Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Francis Bopp

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BOPP, Francis, glottologist, was born at Mainz on the Rhine, September 14, 1791. In consequence of the political troubles of that time, his parents removed to Aschaffenburg, in Bavaria, where Francis received a liberal education at the Lyceum. It was here that his attention was drawn to the languages and literature of the East by the eloquent lectures of Carl J. Windischmann, who, with Creuzer, Gorres, and the brothers Schlegel, was full of enthusiasm for Indian wisdom and philosophy. And f urther, Fr. Schlegel s book, Ueber die Sprache und Weisheit der Indtr ( Heidelberg, 1808), which was just then exerting a powerful influence on the minds of German philosophers and historians, could not fail to stimulate also Bopp s interest in the sacred language of the Hindus. He was, however, too strictly trained in grammatical and philological studies, and too eager for the scientific analysis of language, to allow the clearness of his judgment to be warped by the romantic and speculative predilections of Windischmann and Fr. Schlegel. In 1812 he went to Paris at the expense of the Bavarian Government, with a view to devote himself vigorously to the study of Sanskrit. There he enjoyed the society of such eminent men as Ch^zy, S. de Sacy, Langles, and, above all, Al. Hamilton, who had acquired, when in India, a respectable acquaintance with Sanskrit, and had brought out, conjointly with Langles, a descriptive catalogue of the Sanskrit manuscripts of the Imperial library. At that library Bopp had access not only to the rich collection of Sanskrit manuscripts, most of which Itad been brought from India by Father Pons early in the 18th century, but also to the Sanskrit books which had up to that time issued from the Calcutta and Serampore presses.

The first fruit of his four years study in Paris appeared at Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1816, under the title Ueber das Conjugationssystem der Sanskritsprache in Vcrgleichung mit jenem der Griechischen, Lateinischen, Persischen, imd Germanischen Sprachc, and it was accompanied with a preface from the pen of Windischmann, bearing date IGth May of that year. In this first book, Bopp entered at once on the path on which the philological researches of his whole subsequent life were concentrated. It was not that he wished to prove the common parentage of Sanskrit with Persian, Greek, Latin, and German, for that had long been established ; but his object was to trace the common origin of their grammatical forms, of their inflexions from composition, a task which had never been attempted. By a historical analysis of those forms, as applied to the verb, he furnished the first trustworthy materials for a history of the languages compared.

After a brief sojourn in Germany, Bopp came to London, where he made the acquaintance of Wilkins and Colebrooke, and became the friend of Willielm von Humboldt, then Prussian ambassador at the court of St James s, to whom he gave instruction in Sanskrit, He brought out, in the Annals of Oriental Literature (London, 1820, pp. 1-65), an essay entitled " Analytical Comparison of the Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and Teutonic Languages," in which he ex tended to all parts of the grammar what he had done in his first book for the verb alone. He had previously pub lished a critical edition, with a Latin translation and notes, of the story of Nala and Damayantl (London, 1819), the most beautiful episode of the Mahabharata, which he had with genial tact culled from the tangled labyrinth of that gigantic epic. Other episodes of the Mahabharata Indra- lokagamanam, and three others, Berlin, 1824; Diluvium, and three others, Berlin, 1829 ; and a new edition of Nala, Berlin, 1832 followed in due course, all of which, with A. W. Schlegel s edition of the Bhagavadgitd, 1823, proved excellent aids in initiating the early student into the reading of Sanskrit texts. On the publication, in Calcutta, of the whole Mahabharata, Bopp discontinued editing Sanskrit texts, and confined himself thenceforth exclusively to grammatical investigations.

After a short residence at Gottingen, Bopp was, on the recommendation of W. von Humboldt, appointed to the chair of Sanskrit and comparative grammar at Berlin in 1821, and was elected member of the Royal Prussian Academy in the following year, both which posts he held up to his death, Oct. 23, 1867. In his quality as Sanskrit pro fessor he brought out, in 1827, his Ausfilhrliches Lehrge- bdiide der Sanskrita- Sprache, on which he had been engaged since 1821. A new edition, in Latin, was commenced in the following year, and completed in 1832. A shorter grammar (Kritische Grammatik der Sanskrita-Sprache in kiirzerer Fassung) has run through three editions (Berlin, 1834, 1845, 1863). At the same time he compiled a Sanskrit and Latin glossary (1830) in which, more espe cially in the second and third editions (1847 and 1867), account has also been taken of the cognate languages. His chief activity, however, centred on the elaboration of his Comparative Grammar, which appeared in six parts at con siderable intervals (Berlin, 1833, 1835, 1842, 1847, 1849,- 1852 ; 1511 pages in small 4to), under the title Vergleichende Grammatik des Sanskrit, Zend, Griechischen, Lateinischen, Litt/tauischen, Altslavischen, Gothischcn, imd Deiitschen t How carefully this work was matured may be gathered from the series of monographs printed in the Transactions of the Berlin Academy (1824 to 1831), by which it was preceded. They bear the general title, Vergleichende Zcrgliederung des Sanskrits imd der mit Him veru andten Sjrrachen. Two other essays (on the "Numerals, " 1835) followed the publication of the first part of the Comparative Grammar, The Old-Slavonian began to take its stand among the languages compared from the second part onwards. At the instance of the earl of Ellesmere (then Lord Francis Egerton) the work was translated into English by Mr E. B. Eastwick (3 vols., 1845 ; second edition, 1854). A second German edition, thoroughly revised (3 vols., 1856-1861), comprised also the Old- Armenian. From this edition an excellent French trans lation was made by Professor Michel Breal, which came out in 5 vols. in 1866, jf. A third German edition has been published since the author s death, in 1871, ff.

The task which Bopp endeavoured to carry out in his Comparative Grammar was threefold, to give a description of the original grammatical structure of the languages as deduced from their intercomparison, to trace their phonetic laws, and to investigate the origin of their grammatical forms. The first and second points were subservient to the third. As Bopp s researches were based on the best o.vail- able sources, and incorporated every new item of information that came to light, so they continued to widen and deepen in their progress. Witness his monographs on the vowel system in the Teutonic languages (1836), on the Celtic languages (1839), on the Old-Prussian (1853) and Albanian languages (1854), on the accent in Sanskrit and Greek (1854)^ on the relationship of the Malayo-Polynesian with the Indo-European languages (1840), and on the Caucasian languages (1846). In the two last-mentioned the impetus of his genius had led him on a wrong track. They show the rocks against which the student of comparative philo logy has to guard.

As for the charge that has been made against Bopp of neglecting the study of the native Sanskrit grammars, every excuse ought to be made in his favour. In those early days of Sanskrit studies the requisite materials were not accessible in the great libraries of Europe ; and if they had been, they would have absorbed his exclusive attention for years, while the grammars of Forster, Wilkins, and Colebrooke, from which his grammatical knowledge was derived, were all based on native grammars. The further charge that Bopp, in his Comparative Grammar, gave undue prominence to Sanskrit may be disproved by his own words; for, as early as the year 1820, he gave it as his opinion that frequently the cognate languages serve to elucidate grammatical forms lost in Sanskrit (Annals of Or. Lit., i. 3), an opinion which ho has further developed in all his subsequent writings. In his translations from the Sanskrit Bopp was not successful. He seems to have felt this himself; for, after the publication, in 1838, of his metrical translation of the Story of Nala, he resigned that task to more skilful hands.

The method of tracing the life and growth of language, so successfully applied by Bopp in the case of the Indo- European languages, has become the corner stone on which all modern linguistic science rests. His researches, carried with wonderful penetration into the most minute and almost microscopical details of linguistic phenomena, have led to the opening up of a wide and distant view into the original seats, the closer or more distant affinity, and the tenets, practices, and domestic usages of the ancient Indo-European nations, and form the only safe basis on which further investigations in each direction are possible. The outlines of his great work had been distinctly traced by him in his very first publication, from which the science of comparative grammar may truly be said to date. In grateful recognition of that fact, on the fiftieth anniversary of the date of Windischmann s preface to that work, a fund called Die Bopp-Stiftung , for the promotion of the study of Sanskrit and comparative grammar, was established at Berlin, to which liberal contributions were made by his numerous pupils and admirers in all parts of the globe.

Bopp was specially favoured by fortune in living to see the results of his labours everywhere accepted, and his name justly celebrated. But the sun that gilds the writer s pen did not shine upon him, and he died a poor man, by his genuine kindliness and unselfishness, his devotion to his family and friends, and his rare modesty, endeared to all who knew him. (Breed s Translation oj jBopp s Comp. Gr.,vol. i., introduction; Th. Benfey, Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft, 1869 ; A. Kuhu in Unsere Zeit, Neue Folge, iv. 1, 1868.)