20 DECEMBER 1845, Page 18


Tars work consists of an inquiry into the physical and mechanical laws which have regulated the development of the numerous family of lan- guages named in the titlepage. There are three natural families of lan- guages. The Chinese may stand as a sample of the first : it consists of monosyllabic roots, incapable of being contracted or compounded ; all secondary relations being indicated solely by the position of those roots in a sentence. The second comprehends languages which, like the Sanscrit, consist of monosyllabic roots susceptible of contraction and combination ; in which sentences, and even new words, are constructed by combining verbal and pronominal roots. The third consists of the Semitic languages; in which the verbal roots are dissyllabic--composed of three necessary consonants ; and which produces its grammatical forms by a mere in- ternal modification of the root. The researches of grammarians have esta- blished, that in addition to the languages enumerated in the titlepage of Professor Bopp, the Celtic on the one hand and the Polynesian or Oceanic tongues on the other are intimately allied with them. It is not merely that the abstract law which determines their physical or mechanical develop- ment is the same in all : the roots—the simple designations of entities, apart from any indications of relation—have obviously been originally the same in all. The task imposed upon himself by Professor Bopp is, by examining all the languages of this family in combination, to discover all the grammatical forms, or expressions of relation, of which each language has retained only a part.

In this "Comparative Grammar" the languages are treated as objects, not means, of knowledge. The great practical result to be derived from such an invcstigat'on is a more correct and comprehensive grammar of each individual language. The student of a language, for the purpose of making it his instrument to acquire or convey information, has to master two elements—the physical and the logical. The physical devices by which objects are designated and relations indicated are the body, as it were, of the language; the syntactical rules, (its logic,) the spirit or soul which renders them available for instruments of thought as well as a me- dium of its expression. But the physical part of language, inherited from generations which possessed but few and simple ideas, are the mate- rials with and upon which the intellects of snbtiler and farther-reaching generations must work : and thus in language, as in everything human, the body comes to give law to the mind—to circumscribe and regulate its efforts. In the course of generations forms become obsolete, or two or more forms originally distinct merge into one; yet the word with- out its distinctive modification continues to be used to imply it, or a word seemingly the same is used to indicate almost contradictory rela- tions. In this circumstance originates much of perplexity and obscurity that hangs over passages in the classic authors. These doubts can only be cleared up—anomalies can only be explained—by such a comparative anatomy of a whole family of languages as we owe to Professor Bopp. And this same process, by which light is thrown on the dark places of the dead languages, is also calculated to make us more thoroughly masters of our own tongue, and to facilitate the attainment of the languages of con- temporary nations.

It would be presumption on our part to express even a favourable opin- ion of a work already recognized as classical by all competent judges. From the preface to the present translation we learn that we are in a great measure indebted for it to Lord Francis Egerton. He proposed the undertaking ; but, diffident of his own familiarity with Oriental literature, sought the assistance of scholars in Eastern tongues. The labouring oar was taken by Lieutenant Eastwick, and the part of censor or editor has been performed by the eminent Orientalist Professor Wilson. The translation is on the whole as satisfactory as might have been anti- cipated from the auspices under which it has been produced : it is a va- luable contribution to English literature.

Two things about it might be objected to. A bad practice prevails among German literati of publishing systematic works in parts. But a system is never " totus teres atque rotundas" until it receive the last touch : the views of the author are continually undergoing modifications until the whole is finished off. The fragmentary mode of publication is unfavourable to unity and coherence : digressions, retractations, addi- tions, are inserted in the later parts ; the reader is driven to gather by a laborious process of comparison what the ultimate views of the author are. Obscurity and diffuseness—clumsy, unartistic botching—are the inevitable consequences of piecemeal publication. It is not the fault of the translators that Professor Bopp's work is strongly tainted with the de- fects flowing from this reprehensible practice; but it is their fault that they have given us only part even of what he has published. To appre- ciate a system one must have it entire; and they present us with a sys- tem of comparative grammar in which all that relates to the verb is in- definitely postponed.

The other objection is perhaps the more important. The Comparative Grammar of Bopp is the practical application to specific languages of principles and rules which have been long canvassed among the philolo- gists of Germany,—a system of philology which, like every other science, has a technical language of its own. To Bopp and those whom he addresses this technical language is familiar ; and he therefore does not ex- plain its peculiar phraseology. Hence, much that must necessarily be ob- scure to the mere English reader—much, indeed, that obviously is obscure if not absolutely unintelligible to the translators themselves. Without un- dervaluing the favour which Lieutenant Eastwick and his collaborate= have conferred upon the literati of their own country, we may be allowed to think that the boon would have been greater if the present volume had been preceded by translations of a judicious selection front the essays scattered throughout the scientific journals of Germany, in which the principles here so successfully applied to the Indo-Germanic languages are developed more in the abstract.