Ockley, Simon

, an eminent Orientalist, and professor of Arabic in Cambridge, was of a gentleman’s family, at Great Ellingham in Norfolk, where his father lived; but was accidentally born at Exeter in 1678. After a proper foundation laid in school-learning, he was sent, in 1693, to Queen’s college in Cambridge, where he soon distinguished himself by great quickness of parts as well as intense application to literature; to the Oriental languages more particularly, for his uncommon skill in which he afterwards became famous. He took, at the usual time, the degrees in arts, and that of bachelor in divinity. | Having taken orders also, he was, in 1705, through the interest of Simon Patrick, bishop of Ely, presented by Jesus college, in Cambridge, to the vicarage of Swavesey, in that county; and, in 1711, chosen Arabic professor of the university. These preferments he held to the day of his death, which happened at Swavesey, Aug. 9, 1720, immaturely to himself, but more so to his family.

Ockley had the culture of Oriental learning very much at heart; and the several publications which he made were intended solely to promote it. In 1706, he printed, at Cambridge, an useful little book, entitled, “Introductio ad Linguas Orientales, in qua iis discendis via munitur, et earum usus ostenditur. Accedit index auctorum, tarn illorum, quorum in hoc libello mentio fit, quam aliorum, qui harum rerum studiosis usui esse possint.” Prefixed is a dedication to his friend the bishop of Ely, and a preface, addressed to the Juventus Academica, whom he labours to excite by various arguments to the pursuit of Oriental learning; assuring them in general, that no man ever was, or ever will be, truly great in divinity, without at least some portion of skill in it: “Orientalia studia, sine quorum aliquali saltern peritia nemo unquam in theologia vere magnus evasit, imo nunquam evasurus est.” There is a chapter in this work, relating to the celebrated controversy between Buxtorf and Capellus, upon the antiquity of the Hebrew points, where Ockley professes to think with Buxtorf, who contended for it: but he afterwards changed his opinion, and went over to Capellus, although he had not any opportunity of publicly declaring it. And indeed it is plain, from his manner of closing that chapter upon the points, that he was then far enough from having any settled persuasion about them “his in praesentia assentior; nolo tamen aliquid temere affirmare, quod, si posthac sententiam meam mutare mihi visum fuerit, nollem ut quispiam ea quse hie scripsi mihi exprobret.

In 1707 he published in 12mo, from the Italian of Leo Modena, a Venetian Rabbi, “The History of the present Jews throughout the world; being an ample, though succinct, account of their customs, ceremonies, and manner of living at this time:‘? to which is subjoined a” Supplement concerning the Carraites and Samaritans, from the French of Father Simon.“In 1703, a little curious book, entitled” The Improvement of Human Reason, exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokclhan, written above 500 years,

I | ago,* by Abu Jaafar Ebn Tophail:“translated from the Arabic, and illustrated with figures, 8vo. The design of the author, who was a Mahometan philosopher, is to shew, how human reason may, by observation and experience, arrive at the knowledge of natural things, and thence to supernatural, and particularly the knowledge of God and a future state: the design of the translator, to give those who might be unacquainted with it, a specimen of the genius of the Arabian philosophers, and to excite young scholars to the reading of eastern authors. This was the point our Rabbi had Constantly in view; and, therefore, in his” Oratio Inauguralis,“for the professorship, it was with no small pleasure, as we imagine, that he insisted upon the beauty, copiousness, and antiquity, of the Arabic tongue in particular, and upon the use of Oriental learning in general; and that he dwelt upon the praises of Erpenius, Golius, Pocock, Herbelot, and all who had any ways contributed to promote the study of it. In 1713, his name appeared to a little book, with this title,” An Account of South-West Barbary, containing what is most remarkable in the territories of the king of Fez and Morocco; written by a person who had been a slave there a considerable time, and published from his authentic manuscript: to which are added, two Letters; one from the present king of Morocco to colonel Kirk; the other to sir Cloudesly Shovell, with sir Cloudesly’s answer,“&c. 8vo. While we are enumerating these small publications of the professor, it will be but proper to mention two sermons one,” Upon the Dignity and Authority of the Christian Priesthood,“preached at Ormond chapel, London, in 1710; another,” Upon the Necessity of instructing Children in the Scriptures,“at St. Ives, in Huntingtonshire, 1713. To these we must add a new translation of the second” Apocryphal Book of Esdras,“from the Arabic version of it, as that which we have in our common Bibles is from the vulgar Latin, 1716. Mr. Whiston, we are told, was the person who employed him in this translation, upon a strong suspicion, that it must needs make for the Arian cause he was then reviving; and he, accordingly, published it in one of his volumes of” Primitive Christianity Revived.“Ockley, however, was firmly of opinion, that it could serve nothing at all to his purpose; as appears from a printed letter of his to Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Thirl by, in which are the following words:” You shall have my ’ Esdras’ in a | little time; 200 of which I reserved, when Mr. Whiston reprinted his, purely upon this account, because I was loth that any thing with my name to it should be extant only in his heretical volumes. I only stay, till the learned author of the c History of Montanism' has finished a dissertation which he has promised me to prefix to that book*.“A learned Letter of Ockley’s to Mr. W. Wotton is printed among the” Miscellaneous Tracts of Mr. Bowyer, 1784."

But the most considerable by far of all the professor’s performances is, “The History of the Saracens;” begun from the death of Mahomet, the founder of the Saracenical empire, which happened in 632, and carried down through a succession of Caliphs, to 705. This “History,” which illustrates the religion, rites, customs, and manner of living of that warlike people, is very curious and entertaining; and Ockley was at vast pains in collecting materials from the most authentic Arabic authors, especially manuscripts, not hitherto published in any European language; and for that purpose resided a long time at Oxford, to be near the Bodleian library, where those manuscripts were reposited. It is in 2 vols. 8vo; the first of which was published in 1708; the second, in 1718: and both were soon after republished. A third edition was printed, in the same size, at Cambridge, in 1757; to which is prefixed, “An Account of the Arabians or Saracens, of the Life of Mahomet, and the Mahometan Religion, by a learned hand:” that is, by the learned Dr. Long, master of Pembroke-hall, in Cambridge.

While at Oxford, preparing this work, he sent a letter to his daughter, part of which is worth transcribing,as characteristic both of him and his labours. " My condition here is this: one of the most useful and necessary authors I have is written in such a wretched hand, that the very reading of it is perfect decyphering. I am forced sometimes to take three or four lines together, and then pull them all to pieces to find where the words begin and end; for oftentimes it is so written, that a word is divided as if the former part of it was the nd of the foregoing word, and the latter part the beginning of another; besides innumerable other difficulties known only to those that understand the language. Add to this the pains of

This letter, dated Oct. the 15th, in the Bodleian Library, controverted 1712, is entitled, “An Account of the between Dr. Grabe and Mr. Whiston.” authority of the Arabic Manuscripts 1712, 8vo. | abridging, comparing authors, selecting proper materials, and the like, which in a remote and copious language, abounding with difficulties sometimes insuperable, make it equivalent at least to the performing of six times so much in Greek and Latin. So that if I continue in the same course in which I am engaged at present, that is, from the time I rise in the morning till I can see no longer at night, I cannot pretend once to entertain the least thought of seeing home till Michaelmas. Were it not that there is some satisfaction in answering the end of my profession, some in making new discoveries, and some in the hopes of obliging my country with the history of the greatest empire the world ever yet saw, I would sooner do almost any thing than submit to the drudgery.

"People imagine, that it is only understanding Arabic, and then translating a book out of it, and there is an end of the story: but if ever learning revives among us, posterity will judge better. This work of mine (in another way) is almost of as different a nature from translating out of the Greek or Latin, as translating a Poet from one language to another is different from prose. One comfort I have, that the authors I arn concerned with are very good in their kind, and afford me plenty of materials, which will clear up a great many mistakes of modern travellers, who passing through the Eastern countries, without the necessary knowledge of the history and ancient customs of the Mahometans, pick up little pieces of tradition from the present inhabitants, and deliver them as obscurely as they receive them. One thing pleases me much, that we shall give a very particular account of Ali and Hosein, who are reckoned saints by the Persians, and whose names you must have met with both in Herbert and Tavernier; for the sake of whom there remains that implacable and irreconcileable hatred between the Turks and Persians to this very day, which you may look for in vain in all the English books that have hitherto appeared. It would be a great satisfaction to me, if the author I have were complete in all his volumes, that I might bring the history down five or six hundred years but, alas! of twelve that he wrote, we have but two at Oxford, which are large quartos, and from whence I take the chief of my materials.

I wish that some public spirit would arise among us, and cause those books to be bought in the East for us which we want. I should be very willing to lay out my | pains for the service of the public. If we could but procure 500l. to be judiciously laid out in the East, in such books as I could mention for the public library at Cambridge, it would be the greatest improvement that could be conceived: but that is a happiness not to be expected in my time. We are all swallowed up in politics; there is no room for letters; and it is to be feared that the next generation will not only inherit but improve the polite ignorance of the present.

In the mean time, Ockley was one of those unfortunate persons, whom Pierius Valerianus would have recorded, in his book “Be infelicitate literatorum.” In his “Inaugural Oration,” printed in 1711, he calls fortune venefica and noverca, speaks of mordaces euro 1 as things long familiar to him; and, in Dec. 1717, we find him actually under confinement for debt. In the introduction to the second volume of his “Saracenical History,” he not only tells us so, but even stoically dates from Cambridge-castle. His biographer thus accounts for his unfortunate situation: Having married very young, he was encumbered with a family early in life; his preferment in the church was not answerable to his reputation as a scholar; his patron, the earl of Oxford, fell into disgrace when he wanted him most; and, lastly, he had some share of that common infirmity among the learned, which makes them negligent of oeconomy, and a prudential regard to outward things, without which, however, all the wit, and all the learning, in the world, will but serve to render a man the more miserable.

As to his literary character, it is certain that he was extremely well skilled in all the ancient languages, and particularly the Oriental; so that the very learned Reland thought it not too much to declare, that he was “vir, si quis alius, harum literarum peritus.” He was, likewise, very knowing in modern languages, as in the French, Spanish, Italian, &c. and, upon the whole, considered as a linguist, we may presume that very few have exceeded him. 1


Originally written for this woik, by Dr. Heathcote.