« PreviousContinue »
scholars; and it would be difficult to say which of the two, the language or the literature, excited the deepest and most lasting interest. It was impossible to look, even in the most cursory manner, at the declensions and conjugations, without being struck by the extraordinary similarity, or, in some cases, by the absolute identity of the grammatical forms in Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin. As early as 1778, Halhed remarked, in the preface to his Grammar of Bengalí, “I have been astonished to find this similitude of Sanskrit words with those of Persian and Arabic, and even of Latin and Greek; and these not in technical and metaphorical terms, which the mutuation of refined arts and improved manners might have occasionally introduced; but in the main groundwork of language, in monosyllables, in the names of numbers, and the appellations of such things as could be first discriminated on the immediate dawn of civilization." Sir William Jones (died 1794), after the first glance at Sanskrit, declared that whatever its antiquity, it was a language of most wonderful structure, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a strong affinity. “No philologer,” he writes, “could examine the Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists. There is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and Celtic had the same origin with the Sanskrit. The old Persian may be added to the same family."
1 Halhed had published in 1776 the “Code of Gentoo Lawg," a digest of the most important Sanskrit law-books made by eleven Brabmans, by the order of Warren Hastings.
But how was that affinity to be explained ? People were completely taken by surprise. Theologians shook their heads ; classical scholars looked sceptical ; philosophers indulged in the wildest conjectures in order to escape from the only possible conclusion which could be drawn from the facts placed before them, but which threatened to upset their little systems of the history of the world. Lord Monboddo had just finished his great work 1 in which he derives all mankind from a couple of apes, and all the dialects of the world from a language originally framed by some Egyptian gods, when the discovery of Sanskrit came on him like a thunderbolt. It must be said, however, to his credit, that he at once perceived the immense importance of the discovery. He could not be expected to sacrifice his primæval monkeys or his Egyptian idols; but, with that reservation, the conclusions which he drew from the new evidence placed before him by his friend Mr. Wilkins, the author of one of our first Sanskrit grammars, are highly creditable to the acuteness of the Scotch judge. “ There is a language,” he writes : (in 1792), “still existing, and preserved among the Bramins of India, which is a richer and in every respect a finer language than even the Greek of Homer. All the other languages of India have a great resemblance to this lan
1 “On the Origin and Progress of Language," second edition, Edinburgh, 1774. 6 vols.
2 “I have supposed that language could not be invented without supernatural assistance, and, accordingly, I have maintained that it was the in
vention of the Dæmon kings of Egypt, who, being more than men, first taught themselves to articulate, and then taught others. But, even among them, I am persuaded there was a progress in the art, and that such a language as the Sbanskrit was not at once invented.” — Monboddo, Antient Metaphysics, vol. iv. p. 357.
3 Origin and Progress of Language, vol. vi. p. 97.
guage, which is called the Shanscrit. But those languages are dialects of it, and formed from it, not the Shanscrit from them. Of this, and other particulars concerning this language, I have got such certain information from India, that if I live to finish my history of man, which I have begun in my third volume of • Antient Metaphysics,' I shall be able clearly to prove that the Greek is derived from the Shanscrit, which was the antient language of Egypt, and was carried by the Egyptians into India, with their other arts, and into Greece by the colonies which they settled there.”
A few years later (1795) he had arrived at more definite views on the relation of Sanskrit to Greek; and he writes, “Mr. Wilkins has proved to my conviction such a resemblance betwixt the Greek and the Shanscrit, that the one must be a dialect of the other, or both of some original language. Now the Greek is certainly not a dialect of the Shanscrit, any more than the Shanscrit is of the Greek. They must, therefore, be both dialects of the same language; and that language could be no other than the language of Egypt, brought into India by Osiris, of which, undoubtedly, the Greek was a dialect, as I think I have proved.”
Into these theories of Lord Monboddo's on Egypt and Osiris, we need not inquire at present. But it may be of interest to give one other extract, in order to show how well, apart from his men with, and his monkeys without, tails, Lord Monboddo could sift and handle the evidence that was placed before him : “ To apply these observations to the similarities which
1 Antient Metaphysics, vol. iv. p. 322.
Mr. Wilkins has discovered betwixt the Shanscrit and the Greek;-I will begin with these words, which must have been original words in all languages, as the things denoted by them must have been known in the first ages of civility, and have got names; so that it is impossible that one language could have borrowed them from another, unless it was a derivative or dialect of that language. Of this kind are the names of numbers, of the members of the human body, and of relations, such as that of father, mother, and brother. And first, as to numbers, the use of which must have been coeval with civil society. The words in the Shanscrit for the numbers from one to ten are, ek, dwee, tree, chatoor, panch, shat, sapt, aght, nava, das, which certainly have an affinity to the Greek or Latin names for those numbers. Then they proceed towards twenty, saying ten and one, ten and two, and so forth, till they come to twenty ; for their arithmetic is decimal as well as ours. Twenty they express by the word veensatee. Then they go on till they come to thirty, which they express by the word treensat, of which the word expressing three is part of the composition, as well as it is of the Greek and Latin names for those numbers. And in like manner they go on expressing forty, fifty, &c., by a like composition with the words expressing simple numerals, namely, four, five, &c., till they come to the number one hundred, which they express by sat, a word different from either the Greek or Latin name for that number. But, in this numeration, there is a very remarkable conformity betwixt the word in Shanscrit expressing twenty or twice ten, and the words in Greek and Latin expressing the same number; for in none of the three languages has the word any relation to the
number two, which, by multiplying ten, makes twenty ; such as the words expressing the numbers thirty, forty, &c., have to the words expressing three or four; for in Greek the word is eikosi, which expresses no relation to the number two; nor does the Latin viginti, but which appears to have more resemblance to the Shanscrit word veensatee. And thus it appears that in the anomalies of the two languages of Greek and Latin, there appears to be some conformity with the Shanscrit.”
Lord Monboddo compares the Sanskrit pada with the Greek pous, podos ; the Sanskrit nasa with the Latin nasus; the Sanskrit deva, god, with the Greek Theos and Latin deus ; the Sanskrit ap, water, with the Latin aqua; the Sanskrit vidhavâ with the Latin vidua, widow. Sanskrit words such as gonia, for angle, kentra, for centre, hora, for hour, he points out as clearly of Greek origin, and imported into Sanskrit. He then proceeds to show the grammatical coincidences between Sanskrit and the classical languages. He dwells on compounds such as tripada, from tri, three, and pada, foot — a tripod; he remarks on the extraordinary fact that Sanskrit, like Greek, changes a positive into a negative adjective by the addition of the a privative; and he then produces what he seems to consider as the most valuable present that Mr. Wilkins could have given him, namely, the Sanskrit forms, asmi, I am; asi, thou art; asti, he is; santi, they are; forms clearly of the same origin as the corresponding forms, esmi, eis, esti, in Greek, and sunt in Latin.
Another Scotch philosopher, Dugald Stewart, was much less inclined to yield such ready submission.