Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol III (1901).djvu/167

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Max Müller
Max Müller
153


the day with a majority of 223, the votes in his favour being 833 against 610 for Max Müller.

There can be little doubt that this defeat was a bitter disappointment to Max Müller, and exercised a very decided influence on his subsequent career as a scholar. Sanskrit studies had formed the main interest of his intellectual life for almost twenty years. Had he been successful in the contest, his activity would probably have been almost entirely limited to his favourite subject, and, though he would in that case have been less famous, he would doubtless have produced, during the latter half of his life, works of more permanent value in the domain of research.

His marvellous industry was now largely deflected into other channels. He began to pay considerable attention to comparative philology, delivering two series of lectures on the science of language at the Royal Institution in 1861 and 1863. These lectures soon raised him to the rank of the standard authority on philology in the estimation of the English public. Though much of what is contained in them is now out of date, there can be no doubt that they not only for the first time aroused general interest in the subject of comparative philology in England, but also exercised in their day a valuable stimulating influence on the work of scholars. Here he first displayed that power of lucid popular exposition and of investing a dry subject with abundant interest, which has more than anything else contributed to make his name at least as famous as that of any other scholar of the nineteenth century. Another of his works, in spite of its title, ‘The Science of Thought’ (1887), is largely concerned with the subject of language, its main thesis being the inseparability of thought and language. In 1865 he was appointed oriental sub-librarian at the Bodleian, but, finding the work uncongenial, resigned the post after holding it for two years. In 1868 Max Müller, vacating the Taylorian chair, was nominated to the new professorship of comparative philology, founded on his behalf. This chair he held down to the time of his death, retiring, however, from its active duties in 1875. Four years after his election he was invited to accept, a professorship of Sanskrit in the newly founded university of Strasburg. Though he declined this appointment, he consented to deliver a course of lectures at Strasburg during the summer term of 1872. The honorarium which he received for the work he handed over to the university authorities, who founded with it a triennial prize, called the ‘Max Müller Stipendium,’ for the encouragement of Sanskrit scholarship.

Max Müller was not only the introducer of comparative philology into England; he also became a pioneer in this country of the science of comparative mythology founded by Adalbert Kuhn with his epoch-making work, ‘Die Herabkunft des Feuers,’ published in 1849. Beginning with his essay on ‘Comparative Mythology,’ which appeared in 1856, he wrote a number of other papers on mythological subjects, concluding his labours in this domain with a large work in 1897. His mythological method, based on linguistic equations, has hardly any adherents at the present day. For most of his identifications, as of the Greek Erīnyus with the Sanskrit Saraṇyūs, have been rejected owing to the more stringent application of phonetic laws which now prevails in comparative philology. Nor does his theory of mythology being a ‘disease of language’ any longer find support among scholars. Nevertheless his writings have proved valuable in this field also by stimulating mythological investigations even beyond the range of the Aryan family of languages.

Allied to his mythological researches was his work on the comparative study of religions, which was far more important and enduring. Here, too, he was a pioneer; and the literary activity of the last thirty years of his life was largely devoted to this subject. He began with four lectures on the ‘Science of Religion’ at the Royal Institution in 1870. These were followed by a lecture on ‘Missions,’ which dealt with the religions of the world, and was delivered in Westminster Abbey at the invitation of Dean Stanley in December 1873. He further led off the annual series of Hibbert lectures with a course on ‘The Origin and Growth of Religion,’ delivered in the chapter-house of Westminster Abbey in 1878. Subsequently he discussed four different aspects of religion as Gifford lecturer before the university of Glasgow during the years 1888 to 1892.

Of even more far-reaching influence than all these lectures on religion was the great enterprise which Max Müller initiated in 1875, when he relinquished the active duties of the chair of comparative philology. This was the publication by the Oxford University Press, under his editorship, of the ‘Sacred Books of the East,’ a series of English translations, by leading scholars, of important non-Christian oriental works of a religious character. This undertaking has done more than anything else to place the