Chips from a German Workshop - Volume IV - Essays chiefly on the Science of Language
by Max Muller
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Any word taken from Mr. Wedgwood's Dictionary will show the difference between those who derive words directly from imitative and interjectional sounds, and those who do not. For instance, s.v. to plunge, we read:—

"Fr. plonger Du. plotsen, plonssen, plonzen, to fall into the water—Kil.; plotsen, also to fall suddenly on the ground. The origin, like that of plump, is a representation of the noise made by the fall. Swiss bluntschen, the sound of a thick heavy body falling into the water." Under plump we read, "that the radical image is the sound made by a compact body falling into the water, or of a mass of wet falling to the ground. He smit den sten in't water, plump! seg dat, 'He threw the stone into the water; it cried plump!' Plumpen, to make the noise represented by plump, to fall with such a noise, etc., etc., etc."

All this sounds extremely plausible, and to a man not specially conversant with linguistic studies, far more plausible than the real etymology of the word. To plunge is, no doubt, as Mr. Wedgwood says, the French plonger but the French plonger is plumbicare, while in Italian piombare is cadere a piombo, to fall straight like the plummet. To plunge, therefore, has nothing to do with the splashing sound of heavy bodies falling into the water, but with the concept of straightness, here symbolized by the plummet.

This case, however, would only show the disregard of historical facts with which the onomatopoeic school has been so frequently and so justly charged. But as we cannot trace plumbum, or molubos, or Old Slav. olovo with any certainty to a root such as mal, to be soft, let us take another word, such as feather. Here, again, we find that Mr. Wedgwood connects it with such words as Bav. fledern, Du. vlederen, to flap, flutter, the loss of the l being explained by such words as to splutter and to sputter. We have first to note the disregard of historical facts, for feather is O.H.G. fedara, Sk. pat-tra, Gr. pteron for peteron, all derived from a root pat, to fly, from which we have also penna, old pesna, pet-omai, peto, impetus, etc. The root pat expresses violent motion, and it is specialized into upward motion, petomai, I fly; downward motion, Sk. patati, he falls; and onward motion, as in Latin peto, impetus, etc. Feather, therefore, as derived from this root, was conceived as the instrument of flying, and was never intended to imitate the noise of Du. vlederen, to flutter, and to flap.


As this want of historical treatment among onomatopoeic philologists has frequently been dwelt on by myself and others, these instances may suffice to mark the difference between the school so ably and powerfully represented by Mr. Wedgwood, and the school of Bopp, to which I and most comparative philologists belong. It was in the name of that school that I ventured to address my protest to the school of evolutionists, reminding them of difficulties, which they had either ignored altogether, or, at all events, greatly undervalued, and putting our case before them in such a form that even philosophers, not conversant with the special researches of philologists, might gain a clear insight into the present state of our science, and form their opinion accordingly.

In doing this I thought I was simply performing a duty which, in the present state of divided and subdivided labor, has to be performed, if we wish to prevent a useless waste of life. However different our pursuits may be, we all belong, as I said before, to the same army, we all have the same interests at heart, we are bound together by what the French would call the strongest of all solidarities, the love of truth. If I had thought only of my own fellow-laborers in the field of the Science of Language, Ishould not have considered that there was any necessity for the three Lectures which I delivered in 1873 at the Royal Institution. In my first course of Lectures on the Science of Language (1861), delivered before Evolutionism had assumed its present dimensions, Ihad already expressed my conviction that language is the one great barrier between the brute and man.

"Man speaks," Isaid, "and no brute has ever uttered a word. Language is something more palpable than a fold of the brain or an angle of the skull. It admits of no caviling, and no process of natural selection will ever distill significant words out of the notes of birds or the cries of beasts."

No scholar, so far as I know, has ever controverted any of these statements. But when Evolutionism became, as it fully deserved, the absorbing interest of all students of nature, when it was supposed that, if a Moneres could develop into a Man, Bow-wow and Pooh-pooh might well have developed by imperceptible degrees into Greek and Latin, Ithought it was time to state the case for the Science of Language and its bearing on some of the problems of Evolutionism more fully, and I gladly accepted the invitation to lecture once more on this subject at the Royal Institution in 1873. My object was no more than a statement of facts, showing that the results of the Science of Language did not at present tally with the results of Evolutionism, that words could no longer be derived directly from imitative and interjectional sounds, that between these sounds and the first beginnings of language, in the technical sense of the word, abarrier had been discovered, represented by what we call Roots, and that, as far as we know, no attempt, not even the faintest, has ever been made by any animal, except man, to approach or to cross that barrier. Iwent one step further. Ishowed that Roots were with man the embodiments of general concepts, and that the only way in which man realized general concepts, was by means of those roots, and words derived from roots. Itherefore argued as follows: We do not know anything and cannot possibly know anything of the mind of animals: therefore, the proper attitude of the philosopher with regard to the mental capacities of animals is one of complete neutrality. For all we know, the mental capacities of animals may be of a higher order than our own, as their sensuous capacities certainly are in many cases. All this, however, is guesswork; one thing only is certain. If we are right that man realizes his conceptual thought by means of words, derived from roots, and that no animal possesses words derived from roots, it follows, not indeed, that animals have no conceptual thought (insaying this, Iwent too far), but that their conceptual thought is different in its realized shape from our own.

From public and private discussions which followed the delivery of my lectures at the Royal Institution (anabstract of them was published in "Fraser's Magazine," and republished, Ibelieve, in America), it became clear to me that the object which I had in view had been fully attained. General attention had been roused to the fact that at all events the Science of Language had something to say in the matter of Evolutionism, and I know that those whom it most concerned were turning their thoughts in good earnest to the difficulties which I had pointed out. Iwanted no more, and I thought it best to let the matter ferment for a time.


But what was my surprise when I found that a gentleman who had acquired considerable notoriety, not indeed by any special and original researches in Comparative Philology, but by his repeated attempts at vilifying the works of other scholars, Professor Whitney, had sent a paper to Mr. Darwin, intended to throw discredit on the statements which I had recommended to his serious consideration. Idid not know of that paper till an abstract of it appeared in the "Contemporary Review," signed George Darwin, and written with the avowed purpose of discrediting the statements which I had made in my Lecture at the Royal Institution. If Professor Whitney's appeal had been addressed to scholars only, Ishould gladly have left them to judge for themselves. But as Mr. Darwin, Jr., was prevailed upon to stand sponsor to Professor Whitney's last production, and to lend to it, if not the weight, at least the lustre of his name, Icould not, without appearing uncourteous, let it pass in silence. Iam not one of those who believe that truth is much advanced by public controversy, and I have carefully eschewed it during the whole of my literary career. But if I had left Professor Whitney's assertions unanswered, Icould hardly have complained, if Mr. Darwin, Sr., and the many excellent savants who share his views, had imagined that I had represented the difficulties which the students of language feel with regard to animals developing a language, in a false light; that in fact, instead of wishing to assist, Ihad tried to impede the onward march of our brave army. Ihave that faith in hoi peri Darwin, that I believe they want honest advice, from whatever quarter it may come, and I therefore was persuaded to deviate for once from my usual course, and, by answering seriatim every objection raised by Professor Whitney, to show that my advice had been tendered bon fide, that I had not spoken in the character of a special pleader, but simply and solely as a man of truth.


My "Answer to Mr. Darwin" appeared in the "Contemporary Review" of November, 1874, and if it had only elicited the letter which I received from Mr. Darwin, Sr., Ishould have been amply repaid for the trouble I had taken in the matter.

It produced, however, a still more important result, for it elicited from the American assailant a hasty rejoinder, which opened the eyes even of his best friends to the utter weakness of his case. Professor Whitney, himself, had evidently not expected that I should notice his assault. He had challenged me so often before, and I had never answered him. Why, then, should I have replied now? My answer is, because, for the first time, his charges had been countersigned by another.

I had not even read his books before, and he blames me severely for that neglect, bluntly asking me, why I had not read them. That is indeed a question extremely difficult to answer without appearing to be rude. However, Imay say this, that to know what books one must read, and what books one may safely leave unread, is an art which, in these days of literary fertility, every student has to learn. We know on the whole what each scholar is doing, we know those who are engaged in special and original work, and we are in duty bound to read whatever they write. This in the present state of Comparative Philology, when independent work is being done in every country of Europe, is as much as any man can do, nay, often more than I feel able to do. But then, on the other hand, we claim the liberty of leaving uncut other books in our science, which, however entertaining they may be in other respects, are not likely to contain any new facts. In doing this, we run a risk, but we cannot help it.

And let me ask Professor Whitney, if by chance he had opened a book and alighted on the following passage, would he have read much more?

"Take as instances home and homely, scarce and scarcely, direct and directly, lust and lusty, naught and naughty, clerk and clergy, a forge and a forgery, candid and candidate, hospital and hospitality, idiom and idiocy, alight and delight, etc."

Is there any philologist, comparative or otherwise, who does not know that light, the Gothic liuhath, is connected with the Latin lucere; that to delight is connected with Latin delector, Old French deleiter, and with Latin de-lic-ere; while to alight is of Teutonic origin, and connected with Gothic leihts, Latin levis, Sanskrit laghus?

But then, Professor Whitney continues, when at last he had forced me to read some of his writings, why did I not read them carefully? Why did I read Mr. Darwin's article in the "Contemporary Review" only, and not his own in an American journal?

Now here I feel somewhat guilty: still I can offer some excuse. Idid not read Professor Whitney's reply in the American original, first, because I could not get it in time; secondly, because I only felt bound to answer the arguments which Mr. Darwin had adopted as his own. Looking at the original article afterwards, Ifound that I had not been entirely wrong. Isee that Mr. Darwin has used a very wise discretion in his selection, and I may now tell Professor Whitney that he ought really to be extremely grateful that nothing except what Mr. Darwin had approved of, was placed before the English readers of the "Contemporary Review," and therefore answered by me in the same journal.


Other charges, however, of neglect and carelessness on my part in reading Professor Whitney's writings, Ican meet by a direct negative. Among the more glaring mistakes of his lectures which I had pointed out, was this, that fifteen years after Roug's discovery, Professor Whitney still speaks of "the Phenician alphabet as the ultimate source of the world's alphabets." Professor Whitney answers: "If Professor Mller had read my twelfth lecture he would have found the derivative nature of the Phenician alphabet fully discussed." When I read this, Ifelt a pang, for it was quite true that I had not read that lecture. Isaw a note to it, in which Professor Whitney states that the sketch of the history of writing contained in it was based on Steinthal's admirable essay on the "Development of Writing," and being acquainted with that, Ithought I could dispense with lecture No. 12. However, as I thought it strange that there should be so glaring a contradiction between two lectures of the same course, that in one the Phenician alphabet should be represented as the ultimate source, in another as a derivative alphabet, Iset to work and read lecture No. 12. Will it be believed that there is not one word in it about Roug's discovery, published, as I said, fifteen years ago, that the old explanation that Aleph stood for an ox, Beth for a house, Gimel for camel, Daleth for door, is simply repeated, and that similarities are detected between the forms of the letters and the figures of the objects whose names they bear? Therefore of two things one, either Professor Whitney was totally ignorant of what has been published on this subject during the last fifteen years by Roug, father and son, by Brugsch, Lenormant and others, or he thought he might safely charge me with having misrepresented him, because neither I nor any one else was likely to read lecture No. 12.

After this instance of what Professor Whitney considers permissible, Ineed hardly say more; but having been cited by him before a tribunal which hardly knows me, to substantiate what I had asserted in my "Answer to Mr. Darwin," it may be better to go manfully through a most distasteful task, to answer seriatim point after point, and thus to leave on record one of the most extraordinary cases of what I can only call Literary Daltonism.


I am accused by Professor Whitney of having read his lectures carelessly, because I had only been struck by what seemed to me repetitions from my own writings, without observing the deeper difference between his lectures and my own. He therefore advises me to read his lectures again. Iam afraid I cannot do that, nor do I see any necessity for it, because though I was certainly staggered by a number of coincidences between his lectures and my own, Iwas perfectly aware that they differed from each other more than I cared to say. Iimagined I had conveyed this as clearly as I could, without saying anything offensive, by observing that in many places his arguments seemed to me like an inverted fugue on a motive taken from my lectures. But if I was not sufficiently outspoken on that point, Iam quite willing to make amends for it now.


I must give one instance at least of what I mean by an inverted fugue.

I had laid great stress on the fact that, though we are accustomed to speak of language as a thing by itself, language after all is not something independent and substantial, but, in the first instance, an act, and to be studied as such. Thus I said (p.51):—

"To speak of language as a thing by itself, as living a life of its own, as growing to maturity, producing offspring, and dying away, is sheer mythology."

Again (p. 58):—

"Language exists in man, it lives in being spoken, it dies with each word that is pronounced, and is no longer heard."

When I came to Professor Whitney's Second Lecture, and read (p.35):—

"Language has, in fact, no existence save in the minds and mouths of those who use it,"

I felt pleasantly reminded of what I knew I had said somewhere. But what was my surprise, when a few lines further on I read:—

"This truth is sometimes explicitly denied, and the opposite doctrine is set up, that language has a life and growth independent of its speakers, with which men cannot interfere. Arecent popular writer (Professor Max Mller) asserts that, 'although there is a continuous change in language, it is not in the power of man either to produce or to prevent it. We might think as well of changing the laws which control the circulation of our blood, or of adding an inch to our height, as of altering the laws of speech, or inventing new words according to our own pleasure.'"

How is one to fight against such attacks? The very words which Professor Whitney had paraphrased before, only substituting "skull" for "height," and by which I had tried to prove "that languages are not the artful creations of individuals," are turned against me to show that, because I denied to any single individual the power of changing language ad libitum, I had set up the opposite doctrine, viz. that language has a life and growth independent of its speakers.

Does Professor Whitney believe that any attentive reader can be taken in by such artifices? Suppose I had said that in a well-organized republic no individual can change the laws according to his pleasure, would it follow that I held the opposite doctrine, that laws have a life and growth independent of the lawgiver? The simile is weak, because an individual may, under very peculiar circumstances, change a law according to his pleasure: but weak as it is, Ihope it will convince Professor Whitney that Formal Logic is not altogether a useless study to a Professor of Linguistics. Ionly wonder what Professor Whitney would have said if he had been able to find in my Lectures a definition of language (p.46), worthy of Friedrich Schlegel, viz.:—

"Language, like an organic body, is no mere aggregate of similar particles; it is a complex of related and mutually helpful parts."

And again:—

"The rise, development, decline, and extinction of language are like the birth, increase, decay, and death of a living creature."

In these poetical utterances of Professor Whitney's we have an outbreak of philological mythology of a very serious nature, and this many years after I had uttered my warning that "to speak of language as a thing by itself, as living a life of its own, as growing to maturity, producing offspring, and dying away, is sheer mythology" (I.p.51).


It is, no doubt, quite natural that in reading Professor Whitney's lectures I should have been struck more forcibly than others by coincidences, which have reference not only to general arguments, but even to modes of expression and illustrations. Ihad pointed out some of these verbal or slightly disguised coincidences in my first article, but I could add many more. As we open the book, it begins by stating that the Science of Language is a modern science, that its growth was analogous to that of other sciences, that from a mere collection of facts it advanced to classification, and from thence to inductive reasoning on language. We are told that ancient nations considered the languages of their neighbors as merely barbarous, that Christianity changed that view, that a study of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew widened the horizon of scholars, and that at present no dialect, however rude, is without importance to the students of the Science of Language. Next comes the importance of the discovery of Sanskrit, and a challenge for a place among the recognized sciences in favor of our new science.

Now I ask any one who may have read my Lectures, whether it was not very natural that I should be struck with a certain similarity between my old course of lectures on the Science of Language, and the lectures delivered soon after on the Science of Language at Washington? But I was not blind to the differences, and I never wished to claim as my own what was original in the American book.

For instance, when the American Professor says that one of the most important problems is to find out "How we learn English," Isaid at once, "That's his ane;" and when after leading us from mother to grandmother, and great-grandmother, he ends with Adam, and says:—

"It is only the first man before whom every beast of the field and every fowl of the air must present itself, to see what he will call it; and whatever he calls any living creature, that is the name thereof, not to himself alone, but to his family and descendants, who are content to style each as their father had done before them."

I said again, "That's his ane."

When afterwards we read about the large and small number of words used by different ranks and classes, and by different writers, when we come to the changes in English, the phonetic changes, to phonetics in general, to changes of meaning, etc., few, Ithink, will fail to perceive what I naturally perceived most strongly, "the leaves of memory rustling in the dark." Iperceived even such accidental reminiscences as:—

Old Prussian leaving behind a brief catechism (p.215), and,

Old Prussian leaving behind an old catechism (p.200);

Frisian having a literature of its own (p.211), and the

Frisians having a literature of their own (p.178),

though, of course, no other reader could possibly perceive such unimportant coincidences. These, no doubt, were mere accidents; but when we consider that there is perhaps no science which admits of more varied illustration than the Science of Language, then to find page after page the same instances which one had collected one's self, certainly left the impression that the soil from which these American lectures sprang, was chiefly alluvial. Of course, as Professor Whitney has acknowledged his indebtedness to me for these illustrations, Ihave no complaint to make, Ionly protest against his ingratitude in representing such illustrations as mere by-work. For the purpose of teaching and placing a difficult subject into its proper light, illustrations, Ithink, are hardly less important than arguments. In order to show, for instance, in what sense Chinese may be called a parler enfantin, I had said:—

"If a child says up, that up is to his mind, noun, verb, adjective, all in one. It means, Iwant to get up on my mother's lap."

What has Professor Whitney to say on the same subject?

"It is thus that, even at present, children begin to talk; aradical word or two means in their mouths a whole sentence; up signifies 'Take me up into your lap.'"

Enough of this, if not too much. Perhaps a thousand years hence, if any of our books survive so long, the question whether my lectures were written by myself, or by an American scholar settled in Germany, may exercise the critical acumen of the philologists of the future.


But I see there is one more charge of carelessness brought against me, and as I promised to answer every one, Imust at least mention it.

"He has not even observed that my Lectures are printed and published in England, and not only in America."

Why I ought to have observed this, I do not understand. Would it have served as an advertisement? Should I have said that the author resided in Canada to secure his book against the imminent danger of piracy in England? Or does Professor Whitney suspect here too, one of those sinister influences which he thought had interfered with the sale of his books in England? However, whatever sin of omission I have committed, Iam quite willing to apologize, in order to proceed to graver matters.


I stand charged next not only with having read Professor Whitney's writings in too cursory a manner, but with actually having misrepresented his views on the question, so often discussed of late, whether the Science of Language should be reckoned one of the historical or one of the physical sciences. Let us look at the facts:—

I had tried to show in my very first Lecture in what sense the Science of Language might properly be called a physical, and in what sense it might be called an historical science. Ihad given full weight to the arguments on either side, because I felt that, owing to the twofold nature of man, much might be said with perfect truth for one or the other view. When I look back on what I wrote many years ago, after having carefully weighed all that has been written on the subject during the last fifteen years, Iam glad to find that I can repeat every word I then wrote, without a single change or qualification.

"The process" Isaid (p.49), "through which language is settled and unsettled, combines in one the two opposite elements of necessity and freewill. Though the individual seems to be the prime mover in producing new words and new grammatical forms, he is so only after his individuality has been merged in the common action of the family, tribe, or nation to which he belongs. He can do nothing by himself, and the first impulse to a new formation in language, though given by an individual, is mostly, if not always, given without premeditation, nay, unconsciously. The individual, as such, is powerless, and the results apparently produced by him, depend on laws beyond his control, and on the coperation of all those who form together with him one class, one body, or one organic whole. But though it is easy to show that language cannot be changed or moulded by the taste, the fancy, or genius of man, it is nevertheless through the instrumentality of man alone that language can be changed."

Now I ask any reader of Mr. Whitney's Lectures, whether he has found in them anything in addition to what I had said on this subject, anything materially or even in form, differing from it. He speaks indeed of the actual additions made by individuals to language, but he treats them, as I did, as rare exceptions (p.32), and I cannot help thinking that when he wrote (p.52):—

"Languages are almost as little the work of man as is the form of his skull, the outlines of his face, the construction of his arm and hand,"

he was simply paraphrasing what I had said, though, as will be seen, far more cautiously than my American colleague, because my remarks referred to the laws of language only, not to language as a whole (p.47):—

"We might think as well of changing the laws which control the circulation of our blood, or of adding an inch to our height, as of altering the laws of speech, and inventing new words, according to our own pleasure."

I cannot hope to convince Mr. Whitney, for after I had tried to explain to him, why I considered the question whether the Science of Language is to be classed as a physical or an historical science, as chiefly a question of technical definition, he replies:—

"That I should probably consider it as more than a matter of terminology or technical definition whether our science is an historical science, because men make language, or a physical science, because men do not make language."

Everybody will see that to attempt a serious argument on such conditions, is simply impossible.

If Professor Whitney can produce one single passage in all my writings where I said that men do not make language, I promise to write no more on language at all. Isee now that it is Schleicher who, according to Professor Whitney, at least, held these crude views, who called languages natural organisms, which, without being determinable by the will of man, arose, grew, and developed themselves, in accordance with fixed laws, and then again grow old and die out; who ascribed to language that succession of phenomena which is wont to be termed life, and who accordingly classed Glottik, the Science of Language, as a natural science. These are the very opinions which, with the exception of the last, are combated in my writings.

I understood perfectly well what Mr. Whitney meant, when he, like nearly all scholars before him, claimed the Science of Language as an historical or a moral science. Man is an amphibious creature, and all the sciences concerning man, will be more or less amphibious sciences. Idid not rush into print, because he took the opposite side to the one I had taken. On the contrary, having myself laid great stress on the fact that language was not to be treated as an artful creation of the individual, Iwas glad that the artistic element in language, such as it is, should have found so eloquent an advocate. But I confess, Iwas disappointed when I saw that, with the exception of a few purely sentimental protests, there was nothing in Mr. Whitney's treatment of the subject that differed from my own. Iproved this, if not to his satisfaction, at least to that of others, by giving verbatim extracts from his Lectures, and what is the consequence? As he can no longer deny his own words, he uses the only defense which remained, he now accuses me of garbling quotations and thus misrepresenting him. This, of course, may be said of all quotations, short of reprinting a whole chapter. Yet to my mind the charge is so serious, that I feel in duty bound to repel it, not by words, but by facts.

This is the way in which Professor Whitney tries to escape from the net in which he had entangled himself. In his reply to my argument he says:—

"He chooses even more than once a sentence, in order to prove that I maintain an opinion, directly from an argument in support of the opposite opinion; for instance, in quoting my words, 'that languages are almost as little the work of man as is the form of his skull,' he overlooks the preceding parts of the same sentence: 'as opposed to the objects which he, the linguist, follows in his researches, and the results which he wishes to attain.' The whole is a part of a section which is to prove that the absence of reflection and conscious intent, takes away from the facts of language the subjective character which would otherwise belong to them as products of the voluntary action."

Very well. We now have what Professor Whitney says that he said. Let us now read what he really said (p.51):—

"The linguistic student feels that he is not dealing with the artful creations of individuals. So far as concerns the purposes for which he examines them, and the results he would derive from them, they are almost as little the work of man as is the form of his skull."

To render "so far as concerns the purposes" by "Gegenber den Zwecken, die er bei seinen Untersuchungen verfolgt," is a strong measure. But even thus, the facts remain as I, not as he, had stated them. There was no garbling on my part, but something worse than garbling on his, and all this for no purpose whatever, except for one which I do not like to suggest. As a linguistic student Professor Whitney feels what I had felt, 'that we are not dealing with the artful creations of individuals.' What Professor Whitney may feel besides about language, does not concern us, but it does concern us, and it does still more concern him, that he should not endeavor to impart to scientific language that character which, as he admits, it has not, viz., that of being the very artful creation of an individual.

I am quite willing to admit, and I have done so before on several occasions, that I may have laid too great stress on those characteristics of the Science of Language by which it belongs to the physical sciences. Ihave explained why I did so at the time. In fact these are not new questions. Because I had said, as Dr. Whewell had said before me,—

"That there are several large provinces of speculation which concern subjects belonging to man's immaterial nature, and which are governed by the same laws as sciences altogether physical,"

it did not follow, as Professor Whitney seems to think, that I regarded language as something like a cow or a potato. Icannot defend myself against such puerilities.

In reviewing Schleicher's essay, "On Darwinism tested by the Science of Language," Ihad said:—

"It is not very creditable to the students of the Science of Language that there should have been among them so much wrangling as to whether that science is to be treated as one of the natural or as one of the historical sciences. They, if any one, ought to have seen that they were playing with language, or rather that language was playing with them, and that unless a proper definition is first given of what is meant by nature and by natural science, the pleading for and against the admission of the Science of Language to the circle of the natural sciences, may be carried on ad infinitum. It is, of course, open to anybody so to define the meaning of nature as to exclude human nature, and so to narrow the sphere of the natural sciences, as to leave no place for the Science of Language. It is also possible so to interpret the meaning of growth that it becomes inapplicable alike to the gradual formation of the earth's crust, and to the slow accumulation of the humus of language. Let the definition of these terms be plainly laid down, and the controversy, if it will not cease at once, will at all events become more fruitful. It will then turn on the legitimate definition of such terms as nature and mind, necessity and free-will, and it will have to be determined by philosophers rather than by scholars. Unless appearances deceive us, it is not the tendency of modern philosophy to isolate human nature, and to separate it by impassable barriers from nature at large, but rather to discover the bridges which lead from one bank to the other, and to lay bare the hidden foundations which, deep beneath the surface, connect the two opposite shores. It is, in fact, easy to see that the old medival discussions on necessity and free-will are turning up again in our own time, though slightly disguised, in the discussions on the proper place which man holds in the realm of nature; nay, that the same antinomies have been at the root of the controversy from the days when Greek philosophers maintained that language existed phusei or thesei, to our own days, when scholars range themselves in two hostile camps, claiming for the Science of Language a place either among the physical or the historical branches of knowledge."

And again:—

"At all events we should never allow ourselves to forget that, if we speak of languages as natural productions, and of the Science of Language as one of the natural sciences, what we chiefly wish to say is, that languages are not produced by the free-will of individuals, and that, if they are works of art, they are works of what may be called a natural or unconscious art—an art in which the individual, though he is the agent, is not a free agent, but checked and governed from the very first breath of speech by the implied cooperation of those to whom his language is addressed, and without whose acceptance language, not being understood, would cease to be language."

In the first lecture which I delivered at Strassburg, I dwelt on the same problem, and said:—

"There is, no doubt, in language a transition from the material to the spiritual; the raw material of language belongs to nature, but the form of language, that which really makes language, belongs to the spirit. Were it possible to trace human language directly back to natural sounds, to interjections or imitations, the question whether the Science of Language belongs to the sphere of the natural or the historical sciences would at once be solved. But I doubt whether this crude view of the origin of language counts one single supporter in Germany. With one foot language stands, no doubt, in the realm of nature, but with the other in the realm of spirit. Some years ago, when I thought it necessary to bring out as clearly as possible the much neglected natural element in language, Itried to explain in what sense the Science of Language had a right to be called the last and the highest of the natural sciences. But I need hardly say that I did not lose sight, therefore, of the intellectual and historical character of language; and I may here express my conviction that the Science of Language will yet enable us to withstand the extreme theories of the evolutionists, and to draw a hard and fast line between spirit and matter, between man and brute."

Professor Whitney will see, therefore, that all that can be said, and be justly said, against treating the Science of Language as a purely physical science was not so new to me as he expected; nay, his friends might possibly tell him that the pro's and con's of this question had been far more fully and fairly weighed before his own lectures were published than afterwards. Awriter on this subject, if he wishes to win new laurels, must do more than furbish up old weapons, and fight against monsters which owe their existence to nothing but his own heated imagination.


His knowledge of the German language ought to have kept Professor Whitney from an insinuation that I had claimed for Glottology a place among the physical sciences, because I feared that otherwise the title of "science" would be altogether denied to my researches. Now whatever artificial restriction may have been forced on the term "science" in English and American, the corresponding term in German, Wissenschaft, has, as yet, resisted all such violence, and it was as a German that I ventured to call Sprachwissenschaft by its right name in English, and did not hesitate to speak even of a Science of Mythology, aScience of Religion, and a Science of Thought.

Finally, as to my wishing to smuggle in Glottology, and to secure for it at least some small corner in the circle of the Physical Sciences, Iam afraid I cannot lay claim to such modesty. When at the meeting of the British Association at Oxford in 1847, Bunsen claimed the establishment of a separate section for Ethnology, he said:—

"If man is the apex of creation, it seems right on the one side, that a historical inquiry into his origin and development should never be allowed to sever itself from the general body of natural science, and, in particular, from physiology. But on the other hand, if man is the apex of creation, if he is the end to which all organic formations tend from the very beginning; if man is at once the mystery and the key of natural science; if that is the only view of natural science worthy of our age, then ethnologic philology, once established on principles as clear as the physiological are, is the highest branch of that science for the advancement of which this Association is instituted. It is not an appendix to physiology or to anything else; but its object is, on the contrary, capable of becoming the end and goal of the labors and transactions of a scientific association."

These words of my departed friend express better than anything which I can say, what I meant by claiming for the Science of Language and the Science of Man, aplace among the physical sciences. By enlarging the definition of physical science so as to make it comprehend both Anthropology and Glottology, Ithought I was claiming a wider scope and a higher dignity for physical science. The idea of calling language a vegetable, in order to smuggle it through the toll-bar of the physical sciences, certainly never entered my mind.

When one remembers how since 1847, man has become the central point of the discussions of the British Association year after year, Bunsen's words sound almost prophetic, and it might have been guessed, even in America, that the friend and pupil of Bunsen was not likely to abate much in his claims for the recognition of the Science of Man, as the highest of all sciences.

Have I done? Yes, I believe I have answered all that required an answer in Mr. Darwin's article, in Professor Whitney's new attack in the "Contemporary Review," and in his Lectures. But alas! there is still a page bristling with challenges.

Have I read not only his lectures, but all his controversial articles? No. Then I ought.

Have I quoted any passage from his writings to prove that the less he has thought on a subject, the louder he speaks No. Then I ought.

Have I produced any proof that he wonders that no one answers his strictures? No. Then I ought.

He actually appeals to my honor. What can I do? I cannot say that I have since read all his controversial articles, but I have read a considerable number, and I frankly confess that on many points they have raised my opinion of Professor Whitney's acquirements. It is true, he is not an original worker, but he is a hard reader, and a very smart writer. The gall of bitterness that pervades all his writings, is certainly painful, but that concerns him far more than us.


First then, I am asked to explain what I meant by saying that Professor Whitney speaks the loudest on subjects on which he has thought the least. Icould best explain my meaning, if I were to collect all that Professor Whitney has written on the relation of language to thought. He certainly grows most boisterous in these latitudes, and yet he evidently has never, as yet, read up that subject, nay, he seems convinced that what has been written on it by such dreamers as Locke, Schelling, Hegel, Humboldt, Schopenhauer, Mansel, and others, deserves no consideration whatever. To maintain, what every one of these philosophers maintains, that a conception cannot be entertained without the support of a word, would be, according to the Yale Professor, the sheerest folly (p.125),—"part of that superficial and unsound philosophy which confounds and identifies speech, thought, and reason" (p.439).

I can quite enter into these feelings, for I can still remember the mental effort that is required in order to surrender our usual view of language, as a mere sign or instrument of thought, and to recognize in it the realization of all conceptual thought. Amere dictionary would, no doubt, seem the best answer to those who hold that thought and language are inseparable, and to throw a stout Webster at our head might be considered by many as good a refutation of such sheer folly, as a slap in the face was supposed to be of Berkeley's idealism. However, Professor Whitney is an assiduous reader, and I do not at all despair that the time will come when he will see what these thinkers really mean by conceptual thought and by language, and I am quite prepared to hear him say that "he had known all that long ago, that any child knew it, that it was mere bathos, and that it was only due to a want of clear and definitive expression, or to a want of knowledge of English, excusable in a foreigner, if there had been so much darkening of counsel by words without thought." Ishall then be told that:—

"I consulted excellent authorities, and I worked these up with a commendable degree of industry, but that I am wanting in the inner light ... and have never gained a comprehension of the movements that go on in my own mind, without which real insight into the relation of language to thought is impossible" (p.268).


In order to accelerate that event, may I advise Professor Whitney to read some articles lately published by Professor Prantl? Professor Prantl is facile princeps among German logicians, he is the author of the "History of Logic," and therefore perhaps even the American Professor will not consider him, as he does others who differ from him, as quite ignorant of the first rules of logic! At the meeting of the Royal Academy at Munich, March 6, 1875, Professor Prantl claimed permission, after having finished his "History of Logic," to lay some thoughts for the "Reform of Logic," before the members of that Academy, the very fundamental principle of that reform being

The essential unity of thought and language.

"Realized thought, or what others might call the realization of the faculty of thought, exists therefore in language only, and vice vers, every element of language contains thought. Every kind of priority of real thought before its expression in language, is to be denied, as well as any separate existence of thought" (p.181).

"In one sense I should not deny that there is something in animals which in a very high degree of elevation is called language in man. In recognition of the distance produced by this high degree of elevation, one can agree with Max Mller, that language is the true frontier between brute and man." (p.168).

Or, if the Yale Professor wants a more popular treatment of the subject, he might read Dr. Loewe's essay on "The Simultaneity of the Genesis of Speech and Thought," also published this year. Dr. Loewe, too, avails himself gladly of the new results obtained by the Science of Language, and shows clearly that the origin of thought is the origin of language.

Every one who has to write on philosophical subjects in English, German, and French, or who has to superintend translations of what he has written into other languages, must know how difficult it is to guard always against being misunderstood, but a reader familiar with his subject at once makes allowance for this; he does not raise clouds of dust for nothing. Observe the difference between some criticisms passed on what I had said, by Dr. Loewe, and by others. Ihad said in my Lectures (ii.82):—

"It is possible, without language, to see, to perceive, to stare at, to dream about things; but, without words, not even such simple ideas as white or black can be for a moment realized."

My German translator had rendered ideas by Vorstellungen while I used the word in the sense of concept, Begriff. Dr. Loewe in commenting on this passage says:—

"If M. M. maintains that Vorstellungen, such as white and black, cannot be realized for a moment without words, he is right, but only if by Vorstellung he means Begriff. And this is clearly his meaning, because shortly before he had insisted on the fact that it was conceptual thought which is impossible without words. Were we to take his words literally, then it would be wrong, for sensuous images (Sinnesbilder), such as white and black, do not require words for their realization. One glance at the psychical life of animals would suffice to prove that sensuous representation (Vorstellen) can be carried out without language, for it is equally certain that animals have sensuous images as that they have no words."

This is the language of a well-schooled philosopher, who cares for truth and not for controversy, tout prix. Let us contrast it for a moment with the language of Professor Whitney (p.249):—

"This may be taking a very high view of language; it certainly is taking a very low view of reason. If only that part of man's superior endowments which finds its manifestation in language is to receive the name of reason, what shall we style the rest? We had thought that the love and intelligence, the soul, that looks out of a child's eyes upon us to reward our care long before it begins to prattle, were also marks of reason," etc.

This is a pretty domestic idyl, but the marvelous confusion between conceptual thought and the inarticulate signs of the affections, will, Ifear, remind logicians of infantine prattle with no mark of reason about it, rather than of scientific argument.

It is quite clear, therefore, from this single specimen, that it would be impossible to argue with Professor Whitney on this subject. He returns to it again and again, his language grows stronger and stronger every time, yet all the time he speaks like a man whom nothing shall convince that the earth does move. He does not even know that he might have quoted very great authorities on his side of the question, only that they, knowing the bearings of the whole problem, speak of their antagonists with the respect due say by Nyya to a Snkhya philosopher, not with the contempt which a Brahman feels for a Mleccha.


But let us take a subject where, at all events, it is possible to argue with the Professor—I mean Sanskrit Grammar—and we shall see again that he is most apodictic when he is least informed. He has criticised the first volume of my translation of the Rig-Veda. He dislikes it very much, and gives me very excellent advice as to what I ought to have done and what I ought not. He thinks I ought to have thought of the large public who want to know something of the Veda, and not of mere scholars. He thinks that the hymns addressed to the Dawn would have pleased the young ladies better than the hymns to the Stormgods, and he broadly hints that all the pices justificatives which I give in my commentary are de trop. A translation, such as Langlois', would, no doubt, have pleased him best. Ido not object to his views, and I hope that he or his friends may some day give us a translation of the Rig-Veda, carried out in that spirit. Ishall devote the remaining years of my life to carrying on what I ventured to call and still call the first traduction raisonne of the Veda, on those principles which, after mature reflection, Iadopted in the first volume, and which I still consider the only principles in accordance with the requirements of sound scholarship. The very reason why I chose the hymns to the Maruts was because I thought it was high time to put an end to the mere trifling with Vedic translation. They are, no doubt, the most difficult, the most rugged, and, it may be, the least attractive hymns, but they are on that very account an excellent introduction to a scholarlike study of the Veda. Mere guessing and skipping will not avail us here. There is no royal road to the discovery of the meaning of difficult words in the Veda. We must trace words of doubtful meaning through every passage where they occur, and we must give an account of their meaning by translating every passage that can be translated, marking the rest as, for the present, untranslatable. Boehtlingk and Roth's excellent Dictionary is the first step in that direction, and a most important step. But in it the passages have only undergone their first sifting and classifying; they are not translated, nor are they given with perfect completeness. Now if one single passage is left out of consideration in establishing the meaning of a word, the whole work has to be done again. It is only by adopting my own tedious, it may be, but exhaustive method that a scholar may feel that whatever work he has done, it is done once for all.

On such questions, however, it is easy to write a great deal in general terms; though it is difficult to say anything on which all competent scholars are not by this time fully agreed. It is not for me to gainsay my American critic that my renderings into English, being those of a foreigner, are tame and spiritless, but I doubt, whether in a new edition I shall change my translation, "the lights in heaven shine forth," for what the American Professor suggests: "asheen shines out in the sky," or "gleams glimmer in the sky."

All this, however, anybody might have written after dinner. But once at least Professor Whitney, Professor of Sanskrit in Yale, attempts to come to close quarters, and ventures on a remark on Sanskrit grammar. It is the only passage in all his writings, as far as I remember, where, instead of indulging in mere sheet lightning, he comes down upon me with a crashing thunderbolt, and points out a real grammatical blunder. He says it is—

"An extremely violent and improbable grammatical process to render pari tasthushas, as if the reading were paritasthiv{m}sas. The participial form tasthushas has no right to be anything but an accusative plural, or a genitive or ablative singular; let us have the authority for making a nominative plural of it, and treating pari as its prefix, and better authority than the mere dictum of a Hindu grammarian."

Those who are acquainted with Vedic studies know that Professor Benfey has been for years preparing a grammar of the Vedic dialect, and, as there is plenty of work for all workers, Ipurposely left the grammatical questions to him, confining myself in my commentary to the most necessary grammatical remarks, and giving my chief attention to the meaning of words and the poetical conceptions of the ancient poets. If the use of the accusatival form tasthushas, with the sense of a nominative, had been confined to the Veda, or had never been remarked on before, Iought, no doubt, to have called attention to it. But similar anomalous forms occur in Epic literature also, and more than that, attention had but lately been called to them by a very eminent Dutch scholar, Dr. Kern, who, in his translation of the B{ri}hat-Sa{m}hit, remarks that the ungrammatical nom. plur. vidushas is by no means rare in the Mahbhrata and kindred works. If Professor Whitney had only read as far as the eleventh hymn in the first book of the Rig-Veda, he would have met there in abibhyushas an undoubted nom. plur. in ushas:—

tvm dev{h} bibhyusha{h} tujymnsa{h} vishu{h},

The gods, stirred up, came to thee, not fearing.

Now, I ask, was I so far wrong when I said that Professor Whitney speaks loudest when he knows least, and that in charging me, for once at least, with a tangible blunder, he only betrayed his ignorance of Sanskrit grammar? In former times a scholar, after such a misfortune, would have taken a vow of silence or gone into a monastery. What will Professor Whitney do? He will take a vow of speech, and rush into a North American Review.


There are other subjects to which Professor Whitney has of late paid much more attention than to Sanskrit Grammar, and we shall find that on them he argues in a much gentler tone.

It is well known that Professor Whitney held curious views about the relation of vowels to consonants, and I therefore was not surprised to hear from him that "my view of the essential difference between vowels and consonants will not bear examination." He mixes up what I call the substance (breath and voice) with the form (squeezes and checks), and forgets that in rerum natur there exist no consonants except as modifying the column of voice and breath, or as what Hindu grammarians call vyanjana, i.e., determinants; and no vowels except as modified by consonants. In order to support the second part of this statement, viz., that it is impossible to pronounce an initial vowel without a slight, and to many hardly perceptible, initial noise, the coup de la glotte, I had appealed to musicians who know how difficult it is, in playing on the flute or on the violin, to weaken or to avoid certain noises (Ansatz) arising from the first impulses imparted to the air, before it can produce really musical sensations. Professor Whitney, in quoting this paragraph, leaves out the sentence where I say that I want to explain the difficulty of pronouncing initial vowels without some spiritus lenis, and charges me with comparing all consonants with the unmusical noises of musical instruments. This was in 1866, whereas in 1854 I had said: "If we regard the human voice as a continuous stream of air, emitted as breath from the lungs and changed by the vibration of the chord vocales into vocal sound, as it leaves the larynx, this stream itself, as modified by certain positions of the mouth, would represent the vowels. In the consonants, on the contrary, we should have to recognize a number of stops opposing for a moment the free passage of this vocal air." Iask any scholar or lawyer, what is one to do against such misrepresentations? How is one to qualify them, when to call them unintentional would be nearly as offensive as to call them intentional?

The greatest offense, however, which I have committed in his eyes is that I revived the old names of hard and soft, instead of surd and sonant. Now I thought that one could only revive what is dead, but I believe there is not a single scholar alive who does not use always or occasionally the terms hard and soft. Even Professor Whitney can only call these technical terms obsolescent; but he thinks my influence is so omnipotent that, if I had struck a stroke against these obsolescent terms, they would have been well nigh or quite finished. Icannot accept that compliment. Ihave tried my strokes against much more objectionable things than hard and soft, and they have not yet vanished. Iknow of no living philologist who does not use the old terms hard and soft, though everybody knows that they are imperfect. Isee that Professor Pott[2] in one passage where he uses sonant thinks it necessary to explain it by soft. Why, then, am I singled out as the great criminal? Ido not object to the use of surd or sonant. I have used these terms from the very beginning of my literary career, and as Professor Whitney evidently doubts my word, Imay refer him to my Proposals, submitted to the Alphabetic Conferences in 1854. he will find that as early as that date, Ialready used sonant, though, like Pott, Iexplained this new term by the more familiar soft. If he will appeal to Professor Lepsius, he will hear how, even at that time, Ihad translated for him the chapters of the Prti{s}khyas, which explain the true structure of a physiological alphabet, and ascribe the distinction between k and g to the absence and presence of voice. Ipurposely avoided these new terms, because I doubted, and I still doubt, whether we should gain much by their adoption. Ido not exactly share the misgivings that a surd mute might be mistaken for a deaf and dumb letter, but I think the name is awkward. Voiced and voiceless would seem much better renderings of the excellent Sanskrit terms ghoshavat and aghosha, in order to indicate that it is the presence and absence of the voice which causes their difference. Frequent changes in technical terms are much to be deprecated,[3] particularly if the new terms are themselves imperfect.

Every scholar knows by this time what is meant by hard and soft, viz., voiceless and voiced. The names hard and soft, though not perfect, have, like most imperfect names, some kind of excuse, as I tried to show by Czermak's experiments.[4] But while a good deal may be said for soft and hard, what excuse can be pleaded for such a term as media, meaning originally a letter between the Psila and the Dasea? Yet, would it be believed that this very term is used by Professor Whitney on the page following immediately after his puritanical sermon against my backslidings!

This gentle sermon, however, which Professor Whitney preaches at me, as if I were the Pope of Comparative Philologists, is nothing compared with what follows later. When he saw that the difference between voiced and voiceless letters was not so novel to me as he had imagined, that it was known to me even before I published the Prtiskhya,—nay, when I had told him that, to quote the words of Professor Brcke, the founder of scientific phonetics,—

"The medias had been classed as sonant in all the systems elaborated by the students of language who have studied comparative phonology,"

he does not hesitate to write as follows:—

"Professor Mller, like some other students of philology (who except Professor Whitney himself?) finds himself unable longer to resist the force of the arguments against hard and soft, and is convinced that surd and sonant are the proper terms to use; but, instead of frankly abandoning the one, and accepting the other in their place, he would fain make his hearers believe that he has always held and taught as he now wishes he had done. It is either a case of disingenuousness or of remarkable self-deception: there appears to be no third alternative."

I call this a gentle reproof, as coming from Professor Whitney; but I must say at the same time that I seldom saw greater daring displayed, regardless of all consequences. The American captain sitting on the safety-valve to keep his vessel from blowing up, is nothing in comparison with our American Professor. Ihave shown that in 1854 the terms surd and sonant were no novelty to me. But as Professor Whitney had not yet joined our ranks at that time, he might very properly plead ignorance of a paper which I myself have declared antiquated by what I had written afterwards on the same subject. But will it be believed that in the very same lecture which he is criticising, there occurs the following passage (ii.p.156):—

"What is it that changes k into g, tinto d, pinto b? Bis called a media, asoft letter, asonant, in opposition to P, which is called a tenuis, ahard letter, or a surd. But what is meant by these terms? Atenuis, we saw, was so called by the Greeks, in opposition to the aspirates, the Greek grammarians wishing to express that the aspirates had a rough or shaggy sound, whereas the tenues were bald, slight, or thin. This does not help us much. Soft and hard are terms which, no doubt, express an outward difference of b and p, but they do not explain the cause of that difference. Surd and sonant are apt to mislead; for if, according to the old system both p and b continue to be classed as mute, it is difficult to see how, taking words in their proper sense, amute letter could be sonant..... Both p and b are momentary negations of breath and voice; or, as the Hindu grammarians say, both are formed by complete contact. But b differs from p in so far as, in order to pronounce it, breath must have been changed by the glottis into voice, which voice, whether loud or whispered, partly precedes, partly follows the check."

And again:—

"But although the hardness and softness are secondary qualities of tenues medi, of surd and sonant letters, the true physiological difference between p and b, tand d, kand g, is that in the former the glottis is wide open, in the latter narrowed, so as to produce either whispered or loud voice."

In my introduction to the "Outline Dictionary for Missionaries," published in 1867, Iwrote:—

"Unfortunately, everybody is so familiar with his alphabet, that it takes some time to convince people that they know next to nothing about the true nature of their letters. Take even a scholar, and ask him what is T, and he may possibly say, adental tenuis; ask him what is D, and he may reply, adental media. But ask him what he really means by a tenuis or media, or what he considers the true difference between T and D, and he may probably say that T is hard and D is soft; or that T is sharp and D is flat; or, on the contrary, as some writers have actually maintained, that the sound of D requires a stronger impulse of the tongue than the sound of T: but we shall never get an answer that goes to the root of the matter, and lays hold of the mainspring and prime cause of all these secondary distinctions between T andD. If we consult Professor Helmholtz on the same subject, he tells us that 'the series of so-called medi, b, d, g, differs from that of the tenues, p, t, k, by this, that for the former the glottis is, at the time of consonantal opening, sufficiently narrowed to enable it to sound, or at least to produce the noise of the vox clandestina, or whisper, while it is wide open with tenues, and therefore unable to sound. Medi are therefore accompanied by the tone of the voice, and this may even, where they begin a syllable, set in a moment before, and where they end a syllable, continue a moment after the opening of the mouth, because some air may be driven into the closed cavity of the mouth, and support the sound of the vocal chords of the larynx. Because of the narrowed glottis, the rush of the air is more moderate, the noise of the air less sharp than with the tenuis, so that a great mass of air may rush at once from the chest."

"This to many may seem strange and hardly intelligible. But if they find that, several centuries before our era, the Indian grammarians gave exactly the same definition of the difference between p, t, k, and b, d, g, such a coincidence may possibly startle them, and lead them to inquire for themselves into the working of that wonderful instrument by which we produce the various sounds of our alphabet."

If Professor Whitney asserts—

"That I repeatedly will not allow that the sonant letters are intonated, but only that they may be intonated,"

I have no answer but a direct negative. For me to say so, would be to run counter to all my own teaching, and if there is anywhere a passage that would admit of such a construction, Professor Whitney knows perfectly well that this could be due to nothing but an accidental want of precision in expressing myself. Iknow of no such passage.[5]

In order to leave no doubt as to the real distinction between k, t, pand g, d, b, Iquoted, for the satisfaction of Sanskrit scholars, the technical terms by which native grammarians define so admirably the process of their formation, the vhyaprayatna, viz., vivra{s}vsghosh{h}, and sa{m}vrandaghosh{h}. Would it be believed that Professor Whitney accuses me of having invented these long Sanskrit terms, and to have appended them superfluously and pedantically, as he says, to each list of synonyms? "They are found in no Sanskrit grammarian," he says. Here again I have no answer but a direct negative. They are found in the native commentary on P{n}ini's Grammar, in Boehtlingk's edition, p.4, and fully explained in the Mahbhshya.

If one has again and again to answer the assertions of a critic by direct negatives, is it to be wondered at that one rather shrinks from such encounters? Ihave for the last twenty years discussed these phonetic problems with the most competent authorities. Not trusting to my own knowledge of physiology and acoustics, Isubmitted everything that I had written on the alphabet, before it was published, to the approval of such men as Helmholtz, Alexander Ellis, Professor Rolleston, and I hold their vu et approuv. I had no desire, therefore, to discuss these questions anew with Professor Whitney, or to try to remove the erroneous views which, till lately, he entertained on the structure of a physiological alphabet. Ibelieve Professor Whitney has still much to learn on this subject, and as I never ask anybody to read what I myself have written, still less to read it a second time, might I suggest to him to read at all events the writings of Brcke, Helmholtz, Czermak, to say nothing of Wheatstone, Ellis, and Bell, before he again descends into this arena? If he had ever made an attempt to master that one short quotation from Brcke, which I gave on p.159, or even that shorter one from Czermak, which I gave on p.143:—

"Die Reibungslaute zerfallen genau so wie die Verschlusslaute in weiche oder tnende, bei denen das Stimmritzengerusch oder der laute Stimmton mitlautet, und in harte oder tonlose, bei denen der Kehlkopf absolut still ist,"

the theory which I followed in the classification both of the Checks and the Breathings would not have sounded so unintelligible to him as he says it did; he would have received some rays of that inner light on phonetics which he misses in my Lectures, and would have seen that besides the disingenuousness or the self-deception which he imputes to me, in order to escape from the perplexity in which he found himself, there was after all a third alternative, though he denies it, viz., his being unwilling to confess his own opsimathia.


I now proceed to the next charge. I am told that I am in honor bound to produce a passage where Professor Whitney expressed his dissatisfaction at not being answered, or, as I had ventured to express it, considering the general style of his criticism, when he is angry that those whom he abuses, do not abuse him in turn. He is evidently conscious that there is some slight foundation for what I had said, for he says that if Steinthal thought he was angry, because "he (Mr.William Dwight Whitney) and his school" had not been refuted, instead of philosophers of the last century, he was mistaken. Yet what can be the meaning of this sentence, that "Professor Steinthal ought to have confronted the living and aggressive views of others," i.e., of Mr. William Dwight Whitney and his school? (p.365.)

However, I shall not appeal to that; I shall take a case which, in this tedious process of incrimination and recrimination, may perhaps revive for a moment the flagging interest of my readers.

I had in the second volume of my Lectures called attention to a curious parallelism in the changes of meaning in certain names of trees and in the changes of vegetation recorded in the strata of the earth. My facts were these. Foraha in Old High German, Fhre in modern German, furh in Anglo-Saxon, fir in English, signify the pinus silvestris. In the Lombard Laws the same word fereha means oak, and so does its corresponding word in Latin, quercus.

Secondly, phgos in Greek means oak, the corresponding word in Latin, fagus, and in Gothic, bka, means beech.

That is to say, in certain Aryan languages we find words meaning fir, assuming the meaning of oak; and words meaning oak, assuming the name of beech.

Now in the North of Europe geologists find that a vegetation of fir exists at the lowest depth of peat deposits; that this was succeeded by a vegetation of oak, and this by a vegetation of beech. Even in the lowest stratum a stone implement was found under a fir, showing the presence of human beings.

Putting these two sets of facts together, I said: Is it possible to explain the change of meaning in one word which meant fir and came to mean oak, and in another which meant oak and came to mean beech, by the change of vegetation which actually took place in early ages? Isaid it was an hypothesis, and an hypothesis only. Ipointed out myself all that seemed doubtful in it, but I thought that the changes of meaning and the parallel changes of vegetation required an explanation, and until a better one could be given, Iventured to suggest that such changes of meaning were as the shadows cast on language by real, though prehistoric, events.

I asked for an impartial examination of the facts I had collected, and of the theory I had based on them. What do I receive from Professor Whitney? Imust quote his ipsissima verba, to show the spirit that pervades his arguments:—

"It will not be difficult," he says, "to gratify our author by refuting his hypothesis. Not the very slightest shade of plausibility, that we can discover, belongs to it. Besides the serious minor objections to which it is liable, it involves at least three impossible suppositions, either one of which ought to be enough to insure its rejection.

"In the first place it assumes that the indications afforded by the peat-bogs of Denmark are conclusive as regards the condition of Europe—of all that part of it, at least, which is occupied by the Germanic and Italic races; that, throughout this whole region, firs, oaks, and beeches have supplanted and succeeded each other, notwithstanding that we find all of them, or two of them, still growing peaceably together in many countries."

Here Professor Whitney is, as usual, ploughing with my heifer. Isaid:—

"I must leave it to the geologist and botanist to determine whether the changes of vegetation as described above, took place in the same rotation over the whole of Europe, or in the North only,"

I had consulted several of my own geological friends, and they all told me that there was, as yet, no evidence in Central Europe and Italy of a succession of vegetation different from that in the North, and that, in the present state of geological science, they could say no more. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, Isaid, Let us wait and see; Professor Whitney says, Don't wait.

His second objection is his own, but hardly worthy of him.

"The hypothesis," he says, "assumes that the Germanic and Italic races, while they knew and named the fir-tree only, yet kept by them all the time, laid up in a napkin, the original term for oak, ready to be turned into an appellation for beech, when the oaks went out of fashion."

This is not so. The Aryan nations formed many new words, when the necessity for them arose. There, was no difficulty in framing ever so many names for the oak, and there can be little doubt that the name phgos was derived from phag, the oak tree being called phgos, because it supplied food or mast for the cattle. If there remained some consciousness of this meaning among the Greeks, and the Italians, and Germans, then the transference of the name from the oak to the beech would become still more easily intelligible, because both the beech-nuts and the acorns supplied the ordinary mast for cattle.

Professor Whitney probably had misgivings that these two objections were not likely to carry much weight, so he adds a third.

"The hypothesis," he says, "implies a method of transfer of names from one object to another which is totally inadmissible; this, namely—that, as the forest of firs gave way to that of oaks, the meaning of fir in the word quercus gave way to that of oak: and in like manner in the other case. Now if the Latins had gone to sleep some fine night under the shade of their majestic oaks, and had waked in the morning to find themselves patul sub tegmine fagi, they might naturally enough have been led, in their bewilderment, to give the old name to the new tree. But who does not see that, in the slow and gradual process by which, under the influence of a change of climatic conditions, one species of tree should come to prevail over another, the supplanter would not inherit the title of the supplanted, but would acquire one of its own, the two subsisting together during the period of the struggle, and that of the supplanted going out of use and memory as the species it designated disappeared?"

This objection was of course so obvious that I had thought it my duty to give a number of instances where old words have been transferred, not per saltum, but slowly and gradually, to new objects, such as musket originally a dappled sparrow-hawk, afterwards a gun. Other instances might have been added, such as thapt, the Sanskrit dah, the latter meaning to burn, the former to bury. But the best illustrations are unintentionally offered by Professor Whitney himself. On p.303 he alludes to the fact that the names robin and blackbird have been applied in America, for the sake of convenience, and under the government of old associations, to birds essentially unlike, or only superficially like, those to which they belong in the mother country. Of course, every Englishman who settled in America knew that the bird he called robin was not the old Robin Redbreast he knew in England. Yet the two names co-existed for a time in literature, nay, they may still be said to co-exist in their twofold application, though, from a strictly American point of view, the supplanting American bird has inherited the title of the supplanted Cock-Robin of England.

Now, I ask, was there anything in these three cheap objections that required an answer? Two of them I had myself fully considered, the third was so flimsy that I thought no one would have dwelt on it. Anyhow, Ifelt convinced that every reader was competent to judge between Professor Whitney and myself, and it certainly never entered my mind that I was in honor bound, either to strike out my chapter on the Words for Fir, Oak, and Beech, or to fight.

Was I then so far wrong when I said that Professor Whitney cannot understand how anybody could leave what he is pleased to call his arguments, unheeded? Does he not express his surprise that in every new edition I adhere to my views on Fir, Oak, and Beech, though he himself had told me that I was wrong, and when he calls my expressed desire for real criticism a mere "rhetorical flourish," is this, according to the opinion of American gentlemen, or is it not, abuse?


Professor Whitney's ideas of what is real criticism, and what is mere banter, personal abuse, or rudeness are indeed strange. He does not seem to be aware that his name has become a by-word, at least in Europe, and he defends himself against the charge of abusiveness with so much ardor that one sometimes feels doubtful whether it is all the mere rhetoric of a bad conscience, or a case of the most extraordinary self-deception. He declares in so many words that he was never personal (Ich bestreite durchaus, dass was ich schrieb, im geringsten persnlich war), and he immediately goes on to say that "Steinthal burst a two from anger and rancor, and his answer was a mere outpouring of abuse against his personality."

Now I am the last person or personality in the world to approve of the tone of Steinthal's answer, and if Professor Whitney asks why I had quoted it several times in public, it was because I thought it ought to be a warning to others. Ithink that all who are interested in maintaining certain civilized usages even in the midst of war, ought to protest against such a return to primitive savagery, and I am glad to find that my friend, Mr. Matthew Arnold, one of the highest authorities on the rules of literary warfare, entertains the same opinion, and has quoted what I had quoted from Professor Steinthal's pamphlet, together with other specimens of theological rancor, as extreme cases of bad taste.

I frankly admit, however, that, when I said that Steinthal had defended himself with the same weapons with which his American antagonist attacked him, Isaid too much. Professor Whitney does not proceed to such extremities as Professor Steinthal. But giving him full credit so far, Istill cannot help thinking that it was a fight with poisoned arrows on one side, with clubs on the other. As Professor Whitney calls for proofs, here they are:—

Page 332. Why does he call Professor Steinthal, Hajjim Steinthal? Is that personal or not?

Page 335. "Professor Steinthal startles and rebuffs a commonsense inquirer with a reply from a wholly different and unexpected point of view; as when you ask a physician, 'Well, Doctor, how does your patient promise this morning?' and he answers, with a wise look and an oracular shake of the head, 'It is not given to humanity to look into futurity.' The effect is not destitute of the element of bathos." Is that personal?

Page 337. Steinthal's mode of arguing is "more easy and convenient than fair and ingenuous." Is that personal?

Page 338. "Amere verbal quibble."

Page 346. "The eminent psychologist may show himself a mere blunderer."

Page 356. "To our unpsychological apprehension, there is something monstrous in the very suggestion that a word is an act of the mind."

Page 357. "Prodigious .... Chaotic nebulosity .... We should not have supposed any man, at this age of the world, capable of penning the sentences we have quoted."

Page 359. "We are heartily tired of these comparisons that go limping along on one foot, or even on hardly the decent stump of a foot."

Page 363. "Can there be more utter mockery than this? We ask for bread, and a stone is thrown us."

Page 365. "He does not take the slightest notice of the living and aggressive views of others."

Page 366. "All this, again, is in our opinion very verbiage, mere turbid talk."

Page. 367. "The statement is either a truism or falsity."

Page 372. "We must pronounce Professor Steinthal's attempt .... a complete failure, amere continuation of the same delusive reasonings by which he originally arrived at it."

Page 374. "We have found in his book nothing but mistaken facts and erroneous deductions."

If that is the language in which Professor Whitney speaks of one whom he calls—

"An eminent master in linguistic science, from whom he has derived great instruction and enlightenment," and "whose books he has constantly had upon his table,"

what can other poor mortals like myself expect? It is true he has avoided actionable expressions, while Professor Steinthal has not, at least, according to German and English law. But suppose that hereafter, when certain small animals have crossed what he calls "the impervious distance," and acquired the power of language, they were to say, "We have only stung you, and you have killed us," would they obtain much commiseration?

I had collected a number of epitheta ornantia which I had gathered at random from Mr. Whitney's writings, such as worthless, futile, absurd, ridiculous, superficial, unsound, high-flown, pretentious, disingenuous, false, and I claimed the honor of every one of them having been presented to me as well as to other scholars by our American assailant. Here, for the first time, Professor Whitney seems staggered at his own vocabulary. However, he is never at a loss how to escape. "As the epithets are translated into German," he says, "he is quite unable to find the passages to which I may refer." This is feeble. However, without taxing his memory further, he says that he feels certain it must be a mistake, because he never could have used such language. He never in his life said anything personal, but criticised opinions only. This is "the language of simple-minded consciousness of rectitude."

What can I do? Professor Whitney ought to know his own writings better than I do, and nothing remains to me, in order to repel the gravest of all accusations, but to publish in the smallest type the following Spicilegium. Imust add that in order to do this work once for all, Ihave complied with Professor Whitney's request, and read nearly all the articles with which he has honored every one of my writings, and in doing so I believe I have at last found the key to much that seemed to me before almost inexplicable.

Formerly I had simply acquiesced in the statement made by one of his best friends, Professor Weber,[6] who, some ten years ago, when reproving Professor Whitney for the acrimony of his language, said:—

"I believe I am not wrong when I trace it to two causes: first, Professor Whitney found himself forced to acknowledge as erroneous and to withdraw several of his former views and assertions, which he had defended with great assurance, and this disturbed his equanimity; secondly, and still more, there were the miserable political circumstances of North America, which could not but exercise an irritating and galling effect on so warm a patriot as Whitney, an effect which was transferred unconsciously to his literary criticisms and polemics, whenever he felt inclined to it."

These two scholars were then discussing the question, whether the Nakshatras or the Lunar Zodiac of the Hindus, should be considered as the natural discovery of the Brahmans, or as derived by them, one knows not how, from China, from Chalda, or from some other unknown country. They both made great efforts, Professor Weber chiefly in Sanskrit, Professor Whitney in astronomy, in order to substantiate their respective opinions. Professor Weber showed that Professor Whitney was not very strong in Sanskrit, Professor Whitney retaliated by showing that Professor Weber, as a philologue, had attempted to prove that the precession of the equinox was from West to East, and not from East to West. All this, at the time, was amusing to bystanders, but by this time both combatants have probably found out, that the hypothesis of a foreign origin of the Nakshatras, whether Chinese or Babylonian, was uncalled for, or, at all events, is as uncertain to-day as it was ten years ago. Imyself, not being an astronomer, had been content to place the evidence from Sanskrit sources before a friend of mine, an excellent astronomer at Oxford, and after discussing the question again and again with him, had arrived at the conviction that there was no excuse for so violent a theory as postulating a foreign origin of the simple triseinadic division of the Nakshatra Zodiac. Iquite admit that my practical knowledge of astronomy is very small,[7] but I do believe that my astronomical ignorance was an advantage rather than a disadvantage to me in rightly understanding the first glimmerings of astronomical ideas among the Hindus. Be that as it may, Ibelieve that at the present moment few scholars of repute doubt the native origin of the Nakshatras, and hardly one admits an early influence of Babylonian or Chinese science on India. Istated my case in the preface to the fourth volume of my edition of the Rig-Veda, and if anybody wishes to see what can be done by misrepresentation, let him read what is written there, and what Professor Whitney made of it in his articles in the "Journal of the American Oriental Society." His misunderstandings are so desperate, that he himself at times feels uneasy, and admits that a more charitable interpretation of what I wanted to say would be possible. When I saw this style of arguing, the utter absence of any regard for what was, or what might charitably be supposed to have been, my meaning, Imade up my mind once for all, that that American gentleman should never have an answer from me, and in spite of strong temptation I kept my resolve till now. Aman who could say of Lassen that his statements were "wholly and reprehensibly incorrect," because he said that Colebrooke had shown that the Arabs received their lunar mansions from the Hindus, was not likely to show mercy to any other German professor.

I find, however, by reading one of his Essays, that there is a more special reason why, in his repeated onslaughts on me, both before and after the Rebellion, "he thinks he may dispense with the ordinary courtesies of literary warfare." Imay tell it in his own words:—

"Some one (Imay add the name, now, it was the late Professor Goldstcker) falls fiercely upon the work of a company of collaborators; they unite in its defense; thereupon the aggressor reviles them as a mutual admiration society; and Mller repeats the accusation, giving it his own indorsement, and volunteering in addition that of another scholar."

I might possibly represent the case in a different light, but I am willing to accept the acte d'accusation as it comes from the hand of my accuser; nay more, Iam quite ready to plead guilty to it. Only let me explain how I came to commit this great offense. What is here referred to must have happened more than ten years ago. Professor Goldstcker had criticised the Sanskrit Dictionary published by Professors Boehtlingk and Roth, and "the company of collaborators" had united in its defense, only, as Professor Whitney is authorized to assure us, "without any apparent or known concert." Professor Goldstcker was an old friend of mine, to whom in the beginning of my literary career at Berlin and in Paris, Iwas indebted for much personal kindness. He helped me when no one else did, and many a day, and many a night too, we had worked together at the same table, he encouraging me to persevere when I was on the point of giving up the study of Sanskrit altogether. When Professor Goldstcker came to England, he undertook a new edition of Wilson's "Sanskrit Dictionary," and he very soon became entangled in a controversy with "the company of collaborators" of another Sanskrit dictionary, published at the expense of the Russian Academy. Ido not defend him, far from it. He had a weakness very common among scholars;—he could not bear to see a work praised beyond its real merits, and he thought it was his duty to set everything right that seemed to him wrong. He was very angry with me, because I would not join in his condemnation of the St. Petersburg dictionary. Icould not do that, because, without being blind to its defects, Iconsidered it a most valuable performance, highly creditable to all its collaborators; nay, Ifelt bound to say so publicly in England, because it was in England that this excellent work had been unduly condemned. This embittered my relations with Professor Goldstcker, and when the attacks by the company of collaborators on him grew thicker and thicker, while I was treated by them with the greatest civility, he persuaded himself that I had taken part against him, that I had in fact become a sleeping partner in what was then called the "International Praise Insurance Society." To show him once for all that this was not the case, and that I was perfectly independent of any company of collaborators, Iwrote what I wrote at the time. Nor did I do so without having had placed before me several reviews, which certainly seemed to give to the old saying laudari a viro laudato a novel meaning. Having done what I thought I was bound to do for an old friend, Iwas perfectly prepared to take the consequences of what might seem a rash act, and when I was twitted with having done so anonymously, I, of course, thought it my duty to reprint the article, at the first opportunity, with my name. Now let it be borne in mind that one of the chief culprits, nay, as appeared afterwards, the most eager mischief-maker, was Professor Whitney himself, and let us now hear what he has to say. As if he himself were entirely unconcerned in the matter, instead of having been the chief culprit, he speaks of "cool effrontery;" "magisterial assumption, towards a parcel of naughty boys caught in their naughtiness;" "most discreditable;" "the epithet outrageous is hardly too strong." Here his breath fails him, and, fortunately for me, the climax ends. And this, we are asked to believe, is not loud and boisterous but gentle and calm: it is in fact "the language of simple-minded consciousness of rectitude!"

These gentle onslaughts were written and published by Professor Whitney ten years ago. Ihappen to know that a kind of colportage was established to send his articles to gentlemen whom they would not otherwise have reached. Iwas told again and again, that I ought to put an end to these maneuvers, and yet, during all these years, Ithought I could perfectly well afford to take no notice of them. But when after such proceedings Professor Whitney turns round, and challenges me before a public which is not acquainted with these matters, to produce any of the epitheta ornantia I had mentioned as having been applied by him to me, to Renan, to Schleicher, to Oppert, to Bleek, nay, even to Bopp and Burnouf and Lassen, when with all "the simple-minded consciousness of rectitude" he declares, that he was never personal, then I ask, Could I remain silent any longer?

How hard Professor Whitney is driven in order to fix any real blame on me, may be seen from what follows. The article in which the obnoxious passage which, Iwas told, deprived me of any claim to the amenities of literary intercourse occurs, had been reprinted in the "Indische Studien," before I reprinted it in the first volume of "Chips." In reprinting it myself, Ihad rewritten parts of it, and had also made a few additions. In the "Indische Studien," on the contrary, it had been reprinted in its original form, and had besides been disfigured by several inaccuracies or misprints. Referring to these, Ihad said that it had been, as usual, very incorrectly reprinted. Let us hear what an American pleader can make out of this:—

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