A Prefatory Note

by Hugh Fitzgerald (Dec. 2006)

In the course of research for my study of Islam I have naturally had to familiarize myself with the Western reception, perception, and sometimes misperception of the beliefs and practices of the Muslims. All types of texts swam into my ken. Only a representative sampling need be mentioned here. There was the early guide of Richard Turberville, The Alcoran Alembicked, or, A Short Guide to the Religion of the Turks (1688). There was A Brief and True Relation of a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, with a description of Stony Arabia (1704), by the pious antiquarian Francis Gascoyne. In 1746 there was Captain Edward Danvers’ A Voyage to Padanaram, in three volumes octavo; volumes 1 and 2 being devoted to descriptions of the ports-of-call visited along the way by The Bonaventure, the East Indiaman under his command, with Volume 3 finally making room for “the manners and customs of the Mahometans.” There was Col. James Withycombe’s Journal of a Residence in Ispahan, 1824 and 1825, together with An Embassy to Tehran and Account of a Visit to Qom, published in 1827. There was Lady Hester Wanhope’s 1846 Letters from Arabia Felix and the Hadramaut. There was Evariste Cinqpère, nom de plume (chosen to avoid confusion with a near-homonymous novelist) of Evariste Bernardin de Saint-Père, whose Essai sur les maronites et les drouses du Mont Liban en Grande Syrie, avec aperçus historiques et chronologiques, appeared in 1856. There was Donato Donati’s Vita, Morte, e Miracoli di Mahometo, the first Western attempt to question the received version of the Prophet’s life, in 1873. There were the pioneering Leiden lectures of Professor van Beck en Donk, published in English as Authority and Isnad in Early Islam. There was the expanded version of Sir Montague Goldsmid’s Göttingen doctoral thesis, which first appeared in 1890 as Das Leben von Muhammad and, in English, as The Life of Mohammed in 1893, a more respectful account than that of the agnostic Donati. There was the three-volume study by Prof. A. S. Kizevetter, on the relations between Islam and the Mongols in Medieval Rus (Zolotaya Orda i Islam v istorii srednevekovii Rossii) which appeared in a sumptuous edition (Aux dépens du Fonds Demidoff), only 400 copies printed, with the French en face, and the Russian en regard, in 1898. In 1904, as an appendix to the second edition of his well-received A Pisgah Sight of Palestine, the Rev. George Underwood included a startling excursus on “Secret Jewry Among the Midianites” about certain tribes of the northern Hijaz. A Whirlwind Tour of Mevlevistan, by the intrepid Canadian adventurer (himself a whirl of Breton, Scots, and Cree Indian) Hector St. John Breakhart, whose cisatlantic public loved him for the dangers he had passed, and who once dismissed the rigors and slopes of the Hindu Kush as “quelques arpents de neige,” appeared in 1913. In 1918, young lads were gladdened when Ralph Dunn (pseudonym of DeCourcey Tagliaferro Dickinson) published, as his valedictory volume in the celebrated Crisscrossing the Continents series, Jaunts in Jalalabad, starring the Dunbar boys (Frank and John).

How curious about other creeds those pioneers Turberville and Gascoyne had been, how inquisitive Capt. Danvers and Col. Withycombe, how acute in her sensibilities that English lady of quality Hester Wanhope, how wittily acerbic that historian à ses heures Evariste Cinqpère, how skeptical that republican veteran of anticlerical struggles the Tuscan patriot and civic-minded publisher of La Patria Donato Donati, how scrupulous in their weighing of evidence those exemplars of European scholarship at its height — the Dutchman van Beck en Donk, the Anglo-German Goldsmid, the Russian Kizevetter, how brimful of innocent faith the Reverend Underwood, how daring and undaunted the Canadian Hector Breakhart, how full of Yankee ingenuity those Dunbar boys,  Frank and John! 


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Hugh Fitzgerald contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all his contributions, on which comments are welcome.


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