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

With the illustrious name of Leibnitz we commence a new era in the science of languages. This extraordinary man, who united in himself all the most varied, and it might seem incompatible, excellencies of other men—a jurist and a divine, a mathematician and a poet, a historian and a philosopher— added to all his other prodigious attainments a most extensive and profound knowledge of languages. It is not, however, on the actual extent of his acquaintance with particular languages (although this too was most remarkable), that his fame as a scientific linguist rests. He was the first to recognize the true nature and objects of linguistic science, and to direct its studies to an object at once eminently practical and profoundly philosophical. It is not alone that, deserting the trivialities of the old etymologists, he laid down the true principles of the great science of comparative philology, and detected its full importance ; Leibnitz may claim the further merit of having himself almost created that science, and given it forth, a new Minerva, in its full and perfect development. There is hardly a principle of modern philology the germ of which may not be discovered in his singularly pregnant and suggestive essays and letters; and,; what is far more remarkable, he has often, with the. instinctive sagacity of original genius, anticipated sometimes by conjecture, sometimes by positive prediction, analogies and results which the investigations of actual explorers have since realized. One of the most important practical services rendered by Leibnitz to science, was the organization of academies and other scientific bodies, by which- the efforts of individuals might be systematically guided to one common end, and the results of their researches, whether in collecting facts or in developing theories, might, through the collision of many minds, be submitted to the ordeal of careful examination and judicious discussion. It is chiefly to him that science is indebted for the Royal Society of Berlin and the Academy of St. Petersburg. Both of these bodies, although embracing the whole circle of science, have proved most eminent schools of languages ; and it is a curious illustration of that profound policy, in pursuance of which we see Russia still availing herself of the service of genius wherever it is to be found, that many of the ablest German linguists of the eighteenth century were, either directly or indirectly, connected with the latter institution.

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