CALIPH AL-MAAMUN AND THE STRANGE SCHOLAR.



It is said of Al-Maamun that, among the Caliphs of the house of Abbas, there was none more accomplished in all branches of knowledge than he. Now on two days in each week, he was wont to preside at conferences of the learned, when the lawyers and theologians disputed in his presence, each sitting in his several-rank and room. One day as he sat thus, there came into the assembly a stranger, clad in ragged white clothes, who took seat in an obscure place behind the doctors of the law. Then the assembly began to speak and debate difficult questions, it being the custom that the various propositions should be submitted to each in turn, and that whoso bethought him of some subtle addition or rare conceit, should make mention of it. So the question went round till it came to the strange man, who spake in his turn and made a goodlier answer than any of the doctors' replies; and the Caliph approved his speech.--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Three Hundred and Eighth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the Caliph Al- Maamun approved his speech and ordered him to come up from his low place to a high stead. Now when the second question came to him, he made a still more notable answer, and Al-Maamun ordered him to be preferred to a yet higher seat; and when the third question reached him, he made answer more justly and appropriately than on the two previous occasions, and Al-Maamun bade him come up and sit near himself. Presently the discussion ended when water was brought and they washed their hands after which food was set on and they ate; and the doctors arose and withdrew; but Al-Maamun forbade the stranger to depart with them and, calling him to himself, treated him with especial-favour and promised him honour and profit. Thereupon they made ready the séance of wassail; the fair-faced cup-companions came and the pure wine [FN#252] went round amongst them, till the cup came to the stranger, who rose to his feet and spake thus, "If the Commander of the Faithful permit me, I will say one word." Answered the Caliph, "Say what thou wilt." Quoth the man "Verily the Exalted Intelligence (whose eminence Allah increase!) knoweth that his slave was this day, in the august assembly, one of the unknown folk and of the meanest of the company; and the Commander of the Faithful raised his rank and brought him near to himself, little as were the wit and wisdom he displayed, preferring him above the rest and advancing him to a station and a degree where to his thought aspired not. But now he is minded to part him from that small portion of intellect which raised him high from his lowness and made him great after his littleness. Heaven forfend and forbid that the Commander of the Faithful should envy his slave what little he hath of understanding and worth and renown! Now, if his slave should drink wine, his reason would depart far from him and ignorance draw near to him and steal-away his good breeding, so would he revert to that low and contemptible degree, whence he sprang, and become ridiculous and despicable in the eyes of the folk. I hope, therefore, that the August Intelligence, of his power and bounty and royal-generosity and magnanimity, will not despoil his slave of this jewel." When the Caliph Al-Maamun heard his speech, he praised him and thanked him and making him sit down again in his place, showed him high honour and ordered him a present of an hundred thousand silver pieces. Moreover he mounted him upon a horse and gave him rich apparel; and in every assembly he was wont to exalt him and show him favour over all the other doctors of law and religion till he became the highest of them all in rank. And Allah is All knowing. [FN#253] Men also tell a tale of