The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Müller, Friedrich Max
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Müller, Friedrich Max
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MÜLLER, Friedrich Max (known as Max Müller), English philologist: b. Dessau, Germany, 6 Dec. 1823; d. Oxford, 28 Oct. 1900. His father was Wilhelm Müller (q.v.), a famous German lyrist, and his maternal great-grandfather Basedow, the eductional reformer. His bringing up was in his mother's hands, as his father died when the boy was four. He studied in Leipzig, at the Nicolaischule; had some thoughts of becoming a musician, but entered the University of Leipzig in 1841, and there, under the leadership of Hermann Brochaus, devoted himself to Sanskrit, publishing a German version of the ‘Hitōpadēša’ in 1844; worked under Bopp in philology and Schelling in philosophy at Berlin for a year; in 1845 went to Paris, where Burnouf suggested to him an edition of the ‘Rig Veda’; and in 1846 went to England and interested the East India Company in this work, which he undertook at the expense of the company. He was in Paris in 1848, and brought to Palmerston, in London, the first news of Louis Philippe's flight from Paris. In the same year he settled in Oxford, where the ‘Rig Veda’ appeared, with Sāyana's commentary, 1849-74. He became deputy Taylorian professor in 1850, and Fellow of All Souls' in 1858; but in 1860 was defeated in his candidacy for the chair of Sanskrit by Monier Williams, after a fierce fight on the part of his opponents, who objected partly to his foreign birth and partly to his very free and unorthodox religious views. The result for linguistic science was unfortunate, as it turned Max Müller from the narrow field of Sanskrit, in which he easily outranked his contemporaries, to comparative philology and the science of religion, in which his achievements were less exact and scholarly, to say the least. In 1868 he became professor of comparative philology at Oxford. He was made a privy councillor in 1896. His greatest single work was as editor of the ‘Sacred Books of the East’ a series of English versions of Oriental scriptures, to which he contributed three volumes, and which was begun in 1879 and is not yet complete. He is possibly even better known as a popularizer of the first principles of linguistic science, so that he became in the lay mind the main exponent of this science, whereas his grasp of its detail was inadequate, and many of the etymologies he advanced showed that he was not conversant with the strict rules of phonetics. But the charm of his style, his general grasp of so large a subject, and his admitted pre-eminence in Sanskrit, make interesting and valuable, if not absolutely authoritative, reading of ‘The Science of Language’ (1861-63); ‘Essays on Language and Literature,’ and ‘Biographies of Words’ (1888), all of which have passed through new editions. Max Müller's works on mythology and religion also have a higher repute among general readers than with the specialist, but it cannot be denied that they did much good in stimulating research, as the ‘Sacred Books’ did in supplying a field for such research. In this class of writings mention should be made of the ‘Essay on Comparative Mythology’ (1856); ‘Introduction to the Science of Religion’ (1873); ‘The Origin and Growth of Religion’ (1878); ‘Natural Religion’ (1889); ‘Physical Religion’ (1891); ‘Anthropological Religion’ (1892); ‘Theosophy, or Psychological Religion’ (1893); the ‘Essays on Mythology and Folklore’ in the 4th volume of ‘Chips from a German Workshop’; and ‘Contributions to the Science of Mythology’ (1897). His versions from the Sanskrit and the Pâli have been alluded to; ‘A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature’ (1859), and a ‘Sanskrit Grammar’ also should be mentioned, and it should be borne in mind that it is in this field that the scholar spoke with authority. From his youth Max Müller was interested in philosophy; he wrote an excellent version of Kant's ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ (1881); also ‘The Science of Thought’ (1887), urging that thought was inconceivable without language, and the Oriental studies, ‘Three Lectures on the Vedanta Philosophy’ (1894), and ‘The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy’ (1899). An entirely different side of the man is disclosed by ‘My Indian Friends’ (1899), which shows much of his broad and charming personality; or by ‘Deutsche Liebe’ (1857), a romantic and popular story translated into French, Italian and Russian, and appearing in English in two versions, one American, unauthorized and very successful, and a later one (1873) by Mrs. Max Müller. He also edited his father's poems (1868), and Scherer's ‘History of German Literature,’ His collected works, including the four volumes of ‘Chips from a German Workshop’ (1867-75), appeared 1898 et seq. Consult his own ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (1898), and ‘My Autobiography’ (1901); his wife's ‘Life and Letters of Max Müller’ (1902); and Whitney, W. D., ‘Max Müller and the Science of Language’ (New York 1892).