The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

XV. Scholars, Antiquaries and Bibliographers

§ 4. Oriental Scholars

The Cambridge Hebraists of the nineteenth century include the names of Samuel Lee, professor of Hebrew and Arabic; William Hodge Mill, who is better known as a theologian; Frederick Field, whose edition of Origen’s Hexapla placed him in the front rank of Hebrew and Syriac scholars; Peter Hamnett Mason, author of a Hebrew grammar and a rabbinical reader; Andrew Bruce Davidson, author of a Hebrew grammar and syntax, and of commentaries on the book of Job, and on several of the prophets; and Charles Taylor, master of St. John’s, editor of the Hebrew Sayings of the Fathers. William Aldis Wright, besides editing a commentary on the book of Job from a MS. in the Cambridge library, was secretary of the Old Testament revision company from 1870 to 1885. At Oxford, the professorship of Hebrew was held for fifty-four years by Edward Bouverie Pusey, author of A Commentary on the Minor Prophets and of Lectures on the Prophet Daniel; and, for thirty years, by Samuel Rolles Driver, author of An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, and of commentaries on many parts of it, as well as joint author of a Hebrew-English lexicon.

Meanwhile, in London, Christian David Ginsburg had, among his many important works, produced translations of The Song of Songs and of Ecclesiastes, and had published the Massorah, a “Masoretico-critical” edition of the Hebrew Bible, with an introduction, and Facsimiles of MSS. of the Hebrew Bible.

William Cureton, of Christ Church, published a Syriac MS. of The Epistles of St. Ignatius in 1845–9, the Syriac version of The Festal Letters of Athanasius, and remains of the Syriac Gospels from a MS. of the fifth century; Robert Payne Smith, dean of Canterbury, began, in 1868, the publication of an important Syriac lexicon; and Robert Lubbock Bensly, fellow of Gonville and Caius, who was the first to publish, in 1875, from an Amiens MS. of the ninth century, the missing fragment of the Latin translation of the fourth book of Ezra, spent the last year of his life in deciphering the Syriac MS. of the Gospels discovered in 1892 at St. Catharine’s, on mount Sinai. Bensly’s discovery of the fragment of the fourth book of Ezra had been anticipated, in 1826, by John Palmer, fellow of St. John’s, professor of Arabic from 1804 to 1840 whose discovery was not published until 1877.

Arabic was ably represented in the nineteenth century by Edward William Lane, author of the great Arabic lexicon, and translator of The Arabian Nights; by William Wright, professor of Arabic in Cambridge from 1870 to 1889, author of an excellent Arabic grammar, and a distinguished Syriac scholar; and by Edward Henry Palmer, lord almoner’s reader in Cambridge, who showed the highest genius for the acquisition of oriental languages, travelled in the “Desert of the Exodus” in 1868–9, and finally died in Arabia in the service of his country during the rebellion of Arabi in 1882. His successor in the readership, William Robertson Smith, a scholar of singular versatility, besides studying physics with distinction in Aberdeen, and becoming prominent as an advanced theologian, devoted himself to oriental languages, and was appointed librarian of the university of Cambridge, and, subsequently, professor of Arabic.

In Turkish, one of the leading authorities was Sir James William Redhouse, author of a grammar and dictionary of the Ottoman language. Turkish, Arabic and Persian were successfully studied by Elias John Wilkinson Gibb, author of a History of Ottoman Poetry; and Persian, many years previously, by Sir William Ouseley, and his younger brother, Sir Gore Ouseley. The cuneiform inscriptions of Persia, Assyria and Babylonia were deciphered between 1837 and 1851 by Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, and, in 1849, by Edward Hincks, fellow of Trinity college, Dublin. In 1876, all the inscriptions relating to the Creation, which had been found in Assyria by George Smith, of the British Museum, were published in his Chaldaean Genesis.

Among English Egyptologists special mention is due to Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, whose admirable Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, first published in 1837, attained its final form in 1878. Samuel Birch, of the British Museum, produced, in 1867, an Hieroglyphical Grammar and Dictionary, and a translation of The Book of the Dead, and, in 1858, a History of Ancient Pottery, a new and revised edition of which appeared in 1873.

Among Chinese scholars, the most eminent have been the three missionaries—Robert Morrison, author of the first Chinese English dictionary (1815–23), who translated the Bible with the co-operation of William Milne; Walter Henry Medhurst, translator of the Bible, and author of an English-Japanese, as well as a Chinese-English and English-Chinese, dictionary; and James Legge, translator of some taoist classics, and of the whole of the Confucian canon. The last of these scholars was the first holder of the chair of Chinese founded at Oxford in 1875, while at Cambridge an honorary professorhip of that language was held until 1895 by Sir Thomas Francis Wade, who presented to the university his valuable library of Chinese literature.

The first Englishman who worked at Sanskrit to any purpose was Sir Charles Wilkins. He began his study of the language in India in 1778, encouraged by Warren Hastings, and, besides translating the Bhagavadgt and the Hitopadesa, produced a Sanskrit grammar in 1808. In 1786 (as we have already seen) Sir William Jones had pointed out the affinity of Sanskrit with Greek, Latin, Gothic and Celtic, and, in 1789, its connection with Zend. Burnouf and Friedrich Schlegel learnt their Sanskrit from an Indian civilian, Alexander Hamilton, who was captured by Napoleon in 1802, and detained until 1807, and was thereby enabled to excite the first interest in that language in France and Germany. William Carey, the baptist missionary, published a Sanskrit grammar in 1806, edited and translated the Rmyana and translated the Bible into Sanskrit. Henry Thomas Colebrook produced elaborate renderings of two treatises on the law of inheritance, and of certain mathematical and philosophical works, while his collected Essays on Sanskrit literature (1837) are recognised as masterpieces of research. The study of the language was specially promoted by Horace Hayman Wilson, the first professor of Sanskrit at Oxford (1833), whose dictionary of 1819 and 1832 made the further study of the language possible in Europe. In 1860 he was succeeded in the chair by (Sir Monier) Monier Williams, who completed his Sanskrit-English dictionary in 1872, and brought about the foundation of the Indian Institute in 1883. Meanwhile, Friedrich Max Müller, who had settled at Oxford in 1848, and had published an edition of The Rigveda in 1849–73, gave two admirable courses of Lectures on the Science of Languages at the Royal Institution in 1861–4, which led to his appointment as professor of comparative philology at Oxford in 1868. In and after 1875, he edited the important series known as The Sacred Books of the East. From 1867 to 1903, Edward Byles Cowell of Magdalen hall, Oxford, president of the Sanskrit college, Calcutta, was the first holder of the professorship of Sanskrit at Cambridge, and, with the aid of his pupils, issued an important series of Sanskrit texts and translations.