Page images

the circumstance,– Valerius Maximus, Pliny, and Solinus, make the number only twenty-two. Some commentators have regarded the story as a gross exaggeration; and others have sought to diminish its marvellousness by explaining it of different dialects, rather than of distinct languages. But there does not appear in the narrative of these writers any reason for the doubt or for the restriction. Pliny declares that it is quite certain ;' and the matter-of-fact tone in which they all relate it, makes it clear that they wished to be understood literally. It was his invariable practice, they tell us, to communicate with all the subjects of his polyglot empire directly and in person, and 'never • through an interpreter;' and Gellius roundly affirms that he was able to converse in each and any one of these tongues with as much correctness as if it were his native dialect.' But whatever judgment we may form as to the credibility or

story of Mithridates, it stands almost alone in classic history. We read of no remarkable linguists, even among the accomplished scholars of the Augustan age; and, perhaps, in the absence of positive and exact information on the subject, it may not unreasonably be conjectured that, among the Christian scholars of the second and third centuries, we might find a wider range of linguistic attainments than among their gentile contemporaries. The critical study of the Bible itself involved a familiarity not only with the Greek and Hebrew, but with more than one cognate oriental dialect beside. St. Jerome, besides the classic languages and his native Illyrian, is known to have been familiar with several of the Eastern tongues; and it is far from improbable that the commentators and expositors of the Bible, such as Origen, Didymus (the celebrated blind teacher of the great Christian school of Alexandria), St. Augustine (who, besides Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Hebrew, may, from his Manichean associations, be presumed to have known other Eastern languages), Theodore of Mopsuestia, and even the more modern St. Ephrem the Syrian, may be taken as amongst the most favourable specimens of the linguists of the classic times.

From the death of Constantine, however, the study would seem to have declined, even among ecclesiasties. The disruption of the empire naturally tended to diminish the intercourse of the East and West, and, by consequence, the interchange of their languages. The knowledge of both Greek and Latin, which in the classic times had been the ordinary accomplishınent of every educated man, became rare and imperfect. Pope Gregory the Great, the most eminent Western scholar of his day, spoke Greek very imperfectly; and a still earlier instance is recorded


[ocr errors]

in which another pope, a man of undoubted ability in other respects, was unable to translate the letters of the Greek Patriarchs, much less to communicate with the Greek ambassadors, except through an interpreter.* The wars of the Crusaders, the establishment of the Christian Kingdom at Jerusalem, and still more the foundation of the Latin empire at Constantinople, had the effect of reviving the intercourse. Many of the knights and palmers who returned from the East, brought with them the knowledge, not only of Greek, but of more than one of the oriental languages beside. The long imprisonments to which, during the holy wars and the Latin campaigns against the Turks, they were often subjected, gave them in some instances a perfect familiarity with Persian, Arabic, Syriac, and Turkish.

It is to one of these imprisonments that we are indebted for the first origin of a long series of publications, which, in more recent times, have rendered very important services to the science of philology. Towards the close of the fourteenth century, a Hungarian soldier, named John Schildberger, who was serving in a campaign against the Turks in Hungary, was made prisoner by the Turks; and, on his return home, after captivity of thirty-two years, published (in 1428) an account of his adventures. He conceived the idea which has since become

( so popular) of illustrating these travels by appending, 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. The example was imitated by later scholars. William Postel, in 1538, published the Lord's Prayer in five languages; Theodore Bibliander, ten years later, increased the number to fourteen; Conrad Gesner, in 1555, to twenty-two, to which Angelo Rocca, an Augustinian bishop, added three more (one of them Chinese), in 1591; and Jerome Megiser, in 1592, extended the catalogue to forty. John Baptiste Gramaye, a professor of 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 collected no less than a hundred different versions of the same prayer, which he published in 1622; but his work seems to have attracted very little notice; for, more than forty years later, a collection made (1668) by Dr. Wilkins (an English divine, mathematician, and philologer of considerable eminence) contains no more than fifty.

* When Nestorius wrote to Pope Celestine (A.D. 430) to give an account of the controversy since known under his name, the latter laid his letter aside for a time, ‘not being acquainted with the Greek language.' See Walch's Historie der Ketzereien, vol. v. p. 701.

In all these works, however, the only object appears to have been to collect as large as possible a number of languages, 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 of languages. Francis Junius 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 same prayer in 1692. This improvement, however, was not universal ; for although the great collection of John Chamberlayne and David Wilkins, printed at Amsterdam in 1715, contains the Lord's Prayer in a hundred and fifty-two languages, and that of Gesner, the well-known Orientalischer und Occidentalischer Sprachmeister (Leipzig, 1748), in two hundred, they are both 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 published near the close of the same century, by a learned Spanish Jesuit, Don Lorenzo Hervas y Pandura. It is but one of a vast variety of philological works from the same prolific pen, which appeared, year after year, at Cesena, originally in Italian, though they were all afterwards published in a Spanish translation, in the author's native country. Father Hervas's collection contains the Lord's Prayer in no less than thrce 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. But its most important feature consists in the addition of grammatical analyses and notes, by which it is sought to explain and illustrate the structure of the languages themselves. These, as might be expected in a first essay, are often imperfect and unsatisfactory; but they are at least a step in the right direction, and led the way to the more accurate and scientific investigations of the present century.

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 II. of Russia. The

Saygio prattico delle Lingue: con Prolegomene, e una Raccolta de Orazioni Domenicali in più di 300 Lingue e Dialetti. Cesena, 1787.

† Linguarum totius Orbis Vocabularia comparativa, Augustissimi curâ collecta. Sectionis primæ, Linguas Europæ et Asiæ complectens, Pars prior, 2 vols. 4to. Petropoli 1786–9.

plan of this compilation was more comprehensive than that of the collectors 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. The 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 the most 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 uplocked at her command; and the rude and hitherto almost unnamed dialects of Siberia, of Northern Asia, of the Halieutian 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 wellknown Mithridates. Of the last-named work, it is hardly necessary for us to speak.f It closes this long series of philological

* A portion of the edition contains a Latin preface, explanatory of the plan and contents; but the majority of the copies have this prefare in Russian ; and, in all, the character employed throughout the body of the work is Russian. This character, however, may be mastered with so little difficulty, that, practically, its adoption can bardly be said to interfere materially with the usefulness of the work; and the use of the Russian character had many advantages over the Roman in accurately representing the various sounds, especially tbose of the northern languages.

An alphabetical digest (4 vols. 4to. 1790—1) of all the words contained in the vocabulary (arranged in the order of the alphabet without reference to language) was compiled, a few years later, by Theodor Jankiewitsch de Miriewo, by which it may be seen at once to what language each word belongs. But it is said to be most unscientific in its plan and execution ; and the Empress was so dissatisfied with it, that the work was suppressed and is now extremely rare.

† Mithridates, oder allgemeine Sprachenkunde; mit dem Vater Unser, als Sprach-Probe, in beynahe fünf hundert Sprachen und Mund-Arten. Von Jos. Christoph Adelung, Berlin, 1806. The first

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 that 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, in the first instance, 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 principles 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. The Mithridates 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 in it 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 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.

We have alluded to this curious series of publications more as illustrating the progress of philological studies, than as affording any adequate idea of the actual attainments of the several authors. Many of them made no pretence, in reference to the great majority of the languages included in their several collections, to anything beyond the simple character of compilers. Very few, indeed, could claim a more intimate acquaintance with them all volume contains the languages of Asia ; the second, which, under the direction of Dr. Severinus Vater, was published after Adelung's death, but chiefly from his own papers, comprises the European families, the Celtic, German, Basque, &c.; the third, which is in the languages of Africa and America, appeared in parts between 1812 and 1816; and the work was completed in the following year by a supplementary volume, edited by Vater and the younger Adelung. For the languages of America, the work is chiefly indebted to the researches of Humboldt.

« PreviousContinue »