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

A much more distinguished scholar of modern Germany, almost entirely unknown in England, is Christian William Buttner. He was born at Wolfetibüttel in 1716, and was destined by his father (an apothecary) for the medical profession; but, although he gave his attention in the first instance to the sciences preparatory to that profession, the real pursuit of his life became philology, and especially in its relation to the great, science of ethnography. It was a saying of Cuvier's, that Linnaeus and Buttner realised by their united studies the title of Grotius's celebrated work, "De Jure Natura et Gentium; "— Linnseus by his pursuit of Natural History assuming the first, and Buttner, by his ethnological studies, appropriating the second—as the respective spheres of their operations. In every country which Buttner visited, he acquired not only the general language, but the most minute peculiarities of its provincial dialects. Pew literary lives are recorded in history "which present such a picture of self-denial and privation voluntarily endured in the cause of learning, as that of Buttner. His library and museum, accumulated from the hoardings of his paltry income, were exceedingly extensive and most valuable. In order to scrape together the means for their gradual purchase, he contented himself during the greater part of his later life with a single meal per day, the cost of which never exceeded a silber-groschen, or somewhat less than three half-pence! It may be inferred, however, from what has been said, that Buttuer's attainments were mainly these of a book-man. In the scanty were mainly these of a book-man. In the scanty notices of him which we have gleaned, we do not find that his power of speaking foreign languages was at all what might have been expected from the extent and variety of his book-knowledge. But his services as a scientific philologer were infinitely more important, as well as more permanent, than any such ephemeral faculty. He was the first to observe and to cultivate the true relations of the monosyllabic languages of southern Asia, and to place them at the head of his scheme of the Asiatic and European languages. He was the first to conceive, or at least to carry out, the theory of the geographical distribution of languages; and he may be looked on as the true founder of the science of glossography. He was the first to systematise and to trace the origin and affiliations of the various alphabetical characters; and his researches in the history of the palaeography of the Semitic family may be said to have exhausted the subject.

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