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Biblical linguists
Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > Linguists of the Teutonic race > Biblical linguists

M. Bunsen describes this wonderful work as " the Calculus Sublimis of linguistic theory," and declares that " it places William von Humboldt's name by the side of that of Leibnitz in universal comparative ethnological philology " the school of Humboldt in Germany has supplied a long series of distinguished names to philological literature, begin ning with Frederic von Schlegel, (whose Essay " On the Language and Literature of the Hindoos, 1808," opened an entirely new view of the science of comparative philology), and continued, through Schlegel's brother Augustus, Bask, Bopp, Grimm, Lepsius, Pott, Pfizmaier, Hammer-Purgstall (the so-called "Lily of Ten Tongues)", Sauerwein, Diez, Boehtlingk, and the lameuted Castren, down to Bunsen, and his learned fellow- labourers, Max M tiller, Paul Boetticher, Aufrecht, and others. For most of those, as for Schlegel, the Sanscrit family of languages has been the great centre of exploration, or at least the chief standard of comparison ; and Bopp, in his wonderful work, the "Comparative Grammar of the Sanscrit, Zend, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, old Slavonic, Gothic, and German Languages," has almost exhausted this part of the inquiry. others (still, however, with the same general view) have devoted themselves to other families, as Lepsius to the Egyptian, Rask to the Scythian, Boehthingk to the Tar tar, Grimm to the Teutonic, Diez to the Romanic, Castren to the Finnic. others, in fine, as Bunsen in hi most comprehensive work, "Outlines of the Philosophy of Universal History applied to Language," (the third volume of his " Christianity and Mankind") have digested the entire subject, and applied the researches of all to the solution of the great problem of the science. Some of those whom I have named rather resembled the ancient heroes of romance and adventure, than the common race of quiet everyday scholars. the journeys of Rask, Klaproth, and Lepsius, were not only full of danger, but often attended with exceeding privation ; and Alexander Castren of Helsingfors was literally a martyr of the science. This enthusiastic student, although a man of extremely delicate constitution, " left his study, travelled for years alone in his sledge through the snowy deserts of Siberia ; coasted along the borders of the Polar Sea; lived for whole winters in caves of ice, or in the- smoky huts of greasy Samoiedes; then braved the sand-clouds of Mongolia ; passed the Baikal; and returned from (he frontiers of China to his duties as Professor at Helsingfors, to die after he had given to the world but a lew specimens of his treasures."" Rask and M. Bunsen, even as linguists, deserve to be more specially commemorated. the former, who was born in 1787 at Brennekilde, in the island of Funen, traversed, in the course of the adventurous journey already alluded to, the Eastern provinces of Russia, , India, Malacca, and the island of Ceylon, and penetrated the interior of Africa. In all the countries which he visited he made himself acquainted with the various languages which prevailed; so that besides the many languages of his native Teutonic family, those of the Scandinavian, Finnic, and Sclavonic stock, the principal cultivated European languages, and the learned languages (including those of the Bible), he was also familiar with Sanscrit in all its branches; and is justly described as the first who opened the way to " a real grammatical knowledge of Zend," M. Bunsen's great work exhibits a knowledge of the structural analysis of a prodigious number of languages, from almost every family. As a master of the learned languages, Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and (though he has cultivated those less), Arabic and Persian, he has few superiors. He speaks and writes with equal facility Latin, German, English, French, and Italian, all with singular elegance, and purity ; he speaks besides Dutch and Danish j he reads Swedish, Icelandic, and the other old German languages, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romaic; and he has also studied many of the less known languages, as Chinese, Basque, Finnic, and Welsh, together with several of the African and North American languages, but chiefly with a view to their grammatical structure, and without any idea of learning to read them. Nevertheless, with all the linguistic learning which they undoubtedly possess, neither Humboldt nor the other members of his distinguished school fall properly within the scope of this Memoir. With all of them, even those who were themselves accomplished linguists, the knowledge of languages, (and especially of their vocabularies),is a subordinate object. they have never proposed the study to themselves, for its own sake, but only as an instrument of philosophical inquiry. It might almost be said, indeed, that by the reaction which this school has created against the old system of etymological,andin favour of the structural, comparison of languages, a positive discouragement has been given to the exact or extensive study of their vocabularies. Philologers, as a class, have a decided disposition to look down upon, and even to depreciate, the pursuit of linguists. With the former, the knowledge of the words of a language is a very minor consideration in comparison with its inflexions, and still more its laws of transposition (Lautversclriebung); Professor Schott of Berlin plainly avows that " a limited knowledge of languages is sufficient for settling the general questions as to their common origin ;" and beyond a catalogue of a certain number of words for the purpose of a comparative vocabulary, there is a manifest tendency on the part of many, to regard all further concern about the words of a language as old-fashioned and puerile. It it some consolation to the admirers of the old school to know, that, from time to time, learned philologers have been roughly taken to task for the presumption with which (hey have thoorized about languages of whose vocabulary they are ignorant; and it is difficult not to regard the unsparing and often very amusing exposures of Professor Scholt's blunders which occur in the long controversy that he has had with Boehthingk, Mr, Caldwell's recent strictures upon the Indian learning of Professor Max Müller, or Stanislaus Julien's still fiercer onslaught on M. Panthier, in the Journal Asiatique as a sort of retributive offering to the ollended Genius of neglected Etymology. I shall not delay upon the Biblical linguists of Germany as Hug, Jahn, Schott, Windischmann, Vullers, &c, among Catholics, or the rival schools of Rosenmüller, tholuck, Ewald, Gesenius, Fiirsr, Beer, De Lagarde, &c. Extensive as is the range of the attainments of those, distinguished men in the languages of the Bible, and their literature, this accomplishment has now become so universal among German Biblical scholars, that it has almost ceased to be regarded as a title to distinction. Its very masters are lost in the crowd of eminent men who have grown up on all sides around him.

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