« PreviousContinue »
No doubt it must have required a considerable effort for a man brought up in the belief that Greek and Latin were either aboriginal languages, or modifications of Hebrew, to bring himself to acquiesce in the revolutionary doctrine that the classical languages were intimately related to a jargon of mere savages; for such all the subjects of the Great Mogul were then supposed to be. However, if the facts about Sanskrit were true, Dugald Stewart was too wise not to see that the conclusions drawn from them were inevitable. He therefore denied the reality of such a language as Sanskrit altogether, and wrote his famous essay to prove that Sanskrit had been put together, after the model of Greek and Latin, by those arch-forgers and liars the Brahmans, and that the whole of Sanskrit literature was an imposition. I mention this fact, because it shows, better than anything else, how violent a shock was given by the discovery of Sanskrit to prejudices most deeply ingrained in the mind of every educated man.
The most absurd arguments found favor for a time, if they could only furnish a loophole by which to escape from the unpleasant conclusion that Greek and Latin were of the same kith and kin as the language of the black inhabitants of India. The first who dared boldly to face both the facts and the con
clusions of Sanskrit scholarship was the German poet, * Frederick Schlegel. He had been in England during
the peace of Amiens (1801-1802), and had learned a smattering of Sanskrit from Mr. Alexander Hamilton. After carrying on his studies for some time at Paris, he published, in 1808, his work, “On the
Language and Wisdom of the Indians.” This work - became the foundation of the science of language.
Though published only two years after the first volume of Adelung's “ Mithridates,” it is separated from that work by the same distance which separates the Copernican from the Ptolemæan system. Schlegel was not a great scholar. Many of his statements have proved erroneous; and nothing would be easier than to dissect his essay and hold it up to ridicule. But Schlegel was a man of genius ; and when a new science is to be created, the imagination of the poet is wanted, even more than the accuracy of the scholar. It surely required somewhat of poetic vision to embrace with one glance the languages of India, Persia,
Greece, Italy, and Germany, and to rivet them to1 gether by the simple name of Indo-Germanic. This
was Schlegel's work; and in the history of the intellect, it has truly been called “the discovery of a new world.”
We shall see, in our next lecture, how Schlegel's idea was taken up in Germany, and how it led almost immediately to a genealogical classification of the principal languages of mankind.
We traced, in our last Lecture, the history of the various attempts at a classification of languages to the year 1808, the year in which Frederick Schlegel published his little work on “ The Language and Wisdom of the Indians." This work was like the wand of a magician. It pointed out the place where a mine should be opened ; and it was not long before some of the most distinguished scholars of the day began to sink their shafts, and raise the ore.
For a time, everybody who wished to learn Sanskrit had to come to England. Bopp, Schlegel, Lassen, Rosen, Burnouf, all spent some time in this country, copying manuscripts at the East-India House, and receiving assistance from Wilkins, Colebrooke, Wilson, and other distinguished members of the old Indian Civil Service. The first minute and scholar-like comparison of the grammar of Sanskrit with that of Greek and Latin, Persian, and German, was made by Francis Bopp, in 1816.1 Other essays of his followed ; and in 1833 appeared the first volume of his “Comparative Grammar of Sanskrit, Zend, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, Slavonic, Gothic, and German." This work was not finished till nearly twenty years later, in 1852;2 but it
1 Conjugationssystem: Frankfurt, 1816.
will form forever the safe and solid foundation of comparative philology. August Wilhelm von Schlegel, the brother of Frederick Schlegel, used the influence which he had acquired as a German poet, to popularize the study of Sanskrit in Germany.
His “ Indische Bibliothek ” was published from 1819 to 1830, and though chiefly intended for Sanskrit literature, it likewise contained several articles on Comparative Philology. This new science soon found a still more powerful patron in William von Humboldt, the worthy brother of Alexander von Humboldt, and at that time one of the leading statesmen in Prussia. His essays, chiefly on the philosophy of language, attracted general attention during his lifetime; and he left a lasting monument of his studies in his great work on the Kawi language, which was published after his death, in 1836. Another scholar who must be reckoned among the founders of Comparative Philology is Professor Pott, whose “ Etymological Researches "
appeared first in 1833 and 1836. More special in its purpose, but based on the same general principles, was Grimm's “Teutonic Grammar," a work which has truly been called colossal. Its publication occupied nearly twenty years, from 1819 to 1837. We ought, likewise, to mention here the name of an eminent Dane, Erasmus Rask, who devoted himself to the study of the northern languages of Europe. He started, in 1816, for Persia and India, and was the first to acquire a knowl. edge of Zend, the language of the Zend-Avesta ; but he died before he had time to publish all the results of his learned researches. He had proved, however, that the
1 Second edition, 1859 and 1861. Pott's work on the Language of the 1 Gipsies, 1946; his work on Proper Names, 1856.
sacred language of the Parsis was closely connected 1 with the sacred language of the Brahmans, and that,
like Sanskrit, it had preserved some of the earliest formations of Indo-European speech. These researches into the ancient Persian language were taken up again by one of the greatest scholars that France ever produced, by Eugène Burnouf. Though the works of Zoroaster had been translated before by Anquetil Duperron, his was only a translation of a modern Persian translation of the original. It was Burnouf who, by means of his knowledge of Sanskrit and Comparative Grammar, deciphered for the first time the very words of the founder of the ancient religion of light. He was, likewise, the first to apply the same key with real success to the cuneiform inscriptions of Darius and Xerxes; and his premature death will long be mourned, not only by those who, like myself, had the privilege of knowing him personally and attending his lectures, but by all who have the interest of oriental literature and of real oriental scholarship at heart.
I cannot give here a list of all the scholars who followed in the track of Bopp, Schlegel, Humboldt, Grimm, and Burnouf. How the science of language has flourished and abounded may best be seen in the library of any comparative philologist. There has been for the last ten years a special journal of Comparative Philology in Germany. The Philological Society in London publishes every year a valuable volume of its transactions; and in almost every continental university there is a professor of Sanskrit who lectures likewise on Comparative Grammar and the science of language.
But why, it may naturally be asked, why should the