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derns, appears to have best understood the genius of Paganism.
“ The first step the legislator took, was to pretend a mission and revelation from some God, by whose command and direction he had framed the policy he would establish. Thus Amasis and Mnevis, lawgivers of the Egyptians (from whence this custom spread over Greece and Asia) pretended to receive their laws from Mercury; Zoroaster, the lawgiver of the Bactrians, and Zamolxis, lawgiver of the Getæ, from Vesta; Zalhraustes of the Ari. maspi, from a good spirit or genius; and all these most industriously and professedly propagated the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments. Rhadamanthus and Minos, lawgivers of Crete, and Lycaon of Arcadia, pretended to an intercourse with Jupiter; Triptolemus, lawgiver of the Athenians, affected to be inspired by Ceres; Pythagoras and Zaleucus, who made laws for the Crotonians and Locrians ascribed their institutions to Minerva ; Lycurgus of Sparta professed to act by the direction of Apollo; and Romulus and Numa of Rome, put themselves under the guidance of Consus, and the goddess Egeria. In a word there is hardly an old lawgiver on re. cord, but thus pretended to revelation and the divine assistance. But had we the lost books of legislators written by Hermippus, Theophrastus and Appollodorus, we should have had a much fuller list of these inspired statesmen, and doubtless many further lights upon the subject. The same method was practised by the founders of the great outlying empires, as Sir William Temple calls them. Thus the first of the Chinese monarchs was called Fagfoor, or Fanfur, the son of Heaven, as we are told by the Jesuits, from his pretensions to that relation. The royal commentaries of Peru inform us, that the founders of that empire were Mango Copae, and his wife and sister Coya Mama, who proclaimed themselves the son and daughter of the Sun, and sent from their father to reduce mankind from their savage and bestial life, to one of order and society. Tuisco, the founder of the German nations pretended to be sent upon the same message, as appears from his name, which signifies the interpreter, that is of the Gods. Thor and Odin, the lawgivers of the Western Goths, laid claim likewise to inspiration, and even to divinity. The revelations of Mohammed are too well known to be insisted on. But the race of these inspired lawgivers seems to have ended in Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mogul empire."*
Mohammed being convinced of the doctrine of the Divine Unity, by the light he had derived from the scriptures, and being determined to set up for a prophet, adopted this as the great fundamental doctrine of his religion. But, as an epic poem cannot be conducted without machinery, he found it impossible to execute his plans without pretending to Revelation. The piety of the end, he thought, as all ancient Pagan legislators had thought before him, would justify the means which he employed. He probably covered, in some measure, his ambition from his own eyes, under the mask of religious zeal. Preten. sions of the same kind have often been advanced in later times, and repeatedly in our own days. Such were the pretensions of Baron Swedenborg, who, according to his own statement, had not only travelled through both hea. ven and hell; but had also maintained an open intercourse with the world of departed spirits, during the period of twenty seven years. Such were the pretensions of that
• Divine Legation, Book II. Sec. 2.
wretched woman, Joanna Southcott, who blasphemously claimed to be with child of the Saviour of the world, and procured the appearance of pregnancy, by suppressing one of the functions of nature.
Mohammed did not even pretend to possess the power of working miracles, but professing his utter ignorance of the elements of human literature, he appealed to the elegance of the style of his Koran, to the harmony and beau. ty of its sentences, to the grandeur of its images, and to the sublimity of its descriptions, as incontrovertible evidences of its divine origin. That there are many beautiful, and some sublime passages in the Koran, no man of taste will deny. But every man of sense, who is not fet. tered with the prejudices of education, will readily perceive that its puerilities and gross absurdities are still more numerous, and that it is utterly destitute of all harmony of parts. Mr. Gibbon, in his history, very justly observes, that it has an “endless incoherent rhapsody of fable and precept, and declamation which seldom excites a sentiment or an idea ; which sometimes crawls in the dust, and is sometimes lost in the clouds.”* But let us for a moment suppose it to be as perfect and sublime a composition, as its greatest admirers believe it to be, what will this admission prove? It will certainly prove that its author was a man of genius, and that he possessed original and vigorous powers of mind; but it will prove no more. The noblest production of human genius, with the exception of Milton's Paradise Lost, (and for the superiority of the latter work, its author was perhaps fully as much indebted to the discoveries of Revelation, as to the faculties
• Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. 1.
of a sublime mind) is Homer's Iliad. This great Father of Poetry, and of sublime writing, stands unrivalled among all the writers of antiquity. But shall we, for that reason, suppose that he was inspired, in the proper sense of that word, and that his poetry came down from heaven? His system of divinity, though adorned with all the charms of diction, and of the sublimest poetry, is, to the last degree, despicable and absurd; and has little more rationality than the ravings of Bedlam. We allow the sublime genius of the poet, but we are taught to know and to feel, the utter inadequacy of genius to discover the truths that are of the greatest importance for men to know.
But it may be argued, that Homer had all the advantages of liberal discipline and polite literature, and that therefore from the disparity of Mohammed's education, no just comparison can be formed. With respect to the impostor's education, we do not possess the information necessary to enable us to decide. Some writers, believing his own professions, (for Mohammed was as ostentatious of his ignorance, as many men are of their learning,) have assigned him two associates in the composition of his Koran, Abdia ben Salon, a Jewish rabbi, of Persia; and Sergius, or Bahira, a Nestorian monk. But there are strong reasons why we should consider his ignorance of literature, as rather affected than real. This pretended ignorance supplied the only argument he could produce on behalf of his religion. The establishment of his Prophetical character, as the Messenger of Heaven, appears to have been the aim of the impostor, by his renunciation of all pretensions to literature. Allowing his education to have been by no means liberal, we know from facts, that many persons by the natural spring and elasticity of their minds, have surmounted all the disadvantages of a contracted education. Such was the Poet Burns, who, when a ploughman, by the natural force of his genius, was able to attract the attention, and to gain the admiration, even of men of polished minds. Such was Dr. Franklin, who, with a scanty education, by the vigour of intellect, and laborious perseverance in study, raised himself to considerable distinction in the republic of letters. Such, in the religious world, was John Bunyan, who with a common education, but with a mind possessed of uncommon powers, has at once, in his great work, The Pilgrim's Progress, delighted and astonished almost all his readers; and that too, without being free from coarse and indelicate images. Such was William Huntington, who though in the humble condition of a coal-heaver, and untinctured with the elements of literature, burst through the dark cloud that sat' around him, and by the force of his mind, though with all the disadvantages of a clumsy and vulgar address, as a preacher, not only caught, but enchained the admiration of thousands. Even as a writer, he rose to a degree of eminence, though with considerable inaccura. cies, which many men of respectable and cultivated talents have not been able to reach. Though all his writings discover an extravagance and luxuriancy of imagination, such is the power of genius that shines through them, that they generally interest and hurry the reader along, even when his judgment is sufficiently awake to perceive their eccentricity. Such have been many other persons, whom the powers of nature have conducted to an elevated rank in the world of letters. There was therefore nothing sin. gular in the case of Mohammed, supposing him to have been originally as little imbued with the elements of learning, as he affirmed himself to have been.