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ON THE VALUE OF COMPARATIVE PHILOLOGY AS A
BRANCH OF ACADEMIC STUDY.
DELIVERED BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD THE 27TH OF
The foundation of a professorial chair in the University of Oxford marks an important epoch in the history of every new science. There are other universities far more ready to confer this academical
1 The following statute was approved by the University of Oxford in 1868 (Statuta Universitatis Oxoniensis, iv., i., 37, SS 1-3):
"1. Professor philologiæ comparativæ a Vice-Cancellario, et professoribus linguarum Hebraicæ, Sanskriticæ, Græcæ, Latinæ, et Anglo-Saxonicæ eligatur. In æqualitate suffragantium rem decidat Vice-Cancellarius.
“Proviso tamen ut si vir cl. M. Müller, M. A., hodie linguarum modernarum Europæ professor Taylorianus, eam professionem intra mensem post hoc statutum sancitum resignaverit, seque professoris pbilologiæ comparativæ munus suscipere paratum esse scripto Vice-Cancellarium certiorem fecerit, is primus admittatur professor.
"2. Professor quotannis per sex menses in Universitate incolat et com. moretur inter decimum diem Octobris et primum diem Julii sequentis.
"3. Professor duas lectionum series in duobus discretis terminis legat, terminis Paschatis et S. Trinitatis pro uno reputatis ; scilicet per sex septimanas in utroque termino, et bis ad minimum in unaquaque septimana : atque insuper per sex septimanas unius alicujus termini bis ad minimum
i unaquaque septimana per unius horæ spatium vacet instruendis auditoribus in iis quæ melius sine solennitate tradi possunt. Unam porro ad minimum lectionem quotannis publice habeat ab academicis quibuscunque sine mercede audiendam. De die hora et loco quibus hæc lectio solennis babenda sit academiam modo consueto certiorem faciat.”
recognition on new branches of scientific research, and it would be easy to mention several subjects, and no doubt important subjects, which have long had their accredited representatives in the universities of France and Germany, but which at Oxford have not yet received this well-merited recognition.
If we take into account the study of ancient languages only, we see that as soon as Champollion's discoveries had given to the study of hieroglyphics and Egyptian antiquities a truly scientific character, the French government thought it its duty to found a chair for this promising branch of Oriental scholarship. Italy soon followed this generous example : nor was the Prussian government long behind hand in doing honor to the newborn science, as soon as in Professor Lepsius it had found a scholar worthy to occupy a chair of Egyptology at Berlin.
If France had possessed the brilliant genius to whom so much is due in the deciphering of the cuneiform inscriptions, I have little doubt that long ago a chair would have been founded at the Collège de France expressly for Sir Henry Rawlinson.
England possesses some of the best, if not the best, of Persian scholars (alas ! he who was here in my mind, Lord Strangford, is no longer among us), yet there is no chair for Persian at Oxford or Cambridge, in spite of the charms of its modern literature, and the vast importance of the ancient language of Persia and Bactria, the Zend, a language full of interest, not only to the comparative philologist, but also to the student of Comparative Theology.
There are few of the great universities of Europe without a chair for that language which, from the very beginning of history, as far as it is known to us,
seems always to have been spoken by the largest number of human beings, — I mean Chinese. In Paris find not one, but two chairs for Chinese, one for the ancient, another for the modern language of that wonderful empire; and if we consider the light which a study of that curious form of human speech is intended to throw on the nature and growth of language, if we measure the importance of its enormous literature by the materials which it supplies to the student of ancient religions, and likewise to the historian who wishes to observe the earliest rise of the principal sciences and arts in countries beyond the influence of Aryan and Semitic civilization, - if, lastly, we take into account the important evidence which the Chinese language, reflecting, like a never-fading photograph, the earliest workings of the human mind, is able to supply to the student of psychology, and to the careful analyzer of the elements and laws of thought, we should feel less inclined to ignore or ridicule the claims of such a language to a chair in our ancient university.1
I could go on and mention several other subjects, well worthy of the same distinction. If the study of Celtic languages and Celtic antiquities deserves to be encouraged anywhere, it is surely in England, not, as has been suggested, in order to keep English literature from falling into the abyss of German platitudes, nor to put Aneurin and Taliesin in the place of Shakespeare and Burns, and to counteract by their “suavity and brilliancy” the Philistine tendencies of the Saxon and the Northman, but in order to supply sound materials and guiding principles to the critical student of the ancient history and the ancient language of Britain, to excite an interest in what still remains of Celtic antiquities, whether in manuscripts or in genuine stone monuments, and thus to preserve such national heir-looms from neglect or utter destruction. If we consider that Oxford possesses a Welsh college, and that England possesses the best of Celtic scholars, it is surely a pity that he should have to publish the results of his studies in the short intervals of official work at Calcutta, and not in the more congenial atmosphere of Rytichin.
1 An offer to found a professorship of Chinese, to be held by an Englishman whom even Stanislas Julien recognized as the best Chinese scholar of the day, has lately been received very coldly by the Hebdomadal Council of the University.
For those who know the history of the ancient universities of England, it is not difficult to find out why they should have been less inclined than their continental sisters to make timely provision for the encouragement of these and other important branches of linguistic research. Oxford and Cambridge, as independent corporations, withdrawn alike from the support and from the control of the state, have always looked upon the instruction of the youth of England as their proper work; and nowhere has the tradition of classical learning been handed down more faithfully from one generation to another than in England ; nowhere has its generous spirit more thoroughly pervaded the minds of statesmen, poets, artists, and moulded the character of that large and important class of independent and cultivated men, without which this country would cease to be what it has been for the last two centuries, a res publica, a commonwealth, in the best sense of the word. Oxford and Cambridge have supplied what England expected or demanded, and as English parents did not send their sons to learn Chinese or to study Cornish, there was naturally no supply where there was no demand. The professorial element in the university, the true representative of higher learning and independent research, withered away ; the tutorial assumed the vastest proportions during this and the last centuries.
But looking back to the earlier history of the English universities, I believe it is a mistake to suppose that Oxford, one of the most celebrated universities during the Middle Ages and in the modern history of Europe, could ever have ignored the duty, so fully recognized by other European universities, of not only handing down intact, and laid up, as it were, in a napkin, the traditional stock of human knowledge, but of constantly adding to it, and increasing it fivefold and tenfold. Nay, unless I am much mistaken, there was really no university in which more ample provision had been made by founders and benefactors than at Oxford, for the support and encouragement of a class of students who should follow up new lines of study, devote their energies to work which, from its very nature, could not be lucrative or even selfsupporting, and maintain the fame of English learning, English industry, and English genius in that great and time-honored republic of learning which claims the allegiance of the whole of Europe, nay, of the whole civilized world. That work at Oxford and Cambridge was meant to be done by the Fellows of Colleges. In times, no doubt, when every kind of learning was in the hands of the clergy, these fellowships might seem to have been intended exclusively for the support of theological students. But when other studies, once mere germs and shoots on the tree of knowledge, separated from the old stem and as