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sion, represented in the machine of Minerva descending to
“Curs'd is the man and void of law and right,
ART. II.-1. Erinnerungen an Wilhelm von Humboldt. Von GUSTAV
SCHLESIER. 2 Theile. Stuttgart, 1843–1845. 2. Wilhelm von Humboldt : Lebensbild und Charakteristik. Von
R. Hayu. Berlin, 1856. 3. Wilhelm von Humboldts gesammelte Werke. Herausg. von CARL
BRANDES. Vols. i-vii, 8vo. Berlin, 1841-1852. 4. Über die Kawi-Sprache auf der Insel Java. Von WILHELM VON
HUMBOLDT. Herausg. von CARL BUSCHMANN. 3 vols., 4to.
AMONG those who have labored in the department of general linguistics and comparative philology, Wilhelm von Humboldt is one of the earliest and most successful. Commencing with the dawn of the century, his studies run parallel with those of William Schlegel, Raynouard, Grimm, Bopp; and if, on the one hand, he has accomplished less of specialty than most of his contemporaries, he has, on the other, extended his horizon far beyond them, and is, in fact, the first who ventured to elevate the science into a universal one. Inspired by this idea, he not only made his investigations, both geographically and historically, co-extensive with
the globe, but he also did not shun the labor of entering, with the spirit of true science, into the abstruser questions concerning the nature and origin of language, its relation to the human intelligence, to history, philosophy, civilization, and humanity, and has left us the outlines of a system which has made his name illustrious. It is true that more than one of his positions have been controverted, that he has been accused of inconsistency, of vagueness, and of mysticism, and that few of the more recent investigators are willing to accept him without qualification ; but this does not destroy the intrinsic value of his contributions, and we apprehend but little contradiction in asserting that no works in this department can be produced that are more suggestive, and more worthy of attentive study. It is on this account, and for the benefit of the student, that we now propose, in the first place, to give a rapid sketch of the history and chronological order of his researches, and then to add as complete and clear an exposition of his system as our proposed limit will admit.
After having for many years indulged in the somewhat desultory, but none the less earnest and assiduous study of classical literature and antiquities, of theoretical as well as political philosophy and ästhetics, Humboldt at length began to feel the want of some central object for his intellectual activity, and one into which he might infuse the whole of its individuality and native force. Such an object presented itself to him in the science of linguistics, the outlines of which he happened to conceive towards the close of the last century. Near the end of the year 1799 we find him writing to the philologian Wolf, that it was then his plan to illustrate the theory of æsthetics with practical examples, and that for that purpose he had already studied the old French literature, and was then engaged in examining the Spanish.
“ But even more than by the study of literature,” he says, “I am attracted by the study of language. I am inclined to think that hereafter I shall occupy myself with it much more exclusively, and that a thorough and philosophically conducted comparison of several languages is a task for which, after a few years of earnest application, my shoulders might perhaps grow equal."*
The commencement of these new researches links itself to the accident of Humboldt's residence in Paris. It was there that, in the year 1800, his attention was attracted to the lan
* Werke, vol. 5, p. 214.
guage of the primitive inhabitants of northern Spain, whose national peculiarities and history had already interested him some time before. And so rapid were his advances that by the autumn of that year he had already consulted all the works and manuscripts of the Royal Library in reference to his subject, which he dropped only to resume with new energy in the spring of the following year, while during the summer he spent several weeks in the Basque provinces of Spain and France, to search some of their archives for new material, and to, complete his examinations by personal contact with the inhabitants themselves.*
When, in 1802, he went as Prussian minister to Rome, his mind was at first occupied with the antiquities of the city, and with his translations from Æschylus and Pindar. But he had already advanced too far with his new science to forget it long or at all, and he soon returned to it, never to drop it again." At bottom," says he to Wolf, “is everything I drive at, even my Pindar, study of language. I think I have discovered the art of using language as a vehicle for traversing the loftiest and profoundest spheres of human existence, and I find mirrored in it the multiplicity of the entire world." + To the study of the Basque he soon added researches into the origin and affinity of European languages in general; and when, on his return from the Western Continent, his brother Alexander made him a present of the ample materials on the American languages which he had collected there, his horizon extended itself still further, and already promised to embrace the entire globe. And for these studies Rome itself was really to some extent the centre of the world. There was the Propaganda, whose object, although avowedly ecclesiastical, was yet intimately linked to a knowledge of the languages, and of a great variety of them. Humboldt did not fail to turn the religious object to scientific account; and during his residence at Rome, the rich library of the Collegio Romano, with other valuable collections, opened to him treasures from which at a later date his industry and philosophical acumen eliminated the science of comparative philology.
Humboldt's linguistical career, commencing, as we have already seen, in 1799, extended itself throughout the whole of the remainder of his life, that is to say, until the year 1835. Its history presents to us three distinct periods, of
Haym's "Wilhelm von Humboldt,' p. 201.
which the first comprises his researches into the Basque and the American languages; the second, those on the Sanscrit, the Chinese and the Egyptian hieroglyphics; and the last, those on the Malay languages of the Asiatic and Australian island-world, including, as the culmination of the whole, his justly celebrated dissertation on the structural differences of human speech, introductory to his great work on the old Kawi idiom of Java.
His first attempts proceeded from an ethnographico-historical point of view, and he himself confesses that he then looked upon the study of languages merely as “a science auxiliary to that of history and ethnography.” It was in this sense that, in 1812, he published a prospectus of a monograph on the Basque tribe, in which he declared it his intention to examine into the manners, the language, and the history of that tribe, with a view to determine, if possible, the question as to whether it is to be considered as a separate body, or merely a remnant of a larger family of nations, and how in that event it should be classified.* Of this monograph, however, nothing appeared except some fragments in one of his travelling sketches (Reiseskizzen aus Biscaya), until, in 1821, he at length came out with his “ Examination of the Investigations concerning the Aboriginal Inhabitants of Spain, on the basis of the Basque Language,”+ In this essay the author undertakes, through an analysis of the old Spanish names of places, to trace the earliest geographical distribution and history of the inhabitants of the Pyrenean peninsula, and professes his main object to be toʻinvite other investigations relative to the primitive populations of the whole of western and southern Europe. From this ethnographical point of view Humboldt, however, soon departed, when, a few years after, at the request of Vater, he wrote his purely lioguistical corrections and additions to Adelung's article on the Basque language in the “Mithridates,"I and when, in a sequel to the promised monograph, he contemplated a searching analysis of the unique idiom in question. The change became still more complete after he began to include the study of the Romanish and the American languages, with a view to a more general comparison. He now declared it his intention to apply a systematic and exhausting method to the analysis of one language, and then gradually to extend the
• F. Schlegel's "Deutscher Museum,” vol. 2 pp. 487 and 490. (No. 12.) † Reprinted in Werke, vol. 2. | Adelung's “Mithridates," vol. 4.'
process to others, until they all might be arranged and classified in an immense universal encyclopedia of human speech. In this preliminary analysis of a particular language, his professed aim was “an intelligible exposition of all the individual parts of speech, their relation to each other and to the totality of language considered as a representative medium; and lastly, of the relation between this medium and the objects represented.” In thus passing from one language to all of them, and from all of them to language or speech, as such, he not ony arrived at a metaphysical conception of his subject, but he also gave his previous ethnographico-historical researches a broader and a deeper background than they had before. He had, in other words, now reached the philosophy of language, and the point at which it coincides with the philosophy of history. It is true that the details of his plan were as yet not entirely clear even to himself, and that on that account his language was often vague and mystical ; but his fundamental idea was nevertheless already as correct as it was orignal and profound, and it was destined to gain clearness and consistency as he made new advances in his researches.
The second stadium of Humboldt's linguistical career commences with his inquiry into the Sanscrit. Up to the year 1812 he had taken but a distant interest in this language, and the American idioms, in addition to the Basque, had occupied his attention almost exclusively. But about the years 1814 and 1815 he began to look more closely into the East, and he soon became convinced of the paramount importance of the ancient sacred idiom of India to the new science in which he had enlisted. He commenced the study of the language, therefore, by devoting an entire year
of leisure to it, and subsequently made renewed efforts to perfect himself in it. It could not be otherwise than that the character of this eastern mother idiom, should have at once led Humboldt to a profounder insight into the general nature of language, and to a clearer apprehension of its elements.
That this was really so, and that Humboldt made substantial advances in his new science, is manifest from several important contributions to the transactions of the Prussian Academy, of which he had become a member as early as 1810. In the first place, he read, in 1820, a dissertation “On the Comparative Study of Language, and its Relation to the Different Epochs of the Development of the Languages,
Werke, vol. 3, p. 269, seq.