed so much to the honors of France. On the 2d of April, 1795, a decree of the Convention established at the Royal, (or as it was then called the National) Library, a public school for teaching living oriental languages of acknowledged utility in commerce and politics. M. de Sacy from the beginning, was appointed the Professor of Arabic, and the Persian chair was then conferred on M. Langles.

Hitherto, M. de Sacy had been contented, like all the orientalists of bis time, with a comparatively superficial acquaintance with Arabic. But on being appointed Professor, he felt the necessity of a thorough mastery of the genius and idiomatical peculiarities of the language. Besides an article of the conventional decree enjoined professors to compile in French, a grammar of the language it was their duty to teach, and M. de Sacy was not a man who could be satisfied with merely repeating what had been said before. The treatises on this subject, which were in common use, that of Erpenius and those of Catholic Missionaries in the Levant, proving imperfect or unsuited for profound inquiries, he was obliged to have recourse to the works of native grammarians. So complicated is their system, and so peculiar their style and language, that even the orientals are obliged to make it an object of especial study in order to acquire familiarity with

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »