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LORD GIFFORD'S BEQUEST.
add, reckless as I was, instead of beginning my work as a lecturer in one of the German Universities, I went to Paris to attend Burnouf's lectures, and to copy and collate the MSS. of the Veda and its voluminous commentary. It was hard work, very uphill work indeed, for Sanskrit was not known then as it is now, and the whole literature on which Sâyana's great commentary on the Rig-veda is founded, was then almost entirely a terra incognita, and had first to be discovered, and to be studied from MSS. in the Bibliothèque Royale, as it was then called, or in Burnouf's private library. I often thought that I should have to give it up, and return as a Privatdocent to a German University, for I am not ashamed to say that during all that time at Paris, I had to maintain myself, as I have done ever since, with these three fingers. However, encouraged and helped by Burnouf, I persevered, and when I was ready to begin the printing of the first volume, I came to England, as I thought for a few weeks only, to collate some MSS. at the East India House in Leadenhall Street, and to make the acquaintance of Professor Wilson, at that time the Nestor of real Sanskrit scholars in Europe. New clouds, however, were then gathering on my horizon. The Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg, even at that time deeply interested in Indian literature, had voted large funds for bringing out an edition of the Rig-veda with Sâyana’s commentary, and had asked the East India Company for the loan of those very MSS. which I had come to London to copy and collate. At the same time Professor Wilson, in the name of the East India Company, had sent invitations to the most learned Pandits in India, asking them whether they would undertake an edition of the Rig-veda in India. All my plans seemed thus to collapse ; but I need not trouble you with my personal troubles. Suffice it to say that the Pandits of India declined to undertake the edition of the text and commentary of the Rig-veda, for the simple reason that the study of Vedic literature had at that time been entirely neglected in India ; that the Directors of the late East India Company thought it unfair that the MSS. of the Rig-veda should be sent to the Imperial Academy at St. Petersburg at the very time when I had come to London to make use of them; and that, on the recommendation of my old friend, Professor Wilson, the East India Company entrusted me with the publication of the Rig-veda at their expense.
I did not accept this offer with a light heart. It meant giving up my University career in Germany, and more than that, it meant severe drudgery and the very smallest pay for many years to come. I had no illusions about Sâyana's commentary. I knew it was the sine quâ non for all scholarlike study of the Veda; but I had seen enough of it to know that it certainly did not contain the key to a real understanding of the ancient hymns of the Veda. Besides that, even the Veda was to me only a means to an end, namely, a philosophy of mythology and religion, based on more trustworthy materials than those on which Schelling had been able to build his later philosophy of religion and mythology.
Thus, while I determined to work for others in bringing out as complete and correct an edition of the Rig-veda and its commentary as was then pos
sible, I made up my mind at the same time to carry on my own work. Having then settled at Oxford, and having been appointed to lecture on Modern Literature and Language, I devoted my leisure to a study of the Science of Language. A study of language is absolutely necessary as an introduction to the study of philosophy as well as of religion. Whatever further research may teach us about the true nature of language, it is clear, from a purely practical point of view, that language supplies at least the tools of thought, and that a knowledge of these tools is as essential to a philosopher, as a knowledge of his ship and his oars is to a sailor. The Science of Language, as I treated it in my Lectures at Oxford, is pre-eminently an analytical science. We take languages as we find them, we trace them back to their earliest forms, and classify them, and then analyse every word till we arrive at elements which resist further analysis. These elements we call roots, and leave them, for the present, as ultimate facts. In tracing the upward growth of words we arrive at a stage where we can clearly see the branching off of a large number of meanings, springing from the same stem. And among these earliest ramifications we meet with a number of names familiar to us from what is called the mythology of ancient nations. We soon discover that these mythological expressions are by no means restricted to religious ideas, but that there is a period in the growth of language in which everything may or must assume a mythological expression. It was the object of the second volume of my Lectures on the Science of Language, to establish the fact that mythology, in its true sense, was an
inevitable phase in the development of the human mind, and that we could solve many of its riddles with the help of such indications as were supplied to us by a careful study of the general growth of language. I called this peculiar phase or affection of language a kind of disease, though, like many diseases, it ought really to be recognised as a recuperative crisis in the youthful constitution of the human mind. In some few cases only, to which, on account of their perplexing nature, I called particular attention, could mythology rightly be considered as a disease, as a premature hardening, so to say, of the organic tissues of language, namely, when a word had lost its original meaning, and was afterwards interpreted, or rather misinterpreted, in accordance with the ideas of a later age. I tried to work out this principle in a number of essays which formed the foundation of what is now called Comparative Mythology or the Science of Mythology. In spite of much opposition, arising chiefly from a failure on the part of my critics to understand the principles which I followed and to comprehend the objects I had in view, that Science of Mythology is now as firmly established as the Science of Language?, and I can honestly say that nothing has strengthened my faith in it so much as a gallant and powerful charge lately made against it by a most learned and conscientious critic, I mean Professor Gruppe, in his Griechische Culte und Mythen, 1887. I shall often have to refer to this book in the course of my lectures, I shall often have to express my entire dissent from it; but, before we come to blows, I like thus publicly to shake hands with an antagonist who is learned, serious, honest, and honourable.
i See A. Barth, Bulletin de la Mythologie Aryenne, in the Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, 1880, p. 109.
These mythological researches led me back naturally to the problem with which I had started, the problem of the origin and growth of religion. And here it was a similar summons to that which has brought me here to-day, namely, an invitation to deliver the first course of the Hibbert Lectures in London, in 1878, that enabled me to lay before a large public the principles of the Science of Religion and Comparative Theologył, as applied to the origin and growth of religion in India.
It was while engaged in these researches that I began to feel the absolute necessity of our possessing trustworthy translations, not only of the Veda, but of all the Sacred Books of the East. I had by that time finished the edition of the Rig-veda and its commentary, and it was expected that I should publish a complete translation of it. But here I broke down, for reasons which those who know anything of the present state of Vedic scholarship will readily understand. The accumulation of material was too great for a single and no longer a young scholar. The one scholar in Germany who by his lexicographic labours would seem to have been best qualified for that task, Professor Roth, declared honestly that a translation of the Veda is a task not for this, but for the next century.
I had still many things to finish, and I felt the time had come for drawing in my sails. Having lectured for twenty-five years at Oxford, I thought I had a right to be relieved ; nay, I felt it a duty
1 Hibbert Lectures, Longmans, 1882.