Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

the 'Dissertations on Phalaxis' rendered to classical learning was the redeeming the history of the Greek drama from the darkness of uncertainty and fable; and Bentley handed down the study and emendation of the Greek dramatists as a sort of sacred tradition to the Cambridge school. Here, if anywhere, was scope for the textual criticism of which he had set the example; for of all forms of composition, dramatic dialogue is one of the most liable to corruption by copyists, who, even if they could see the separate meaning of each speech, continually mistake the reflex light that they throw upon each other, and so are ever altering their words, cutting them into arbitrary lengths, and assigning them to the wrong persons; while the choral odes have been tampered with in every way by those who saw in them neither sense nor metre. It was just a century after the publication of Richard Bentley's first 'Dissertation on Phalaris,' that Richard Pohson created a new epoch in Greek scholarship, by the preface to his edition of the 'Hecuba of Euripides' in 1797, followed by the supplement four times as long as the original preface, in 1802. The characteristic distinction of the school of Porson from that of Bentley was the minute attention to grammar as the chief basis of emendation. In this he had a predecessor in Richard Dawes, who, born in 1708, and dying in 1766, reflects in his writings the animosity with which Bentley's arrogance inspired his younger contemporaries. His 'Miscellanea Critica' long held rule as the standard of Greek grammar; and although some of his Canons are chargeable with hasty generalization, he was the first to show how much of grammar and Attic usage remained to be discovered by attentive reading and comparison of passages.

Porson was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge; but he had to vacate his fellowship, because certain scruples as to subscription debarred him from taking orders. However, his unrivalled learning obtained for him the office of Regius Professor of Greek, the merely nominal salary of which was eked out by an annuity of 100/., subscribed by his friends. His final provision was his salary of 200/. a year as librarian of the London Institution, a post which would have afforded no scope for his powers, even had those powers not been clouded by infirmities, originating in his grief for the loss of his wife, and which an uncongenial position was likely to aggravate. It is scarcely wonderful, under such circumstances, that Porson should have left such scanty .fruits of his vast learning,—a few essays and editions of Greek authors which he corrected for the booksellers, besides the famous edition of the four plays of

Euripides,

Euripides, in which his critical methods were exemplified, and his posthumous edition of 'Photius's Lexicon,' and his 'Adversaria.'

We may, in passing, say a word to remove any impression that Porson was a mere book-worm, absorbed in boring among the mouldering manuscripts of Greek plays. To a classical scholarship of the widest range, he added a considerable knowledge of French, and his 'Letters to Travis' prove his mastery of an excellent English style. At a time when the etymological speculations of the best scholars were almost contemptible, there are passages in his writings which prove that he might have become a leader in the new school of comparative philology; and he had the merit, then almost unexampled among classical scholars, of paying some attention to the most ancient form of our own language, which some call Anglo-Saxon.

The greatest ornament of the school of criticism founded by Porson was Peter Elmsley, whose lot in life forms a striking contrast to his master's. Enjoying a competent fortune amidst the quiet of a country cure, and finally attaining the dignity of Principal of St. Alban's Hall, Oxford, Elmsley was able to devote his whole life to the development of the critical principles which Porson had expounded. Besides his editions of select plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, and his labours in collating MSS. in the libraries of the Continent, he set an example, encouraging to those who would now revive a taste for critical scholarship, by his celebrated paper on Markland's Euripides in our seventh volume, and by his review of Porson's Hecuba, besides several other articles in the 'Edinburgh Review.' He died in 1825.

The same year witnessed the decease of Peter Paul Dobhee, Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge, the intimate friend and disciple of Porson, whose literary remains he edited. Dobree was one of those men whose reputation rests more upon the opinion of the friends who know them well than upon.their own actual performances. His posthumous 'Adversaria' contain an extraordinary amount of corrections, as striking for their ingenuity as self-evidently true by their aptness, and these extending over an amazing number of the best authors. Cobet, who always does justice to the English school, speaks'of Dobree as ' qui in paucis sagax et solers fuit criticus et sanitatem illam popularium servat, quae nil molitur inepte.' *

These leaders called forth a host of followers, many of merit, but many more distinguished by nothing but the facil

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

with which imitators exaggerate whatever is faulty in their models. That sagacity, which in the chiefs was the fruit of a lifelong converse with the ancient authors, was supposed by the followers to be a native gift which they also might presume upon possessing; and, with the rashness of a Phaethon, they drove their reckless course over the 'cosmos' of grammar and metre, the idioms of the author's style, and the plainest laws of common sense. Every sciolist must invent canons in imitation of Porson, and edit plays after the example of Elmsley, as the certain road to share the reputation they enjoyed and the reward withheld from Porson. Emendation got the character of mere guess-work, and criticism came to be regarded as a mere trifling with words, just at the time when a new school of classical students were concentrating their attention on what they regarded as the far more valuable things to be learnt from the ancient authors. This contrast between words and things involved no little fallacy; but it was at least time to recal attention to matters of the weightiest moment, that had been comparatively neglected during the reign of verbal criticism.

The new impulse, which came from Germany, was of a twofold character, whence we may be permitted to liken this third stage of modern scholarship to the age of brass. A revolution almost simultaneous was effected in the study of philology and in that of the subject matter of ancient literature. It had long been felt, rather than understood, that Human Language was in itself, apart from the literature embodied in each separate tongue, a fit subject for scientific investigation: but, while one school clung to the fond conceit, that fidelity to revealed religion required them to derive all human language from the Hebrew, more free enquiry had discovered no laws to guide amidst the heterogeneous mass of scattered facts and fancied resemblances. Our own literature furnishes examples of such misapplied ingenuity in the Hermes of Harris and the "Eirea irrepoevra of Home Tooke; and the great work, which Johann Christoph Adelung entitled Mithridates, from the king who could speak the twenty-two dialects of the tribes he governed, is the index of the state of comparative philology at the end of the 18th century.

It was then that the Indian conquests of our own nation began to bear unexpected fruits in the field of scholarship. The necessity of a more profound acquaintance with the native dialects, and the fascination of a language which was already ancient in the time of Alexander, furnished powerful motives for the study of Sanscrit, to men like Sir William Jones and his illustrious followers in Indian scholarship. Nor was the study confined to India. The mass of Sanscrit MSS. brought over to Europe fur

nished the missing key to the students of comparative philology. The vague wonder excited by the likeness between Sanscrit and Greek—which found expression in the theory of one worthy, that the former was a dialect of the latter, derived from Alexander's campaign in the Punjab—soon gave place to the discovery that both were members of a great family of languages, stretching in a diagonal belt from India to Western Europe. It was then seen that comparative grammar was a true science, reposing upon sound foundations, and strictly conformed to the inductive method; that the elementary sounds may be classified according to the very organism of our speech, and their variations and interchanges explained by fixed laws; that thus a test is furnished to distinguish between the accidental resemblances of words and the real affinities which depend on fixed laws ; and, above all, that the surest indication of a family connection between languages is furnished by the permanent structure of their grammar. Such were the leading principles of the new school of comparative philology, taught by A. von Schlegel, by Lassen, by the brothers Grimm, and by Pott, and embodied in the great 'Comparative Grammar' of Bopp.

While the science of language was being thus transformed, the study of ancient history, with all its cognate branches of knowledge underwent a complete revolution, the epoch of which is marked in this country by Hare and Thirlwall's translation of Niebuhr's Roman History.* It is superfluous now to retrace such well-known ground as the principles of Niebuhr's work, the influence it has exerted, and the controversies it has called forth, in which those who have differed most widely from its conclusions have owed no less to its publication than the most devoted of Niebuhr's disciples. We are noticing it simply as at once the index and the chief motive power of the new direction which the scholarship of the now passing generation has taken towards the subject matter of classical antiquity rather than the criticism of classical literature. But it is worth while to observe, as a proof of the vital tie which links together all departments of sound scholarship, that it was the men trained at Cambridge in the school of Porson who were the first to welcome and reproduce the views of Niebuhr. It seems superfluous to refer to all that has been done in the same

* The first sketch of Niebuhr's ' Romische Gesehichtc ' was published in 2 vols. 8vo., Berlin 1811, and translated into English by Mr. Walter, Loud. 1827, just as it was superseded by the matured result of Niebuhr's studies, of which the first Volume was published in 1827, the second in 1830, and the third, after the author's death, in 1832. Of the translation by the late Archdeacon Hare and the present Bishop of St. David's, the first volume appeared in 1828 and the second m 1832: the third volume was translated by Dr. William Smith and Dr. Leonbard Scbmitz.

Vol. 120.— No. 240. 2 A

[graphic]

and kindred fields by Bockh, Buttmann, Ottfried Miiller, Becker, Mommsen, and many others; and still more needless to remind English scholars, or even general readers, of such fruits of this school as the Histories of Greece by Bishop Thirlwall and Mr. Grote, those of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire by Dr. Arnold, Mr. Merivale, and Mr. Long, and the series of Dictionaries in which Dr. William Smith has collected into one focus all the choicest results of our present knowledge of antiquity. Side 'by side with these branches ofknowledge, the science of Comparative Philology, with its recent offshoot of Comparative Mythology, has kept pace, giving us continually new glimpses of the primeval condition of our race, and the affinities of its several nations, till the inheritance of all former labourers in this field seems to have been concentrated in the learning and ingenuity of Professor Max Miiller. And here we must add what may be thought a deferred tribute to our oldest University. It is an accident of the case that the name of Oxford has not appeared prominently in the preceding summary. Her boast is to stand in the ancient paths, making it her chief aim to cultivate the minds of her alumni by a widely diffused and comprehensive knowledge of the ancient poets, historians, and philosophers, for the sake of their direct teaching. She is less ready to explore that field of minute enquiry, which is more congenial to the scientific training of the sister University. But such distinctions are fast vanishing in the common fellowship of letters; and meanwhile no one would assign an inferior rank to the University which claims its part in Bentley, which produced Elmslcy, Gaisford, Clinton, and Cornewall Lewis, under whose shelter Max Miiller prosecutes his studies and his teaching, and which has the honour of being the alma mater of the greatest of our living scholars, whose name stands at the head of the present article.

It cannot be denied that this progress in the knowledge of antiquity has been regarded with sufficient complacency: for we are speaking now of the internal state of English scholarship, and not of the contests it has had to wage against modern theories of education. But to some eyes there are visible the fingers of a hand upon the wall; and an interpreter comes to tell us that the writing is, 'Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting.' An uneasy consciousness had already whispered that our recent scholarship, with all its gains, was suffering from the decay of that element which had once been its chief pride. With some few exceptions, we have been content to depend upon the critical labours of the Germans, and to receive our texts from a Bekker, a Dindorf, and a Stallbaum. The loss of energetic action, in this as in other powers, has led to a dislike of its

exercise

« AnteriorContinuar »