Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/331

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317
SCIENCE IN AMERICA.

of its earliest and most important services was that it brought the Sanskrit language emphatically to the knowledge of Europe. The similarity of this to Latin and Greek, especially in the grammatical forms, struck every one with surprise. At first the old literary party resisted its claims, some of them even affirming that it never had been a spoken tongue, but that it had been fictitiously constructed out of Latin and Greek. The creation of comparative grammar by the great German scholar Bopp, in 1816, threw a flood of light on the subject; and the discovery in 1828, by Hodgson, of the Buddhistic sacred writings in Nepaul, revealed to astonished Europe a literature of grand antiquity and prodigious extent, in which is contained the religious belief of 400,000,000 men—ten times the present population of the United States. Greek and Latin had now to descend from the imperial thrones on which they had been seated, and take their places as later and less perfect forms of this wonderful Oriental tongue.

In the higher regions of literature all over Europe, these discoveries made a profound impression. It was at once seen by the great scholars of the times that the existing educational system, founded, as it so largely was, on the languages of the Mediterranean peninsulas, was altogether on an imperfect basis. They saw that philology was about to occupy a higher platform, and that, though it might cost a struggle with present interests, a change in public education was necessary. But though these languages have suffered an eclipse, there still remains that priceless heritage which they have transmitted to us—immortal examples in national life, in patriotism, in statesmanship, in jurisprudence, in philosophy, in poetry. Still there remain the ruins of the Parthenon, the relics of those statues which have no rival elsewhere in the world—embodiments of the beautiful, before which, even at the risk of being denounced as a pagan, a man might fall down and worship. Still there remains the history of that awful empire which once bore sway around the Mediterranean Sea, an empire to which we owe our civilization, our religious convictions, and even our modes of thought.

I add this great discovery in letters to the scientific and industrial movement I have described as bringing on the epoch of 1840.

Educational institutions are in their nature very much under the influence of the past. They are guided by men of the parting generation, and are essentially conservative. The changes they began to manifest did not originate within them, but were forced upon them from without. They clung to the mediæval as long as they could, and only accepted the modern when they were compelled.

Among American colleges which are emancipating themselves from the mediæval, we may number Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, University of Virginia, Yale. Doubtless there are many others that would follow the example if they could, but they are fettered with the gyves of sectarian or local restraint. They march