The Algerine captive; or, The life and adventures of Doctor Updike Underhill: six years a prisoner among the Algerines. [Three lines from Shakespeare] : Vol. I[-II]. : Published according to act of Congress.
Tyler, Royall, 1757-1826., Humphreys, David, 1752-1818, dedicatee.
Page  141
O prone to grovelling errour, thus to quit
The firm foundations of a Saviour's love,
And build on stubble.

AUTHOR'S Manuscript Poems.

The Religion of the Algerines: Life of the Prophet Mahomet.

IN describing the religious ten|ets of the Algerines, the attention is im|mediately drawn to Mahomet or Ma|homed, the founder of their faith.

This fortunate impostor, like all other great characters in the drama of life, has been indignantly vilified by his oppo|nents, and as ardently praised by his ad|herents. I shall endeavour to steer the middle course of impartiality; neither influenced by the biggoted aversion of Page  142 Sales and Prideaux, or the specious praise of the philosophic Boulanvilliers.

Mahomet was born in the five hun|dred and sixty ninth year of the christian era. He was descended from the Coreis, one of the noblest of the Arabian tribes. His father, Abdalla, was a man of moder|ate fortune, and bestowed upon his son such an education as a parent in confined, if not impoverished circumstances, could confer. The Turks say, he could not write; because they pride themselves in decrying letters, and because the pious among them suppose his ignorance of let|ters a sufficient evidence of the divine o|riginal of the book, he published, as re|ceived from and written by the finger of Deity.

But when the Arabian authors record, that he was employed as a factor by his un|cle Abutileb, there can little doubt remain but that he was possessed of all the litera|ry acquirements, necessary to accomplish Page  143 him for his business. He has been stig|matized as a mere camel driver. He had the direction of camels it is true. The merchandize of Arabia was trans|ported to different regions by carri|vans of these useful animals, of a troop of which he was conductor; but there was as much difference between his station and employment, and that of a common camel driver, as between the supercargo of an India ship in our days, and the seaman before the mast. In his capacity of factor, he travelled into Syr|ia, Palestine, and Egypt; and acquired the most useful knowledge in each coun|try. He is represented as a man of a beautiful person, and commanding pres|ence. By his engaging manners and re|markable attention to business, he became the factor of a rich Arabian merchant, after whose death he married his widow, the beautiful Cadija, and came into the lawful possession of immense wealth, which Page  144 awakened in him the most unbounded ambition. By the venerable custom of his nation, his political career was con|fined to his own tribe; and, the patri|archal being the prominent feature of the Arabian government, he could not hope to surmount the claims of elder families, even in his own tribe, the genealogies of which were accurately preserved. To be the founder and prophet of a new re|ligion would secure a glorious preemi|nence, highly gratifying to his ambition, and not thwarting the pretensions of the tribes.

Mankind are apt to impute the most profound abilities to sounders of religious systems, and other fortunate adventurers, when perhaps they owe their success more to a fortunate coincidence of circum|stances, and their only merit is the sa|gacity to avail themselves of that tide in the affairs of men, which leads to wealth and honour. Perhaps there never was a Page  145 conjuncture more favourable for the in|troduction of a new religion than that, of which Mahomet availed himself. He was surrounded by Arian christians, whose darling creed is the unity of the Deity, and who had been persecuted by the Athenasians into an abhorrence of almost every other christian tenet: by Jews, who had fled from the vindictive Emperour Adrian, and who, too willful|ly blind to see the accomplishment of their prophecies in the person of our Sa|viour, in the midst of exile were ready to contemn those prophecies, which had so long deluded them with a Messiah, who nev|er came: and by Pagans, whose belief in a plurality of gods made them the ready proselytes of any novel system; and the more wise of whom were disgusted with the gross adsurdities of their own mythol|ogy. The system of Mahomet is said to have been calculated to attach all these. To gratify the Arian and the Jew, he Page  146 maintained the unity of God; and, to please the Pagans, he adopted many of their external rites, as fastings, washings, &c;. Certain it is, he spoke of Moses and the patriarchs, as messengers from heaven, and that he declared Jesus Christ to be the true Messias, and the exemplary pat|tern of a good life, a sentiment critically expressing the Arian opinion. The sto|ries of Mahomet's having retired to a cave with a monk and a Jew to compile his book; and falling into fits of the epi|lepsy, persuading his disciples that these sits were trances in order to propagate his system more effectually, so often related by geography compilers, like the tales of Pope Joan and the nag's head consecra|tion of the English bishops, are fit only to amuse the vulgar. It is certain, he seclud|ed himself from company and assumed an austerity of manners, becoming the reformer of a vicious world. In his re|tirement, he commenced writing the al|coran. Page  147 His first proselytes were of his own family, the next, of his near rela|tives. But the tribe of Corei were so fa|miliar with the person and life of Maho|met that they despised his pretensions; and, fearful lest what they styled his mad enthusiasm should bring a stigma upon their tribe, they first attempted to reason him out of his supposed delusion; and, this failing, they sought to destroy him. But a special messenger of heaven, who, Mahomet says, measured ten million fur|longs at every step, informed him of their design, and he fled to Medina, the inhab|itants of which, being already prepossessed in favour of his doctrine, received him with great respect. *

Page  148 He soon inspired them with the most implicit confidence in the divinity of his mission, and confirmed their faith by dai|ly portions of the alcoran, which he de|clared was written by the finger of God, and transmitted to him immediately from heaven by archangels, commissioned for that important purpose. He declared himself the Sent of God, the sword of his almighty power, commissioned to enforce the unity of the divine essence, the unchangea|bleness of his eternal decrees, the future bliss of true believers, and the torment of the damned, among the nations. He boldly pronounced all those who died fighting in his cause, to be entitled to the glory of martyrs in the heavenly paradise; and, availing himself of some of the an|tient seuds among the neighbouring tribes, caused his disciples in Medina to wage war upon their neighbours, and they invariably conquered, when he headed their troops. The tribe of Corei Page  149 flattered by the honours, paid their kins|man, and confounded by the repeated reports of his victories, were soon prose|lyted, and become afterwards the most enthusiastic supporters of his power. In six hundred and twenty seven, he was crowned sovereign at Medina, like the divine Malchisedec uniting in his person the high titles of prophet and king. He subdued the greater part of Arabia, and obtained a respectable footing in Syria. He died at Medina in the year six hun|dred and thirty three, and in the sixty fourth year of his age. European writ|ers, who have destroyed almost as many great personages by poison as the French have with the guillotine, have attributed his death to a dose administered by a monk. But when we consider his ad|vanced age and public energies, we need not recur to any but natural means for the cause of his death.