Page images
PDF
EPUB

poems of HALLER; the Idylls, and Death of Abel, of GESSNER; the fables and moral writings of GelLERT; the numerous and diversified productions of WIELAND; and the various works of LESSING, HERDER, GOETHE, SCHILLER, Voss, and many others, have all contributed a share, to render a language once but little esteemed in Europe, one of the most copious, energetic, and rich of modern tongues.

But among late German writers no individual is entitled to more honourable mention than J. C. ADELUNG, a celebrated philologist of that country. His labours in studying and improving his native language have been extensive, persevering, and successful to a degree almost without precedent. He has produced works, in this department of literature, with which the productions of learned academies, and royal societies, can scarcely be brought into competition. His Grammar of the German Language is an elaborate and systematic work, unquestionably superior to all preceding works of a similar kind, and has contributed much towards forming and regulating the language of which it treats. But his greatest work is a Complete Dictionary of the High German Language." In the composition of this extraordinary work he spent the greatest part of thirty years, and it is pronounced, by good judges, to come nearer to the idea of a perfect dictionary than any other effort of human diligence hitherto published. It contains a larger number of words than any other extant; the definitions are singularly lucid and satisfactory; every word is scientifically arranged, with respect to its literal and metaphorical signification; the etymologies of words are pursued with an acuteness and a skill which render them highly instruc

9 In two volumes large octavo, Ś It consists of five volumes large quarto,

.

tive; and the author displays an acquaintance with the history of his language, and the peculiar merits of its best authors, which eminently qualified him for the task which he undertook to execute.

This grammar and dictionary, we are told, have been useful, beyond any other publications, in correcting the orthography, in exploring the etymology, and in regulating the syntax of the German language. The incessant efforts of ADELUNG have also served to animate and guide the exertions of his countrymen in pursuit of the same object. Since he wrote, philological inquiries have acquired an ascendency and a prevalence in that empire which they never before possessed. Grammars, dictionaries, and critical essays, have unusually abounded. Questions for elucidating and improving the language have been published by academies and literary associations in every part of the country, and have occupied much of the attention of learned men. And, finally, their popular writers, especially their poets and dramatists, are continually adding to the stores of the language, new words, and combinations of terms, which, though in some cases they have been considered as injurious innovations, have yet contributed not a little to the mass of improvement.

This language, as well as the two preceding, has been much more studied towards the close of the eighteenth century than ever before. So many interesting works in literature and science have been published in Germany, particularly within the last thirty years, that the acquisition of the language, seems now to be regarded by the literati of Europe as nearly of equal importance with that of the French or English, which have, heretofore, engaged such pre-eminent attention.

VOL. II.

SWEDISH LANGUAGE.

The Swedish Language, in the course of a few years past, has also undergone great improvements. Previous to the middle of the century, it had been much neglected, and, like its kindred dialects, the German and the Danish, was but little esteemed in Europe. About that time JOHN IHRE, Professor of Belles Lettres in the University of Upsal, was commissioned, by Queen ULRICA ELEONORA, to translate into Swedish The Ladies' Library, by Sir RICHARD STEELE. In obeying this command, he was naturally led not only to study his native language, but also to compare it with the more polished tongue from which the translation was to be made. The result of these inquiries was an attempt to place the language of his country on a more respectable footing than it had before held. With this view he published his Glossarium Suco-Gothicum, which displays great erudition, the talents of a master in criticism, and uncommon sagacity in detecting both the faults and the beauties which he wished to make known. In this work the author exhibits, with great skill, the analogy and etymology of the Swedish language; and may be regarded as standing with the highest in rank among its distinguished cultivators and reformers.

Since the time of Mr. IHRE other writers have employed their talents on the same subject. These writers have established rules of construction, corrected the orthography, discarded foreign phrases and corrupt modes of expression, and by producing works in a correct, elegant, and refined style, have done much to improve their native tongue. Among these, DAHLIN, BOTIN, GYLLENBORG, CREUTZE, KLEWBERG, LEOPOLD, and LIDNER, are perhaps entitled to the most honourable mention, and furnish examples of Swedish style according to its latest and best improvements. In 1786 a literary association, under the name of the Swedish Academy, was established at Stockholm. The principal object of this institution is to cultivate the language of that country; with which view it is said to be preparing for publication a national Grammar and Dictionary.'

RUSSIAN LANGUAGE.

The Russian Language, during the period under review, has also been much and successfully cultivated. This language, which is a dialect of the Sclavonian, was, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, in a wretchedly irregular and neglected condition, very few compositions of dignified character having then appeared in it. Since that time it has employed" much of the attention of learned men; grammars and dictionaries have been formed, with many successive improvements; numerous translations from other languages have contributed greatly to enrich and polish it; the Russian academy has long been diligently engaged in its cultivation; and writers of taste have done much to confer upon it regularity and ornament. Previous to the year 1707 the alphabet of this language consisted of thirty-nine letters. In that year it was newly modified, and reduced to thirty. These are chiefly made up of Greek and Roman letters, together with some characters, to express sounds, which are peculiar to the Sclavonian tongue. Though the language of Russia is still imperfect,

See A General View of Sweden, by M, CATTEAU,

it is said, by those who have studied it, to be remarkably rich, harmonious, and energetic, and well fitted for every species of composition.'

Among the improvers of Russian style, in the last century, the first place is due to THEOPHANES PROKOPOVITCH, Archbishop of Novogorod, a gentleman of learning and taste, who, during the reign of Peter the Great, laboured much to promote, among his countrymen, a fondness for polite literature, and especially to encourage the study of their native tongue. He was followed by LoMONOZOF, a distinguished poet and historian. He, as well as THEOPHANES, was a Russian by birth, and is stiled the “ great refiner” of the language of his country. Next to him stands SUMOROKOF, a distinguished dramatist, who displayed many beau ties of composition, which were before unknown in the Russian language; and contributed greatly to the diffusion of a taste for poetry, and a zeal for philological and other polite acquirements. To these may be added the name of KHERASKOF, the author of the first Epic Poem in his native language, a work greatly admired by his countrymen, and the appearance of which may be considered as forming an era in the history of their poetry, and, generally, in the progress of their literary character."

In order to spread a taste for literature among her subjects, CATHARINE II. in 1768, appointed a committee to order and superintend translations of the classics, and the best modern authors, into the Russian tongue; and made a liberal allowance for defraying the expense of the undertaking. In consequence of this order, a considerable number of the most esteemed Greek and Roman writers,

* Coxe’s Travels into Russia, &c. vol. ii. chap. viii. and also Tooke's Tiew of the Russian Empire.

v Coxe's Travels into Russia. B. v. fo vii.

« PreviousContinue »