« PoprzedniaDalej »
MR. VON SCHLEGEL ON SANSCRIT LITERATURE."
When we announced the approaching publication of Mr. von Schle. gel's work, the announcement was accompanied by a pledge that we would make our readers acquainted with its contents; a pledge which we now fulfil. In doing so, we shall not suffer ourselves to be swayed by any consideration but that of doing impartial justice to its author. Whatever strictures the work has undergone in England,* and however unfavourable may be its sentence upon an institution to which we wish well, our office shall be rather to enable the candid reader to judge for himself, in a question of some delicacy, than to endeavour to impose upon him our own opinion.
The Réflexions are contained in two letters; the one, addressed to the late Sir James Mackintosh, and which we are informed was written more than a year before publication (consequently, in the early part of 1831), seems to have comprehended.all that the author intended originally to say ; the other letter, which is dated in May 1832, is a reply to, or criticism upon, a reinark of Mr. Wilson, contained in a “Memorandum respecting Sanscrit Literature in England," written not later than the beginning of 1831, and which appeared in an Oxford paper of March 1832, wherein Mr. Wilson states, that though “considerable proficiency in Sanscrit) has been attained by some learned men on the continent, it is evident, from their publications, that their reading has been very limited, and that they are far from possessing any degree of conversancy with the great body of Sanscrit literature;" that “their knowledge is, in fact, of the most elementary kind, and restricted to the grammar of the language, and even with its grammar, as studied in India, they are unfamiliar:” adding, that “ Schlegel has not ventured in translation beyond those works which have been previously translated by English scholars." This statement M. de Schlegel has considered “a declaration of war.”
The first topic, upon which the letter to Sir James Mackintosh touches, is the Oriental Translation Fund. At first sight, observes M. de Schlegel, no project could be more useful than that of placing at the command of all classes of readers the literary and scientific productions of Asia. Nevertheless, he affirms “the encouragement offered exclusively to translations, far from advancing the methodical and really scientific study of the Oriental tongues, will tend to injure it, and must exercise an influence pernicious in proportion to the extent to which the plan of the Committee is carried;" and he observes that if the scientific study of those languages be neglected, nay, unless Asiatic philology be not carried to a far higher degree of perfection (perfectionnée à un point infiniment supérieur) than at present, it is impossible to obtain good translations. In this opinion we entirely concur, and we have more than once lamented that the Oriental Translation Commit
• Réflexions sur l'Etude des Langues Asiatiques, addressées à Sir James Mackintosh ; suivies d'une Lettre à M. Horace Hayman Wilson, ancien Secrétaire de la Société Asiatique à Calcutta, élu Professeur à Oxford. Par A. W. DE SCHLEGEL, Prof. à l'Université Royale de Bonn, &c. &c. Bonn et Paris, 1832.
See a very severe and caustic criticism of thc Réferions in the Foreign Quarterly Rcvicu No. XXII.
tee should have departed from their original design, not merely implied, but expressed, to publish the original texts along with the translations.“ By the publication of the original text,” says the tenth article of their Prospectus, w it is intended to multiply copies of such works as are scarce, and to furnish students, at a moderate expense, with correct copies of the best Asiatic works, to which they might not otherwise have access.” In abandoning this intention, the Committee have doubtless acted under what they considered a sound on; but they have at the same time sacrificed the essential object of the institution, namely, to promote “a more extensive cultivation of Oriental literature in this country,” which is not to be accomplished by mere translations, though the works translated were ever so well selected. The expense of printing the original texts is an objection which would operate so far only as to lessen the number of publications ; and the demand for philological talent, for the collation and revision of the original texts, would act directly in aid of what we have termed the essential object of the institution.
M. de Schlegel points out the consequences which may be apprehended from this defect in the Committee's plan. He observes that there are many Englishmen who acquire in Asia an ordinary knowledge of its languages, but without being scholars, or philologists ; they will, he says, undertake translations, as an easy mode of gaining the reputation of an author; the Committee have not time or patience to examine the merits of the manuscripts tendered; but, in order to do something, they employ the funds in printing, and “England will be inundated with defective translations, which will oppose a barrier to those persons who would be willing to penetrate to the originals."
M. de Schlegel sees traces of precipitation in the original plan of the institution, which, he observes, seems to have contemplated the establishment of a grand manufacture of translations, in which the rude material and the workmen were alone thought of, to the exclusion of the intellectual part: whereas, in some cases, genius, and as it were inspiration, are indispensable requisites in a translator.
He considers the English language less apt not only than the Latin, but the German and even the French, to receive the translations ; but, without entering into this question, there can be little doubt that if the Committee were to put the English language thus in the back-ground, they would be deserted by most of their subscribers.
M. de Schlegel thinks the Committee have exaggerated the value of Syriac and of Arabian literature, whilst they make no mention of the Armenian, which contains translatable matter. “The Arabians," he observes, “ have not produced a single epic poem; dramatic composition is unknown to them; there remains, therefore, but sententious and lyric poetry. This is ardent and impassioned; but it revolves within a very limited circle of ideas. It may charm the ennui of a Bedouin, traversing the desert on the back of a camel, but European readers will soon become weary of so jejune a nourishment. Generally speaking, the Arabs have never exhibited a proof of their possessing the genius of invention.” Their tales, he contends, were
borrowed from the East. The poetry of the Persians, he remarks, is richer and more various than that of the Arabians; they have a grand national poem, romances full of sentiment, and lyrical pieces which breathe the very intoxication of pleasure. But their literature has likewise fallen into great disorder; an affected taste prevails throughout it, and their prose has usurped the most ambitious ornaments of poetry. Mr. von Schlegel makes an admission which somewhat detracts from the value of his opinion, namely, that he is unacquainted with the languages which are the vehicles of Arabian and Persian literature. He, however, takes another ground. The Arabian literature dates from the Hegira only; the Persian is four centuries later; the historians of neither, therefore, can teach us anything respecting the condition of countries, the migrations of nations, the changes of dynasties, the conquests and revolutions of states, earlier than the middle ages ; for whatever be the weight of their testimony in what concerns contemporary events, when they meddle with antiquity, they relate nothing but absurdity and nonsense, of which, he says, Mahomet set them an admirable example. “ Observe,” adds M. de Schlegel, “ how he confounds times and places, and how he perverts everything in the Hebrew traditions !" Our author here, we suspect, falls into a very common error, that of supposing Mahomet to have consulted the “Hebrew traditions” in our Canonical Scriptures; whereas there is no positive proof that he ever had access to those Scriptures, whilst there is proof that he borrowed from spurious gospels and apocryphal scriptures, numbers of which were extant at the date of the Koran, and in which he found times, places, and facts already confounded and perverted to his hand.
Sanscrit literature, and that of China, Mr. von Schlegel places at a great height above the rest; nothing in the other parts of Asia, he observes, can be compared with them in respect to their antiquity, and the number and intrinsic value of their works. Upon the Sanscrit language and literature he pronounces a high eulogium, and he speaks with great respect of the historical works of the Chinese, to whom he denies imagination.
Recurring to the subject of translations, and confining himself to the Sanscrit, he observes that there are two indispensable conditions (applying to all translations), which are not so easy of fulfilment as the Committee seem to have presumed, namely, possession of the original, and a thorough knowledge of the language in which it is written. Now, the Sanscrit, being a dead language, cannot be acquired in the same manner as the popular dialects of India; it must be studied methodically, and good elementary books are necessary. This leads M. de Schlegel to inquire into the number and character of these works; and he successively passes in review the grammars of Father Paulini, and of Messrs. Colebrooke, Carey, Wilkins, Forster, Yates, Frank, and Bopp, most of which, he says, may be consulted with advantage on some points, but altogether they still leave much to be desired. Of the latest, that of Mr. Bopp of Berlin, Mr. von Schlegel says, that he has disfigured it by his favourite notions and hypotheses respecting the analytical comparison of tongues (Mr. Bopp being a believer in the original identity of the grammatical structure of the Sanscrit, Greek, Latin, and Teutonic languages); “the numerous innovations he has introduced,” he observes, “ will not, probably, be approved by those who are of opinion that, in a language anciently cultivated and fixed, usage and classical authority ought to be respected.” Mr. Bopp, he adds, formally discards the ancient Sanscrit grammarians, on the ground that they can teach us no more than we already know. " I do not hesitate to tell him," says M. de Schlegel, “ that this is a great error.” This sentence upon Mr. Bopp, to a certain extent, vindicates Mr. Wilson, who includes that writer by name in his general remark respecting the want of knowledge of Sanscrit grammar, as studied in India,” disclosed by the Continental Orientalists. M. de Schlegel shows in what respects the study of the ancient native grammarians is important. Their method, indeed, differs entirely from that to which we are accustomed, and is very abstruse; but, in return, their writings are distinguished by wonderful brevity and precision, and by a spirit of scientific research into principles. The rules of accentuation are neglected by all the European grammarians, and in the modern schools of the Brahmans, the verses of ancient texts are pronounced in an uniform manner, according to the quantity of syllables, with a monotonous recitation, whereas, formerly, the Sanscrit was accented like all living languages, which must have influenced the formation of the tongue. M. de Schlegel wishes for a general introduction to the study of the original grammarians, comprehending an analysis of their method, illustrated by examples; a catalogue of their technical terms, with definitions; the terminology, by abridged signs and formulæ, fully explained; and a repertory of all the series of words subject to a particular rule, denoted by the first word placed arbitrarily at the head, with an “ &c."
On the subject of dictionaries, he speaks with admiration of Mr. Colebrooke's edition of the Amera Cosha, of the immensity of the undertaking, and the science and judgment displayed in the execution. Mr.Wilson's dictionary, published twelve years after, was a grand step in the study of Sanscrit, and our author does justice to its merits, which, he says, are sufficient to insure to the name of Mr. Wilson, the highest celebrity amongst the founders of Hindu philology. The defects of the work are pointed out with candour by M. de Schlegel, who justly remarks that they are not chargeable to Mr. Wilson. The criticisms are, of course, applicable to the first edition; the second has but recently reached Europe.
With respect to the other condition referred to at the beginning, namely, the possession of the original from which a translation is to be made, he justly · observes that nothing is more rare than a correct manuscript of an Oriental work; MSS. are disfigured by the errors of copyists, by mutilations and interpolations; and he asks,“ how can you be certain that the MS. is really the work you propose to translate, and not that of an impostor, who has fraudulently affixed to it the title ?" These are the necessary consequences of the non-use of printing in all countries, but particularly in India, where there is an aptitude to commit literary frauds, which have imposed even upon European scholars; as in the cases of the Padma Purána, the Dabistán and the Desótár. The manuscript copies of the Rámáyana differ ma
terially and essentially, as M. de Schlegel has shewn in the preface to his edition of that work. . These differences do not affect the march of the narrative and the original stock of this ancient poem, which, he observes, “may be compared to an old oak, all whose branches, by reason of its great age, are overgrown with parasitical plants.” The variations in the different copies of the great Persian epic, the Shah Nameh, have been found by Mr. Mohl to be “almost innumerable." Hence Mr. von Schlegel concludes that the translator of a Sanscrit, Arabic, or Persian work, not yet printed and corrected with the utmost care, has to fulfil the most laborious and responsible duties of an editor,—to compare MSS., examine commentaries, and make conjectural emendations. “Is it to be supposed,” he asks, “that a philologist, capable of such an undertaking, will consent to appear in the humble attitude of a translator for ordinary readers ?". Moreover, whilst there exists no good printed edition of a work, a translator is secure against his errors being detected.
The Committee, in making translations the primary, and the publication of original texts a secondary and subordinate object, have put (M. de Schlegel says) “ the cart before the horse.” His remark is, in our opinion, incontrovertibly just, that the publication of original texts of Asiatic works stands infinitely more in need of public encouragement than translations: this, however, was not the sole object of the Committee, but it was an essential part of their original plan.
Of the Sanscrit works (except those which have been superintended by European editors), printed at Calcutta, M. de Schlegel remarks that they are not editions, but merely “ manuscripts multiplied;" they have been left to natives; they are disfigured with typographical errors, printed with bad ink on bad paper, and with ill-cast types, so that those in small and in Bengali characters are nearly illegible : the errata in the grammar of Pánini, a work in which accuracy is peculiarly essential, occupy forty-two pages!
M. de Schlegel pronounces Dr. Carey's edition of the Hitópadésa “full of faults,” and the London edition of the same, by an anonymous editor, “a real Augean stable.” Conjointly with Dr. Lassen, he states, he undertook to publish a correct edition of the Hilópadésa, which he presented to the Court of Directors, who ordered ten copies of the work, adding, in reply to a remark of M. de Schlegel, in commendation of this collection of fables, as a class-book, that the court had ordered a number of copies of the work to be printed for that purpose. M. de Schlegel's reflexion upon this reply is scarcely worthy of him. “Yes, indeed; I know it, and much do I pity the students condemned to learn one of the most difficult languages, with means so little adapted to the end. The Honourable Court of Directors are an administrative body; learning and philology are not their business. Nevertheless, I would not suspect for the world that they have not a clear idea of the distinction between a good and a bad edition of the same book; but how could they acknowledge that an edition undertaken by a private individual, and a foreigner, was better than one which had appeared under the auspices and by the order of a constituted authority!” This sneer is hardly consistent with the writer's own letter to the court. Aoint Jour NS VOL.12. No.45.