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Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > French Linguists > Polyglot-Pater-Nosters

It is to this learned but eccentric scholar that we owe the idea of the well-known polyglot collections of the Lord's Prayer. These compilations as carried out by later collectors, have rendered such service to philology, that, although many of their authors were little more than mere compilers, and have but slender claims to be considered as linguists, in the higher sense of the word, it would be unpardonable to pass them over without notice in a Memoir like the present. Towards the close of the fourteenth century, a Hungarian soldier named J6hn Schildberger, while serving in a campaign against the Turks in Hungary, was made prisoner by the enemy ; and on his return home, after a captivity of thirty-two years, published (in 1428) an account of his adventures. He appended to his travels, as a specimen of the languages of the countries in which he had sojourned, the Lord's Prayer in Armenian, and also in the Tartar tongue. This, however, was a mere traveller's curiosity : but Postel's publication (Paris, 1558) is more scientific. It contains specimens of the characters of twelve different languages, in five of which—Chaldee ,He- brew, Arabic, Greek, and Armenian,the Pater Noster is printed both in Roman characters and in those of the several languages. This infant essay of Postel was followed, ten years after, by the collection of Theodore Bibliander, (the classicized form of the German name Buchnann,) which contains fourteen different Pater Nosters. Conrad Gesner, in 1555, increased the number to twenty-two, to which Angelo Eocea, an Augus-tinian Bishop, added three more (one of them Chinese) in 1591. Jerome Megiser, in 1592, extended the catalogue to forty. John Baptist Gramaye, a professor in Louvain, made a still more considerable stride in advance. He was taken prisoner by the Algerine corsairs, in the beginning of the next century, and after his return to Europe, collected no fewer than a hundred different versions of the Pater Noster, which he published in 1622. But bis work seems to have attracted little notice; for more than forty years later,(1668) a collection made by Bishop Wilkins, the learned linguist, to whom I shall hereafter return, contains no more than fifty. In all these, however, the only object appears to have been to collect as large a number of languages as possible, without any attention to critical arrangement. But, in the latter part of the same century, the collection of Andrew Müller (which comprises eighty-three Pater Nosters) exhibits a considerable advance in this particular. Men began, too, to arrange and classify the various families. Francis Junius (Van der Yonghe) published the Lord's Prayer in nineteen different languages of the German family ; and Nicholas Witsen devoted himself to the languages of Northern Asia—the great Siberian family,— in eleven of which he published the Lord's Prayer in 1692, This improvement in scientific arrangement, however, was not universal; for although the great collection of John Chamber-layne and David Wilkins, printed at Amsterdam in 1715, contains the Lord's Prayer in a hundred and fifty-two Languages, and that of Christian Frederic Gesner—the well-known Orientalischer und Occidentalischer Sprachmeister (Leipzic 1748) in two hundred, they are both equally compiled upon the old plan, and have little value except as mere specimens of the various languages which they contain. It is not so with a collection already described, which was published near the close of the same century, by a learned Spanish Jesuit, Don Lorenzo Hervas y Pandura. It is but one of that vast variety of philological works from the same prolific pen which, as I have stated, appeared, year after year, in Cesena, originally in Italian, though they were all afterwards published in a Spanish translation, in the author's native country. Father Hervas's collection, it will be remembered, contains the Lord's Prayer in no less than three hundred and seven languages, besides hymns and other prayers in twenty-two additional dialects, in which the author was not able to find the Pater Noster. Almost at the very same time with this important publication of Hervas, a more extensive philological work made its appearance in the extreme north, under the patronage and indeed the direct inspiration, of the Empress Catherine 11. of Russia. The plan of this compilation was more comprehensive than that of the collections of the Lord's Prayer. It consisted of a Vocabulary of two hundred and seventy-three familiar and ordinary words, in part selected by the Empress herself, and drawn up in her own hand. This Vocabulary, which is very judiciously chosen, is translated into two hundred and one languages. The compilation of this vast comparative catalogue of words was entrusted to the celebrated philologer, Pallas, assisted by all the eminent scholars of the northern capital; among whom the most efficient seems to have been Bakmeister, the Librarian of the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg. The opportunities afforded by the patronage of a sovereign who held at her disposition the services of the functionaries of a vast, and, in the literal sense of the word, a polyglot empire like Russia, were turned to the best account. Languages entirely beyond the reach of private research, were unlocked at her command ; and the rude and hitherto almost unnamed dialects of Siberia, of Northern Asia, of the Hali-eutian islanders, and the nomadic tribes of the Arctic shores, find a place in this monster vocabulary, beside the more polished tongues of Europe and the East. Nevertheless, the Vocabulary of Pallas (probably from the circumstance of its being printed altogether in the Russian character ) is but little familiar to our philologers, and is chiefly known from the valuable materials which it supplied to Adelung and his colleagues in the compilation of the well-known Mithridates. The Mithridates of Adelung closes this long series of philological collections ; but although in its general plan, it is only an expansion of the original idea of the first simple traveller who presented to his countrymen, as specimens of the languages of the countries which he had visited, versions in each language of the Prayer which is most familiar to every Christian, yet it is not only far more extensive in its range than any of its predecessors, but also infinitely more philosophical in its method. There can be no doubt that the selection of a prayer so idiomatical, and so constrained in its form as the Lord's Prayer, was far from judicious. As a specimen of the structure of the various languages, the choice of it was singularly infelicitous; and the utter disregard of the principies of criticism (and in truth of everything beyond the mere multiplication of specimens), which marks all the early collections, is an additional aggravation of its original defect. But it is not so in the Mithridates of Adelung. It retains the Lord's Prayer, it is true, like the rest, as the specimen (although not the only one) of each language; but it abandons the unscientific arrangement of the older collections, the languages being distributed into groups according to their ethnographical affinities. The versions, too, are much more carefully made; they are accompanied by notes and critical illustrations; and in general, each language or dialect, with the literature bearing upon it, is minutely and elaborately described. In a word, the Mithridates, although, as might be expected, still falling far short of perfection, is a strictly philosophical contribution to the study of ethnography ; and has formed the basis, as well as the text, of the researches of all the masters in the modern schools of comparative philology. To return, however, to the personal history of linguists, from which we have been called aside by the mention of the work of Postel. A celebrity as a linguist equally distinguished, and even more unamiable, than Posters, is that of his countryman and contemporary, the younger of the two Scaligers.

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