Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol III (1901).djvu/169

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Max Müller
Max Müller

linguistic training of British officers at the time of the Crimean war, and the necessity of founding an oriental institute for the practical teaching of eastern languages in the interests of British trade. He also championed the German cause during the Franco-Prussian war in letters to the ‘Times.’

It was only by a remarkably methodical arrangement of his work and disposition of his time that he managed not only to get through an enormous amount of literary work, but to deal punctually with a vast correspondence. Though he fell dangerously ill during a visit to Germany in June 1899, and after a remarkable recovery had a relapse a year later, his literary activity continued to within ten days of his death, which took place at Oxford on 28 Oct. 1900; he was buried in Holywell cemetery, Oxford, on 1 Nov. In the last year of his life he defended the justice of the British cause in the Transvaal war against Professor Mommsen in German journals, and contributed three articles on the religions of China to the ‘Nineteenth Century’ in September, October, and November. 1900. On his deathbed he dictated to his son alterations and corrections in his autobiography, which unfortunately brings the story of his life only down to his early days at Oxford.

Max Müller's family consisted of three daughters and a son. His eldest daughter died at Dresden in 1876; the second, married to Mr. F. C. Conybeare, fellow of University College, Oxford, died in 1886; the third married, in 1890, Mr. Colyer Fergusson, eldest son of Sir James Ranken Fergusson, Bart. His son entered the diplomatic service, and in 1900 was second secretary to the British embassy at Washington.

Max Müller's world-wide fame was largely due to his literary gifts and the extensive range of his writings, as well as to his great ability, industry, and ambition. But it was undoubtedly enhanced by a combination of opportunities such as can rarely fall to the lot of any scholar. When he began his career Vedic studies were in their infancy, and he had the good fortune to become the first editor of the ‘Rigveda,’ the most important product of ancient Indian literature. Again, nothing was known about comparative philology in England when he came over to this country; being the first in the field, he introduced and popularised the new science, and was soon regarded as its chief exponent. He was, moreover, the first to inaugurate the study of comparative mythology in this country. Lastly, it was not till the latter half of the nineteenth century that the necessary conditions were at hand for founding a science of religion. At this precise period Max Müller was there to supply the needful stimulus by means of his Hibbert lectures, and to collect the requisite materials in the ‘Sacred Books of the East.’ Thus there was a great opening in four highly important branches of learning; but no one could have taken adequate advantage of them all unless he had been, like Max Müller, one of the most talented and versatile scholars of the nineteenth century. Though much in his works and methods may already be superseded, the great stimulating influence his writings have exercised in many fields will give him a strong claim to the gratitude of posterity.

Scholar and voluminous writer though he was, Max Müller was at the same time quite a man of the world. Familiar from his earliest days with court life on a small scale at Dessau, he was, when quite a young man, a frequent visitor at the Prussian embassy in London. By Baron Bunsen he was introduced to the late prince consort, and so came to be well known to Queen Victoria and the royal family. He was also personally acquainted with several of the crowned heads of Europe, such as the Emperor Frederick, the present German Emperor, the King of Sweden, the King of Roumania, and the Sultan of Turkey. He knew most of the leading men of the day, foreigners as well as Englishmen, and entertained many of them at Oxford. His house was a place of pilgrimage to all Indians visiting England; for, owing to his ‘Rigveda’ and his writings on Indian philosophy and religion, he was far better known in India, though he never visited that country, than any other European scholar has ever been.

On account of his social qualities Max Müller was much in request as president of societies and congresses. Thus he was the first president of the English Goethe Society, and in that capacity delivered his inaugural address on ‘Carlyle and Goethe’ in 1886. He was also president of the International Congress of Orientalists, held in London in 1892, and took a prominent part in most of the series of oriental congresses which began in 1874.

Probably no other scholar ever obtained more of the honours which are bestowed on learning. He was one of the knights of the Prussian order ‘Pour le merite,’ a knight of the Corona d'Italia, and a privy councillor in this country. He received the Northern Star (first class) from the King of Sweden, and subsequently the grand cordon, and was decorated with the orders of the French