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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/May 1879/Sketch of Professor W. D. Whitney

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 15‎ | May 1879

PSM V15 D008 William Dwight Whitney.jpg




WILLIAM DWIGHT WHITNEY was born at Northampton, Massachusetts, February 9, 1827. He received an academic education at Williams College, in the same State, graduating in 1845. On leaving college he became clerk in a banking-house, and continued in this employment for about five years, devoting his hours of leisure to the study of languages, but particularly of Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. In 1850 he visited Germany for the sake of enjoying the exceptional advantages afforded by the universities there for the pursuit of linguistic studies. For three years he attended in the Universities of Berlin and Tübingen the lectures of the foremost philologers and Sanskritists of the time, namely, Professors Bopp and Weber, of Berlin, and Roth, of Tübingen. In conjunction with Professor Roth, he prepared an edition of the text of the "Atharva Veda Sanhita," which was published in 1856 at Berlin. Whitney transcribed the text from the MS. in the Royal Library at Berlin, and collated it with the MSS. of the Libraries of Paris, London, and Oxford. In a second volume, which is in course of preparation, the editors will publish a translation of the work, with commentary, notes, and index. Since 1849, when he became a member of the American Oriental Society, he has distinguished himself among all his associates in that learned body by the number and the value of his contributions to its "Transactions," and his untiring efforts to promote the objects for which it was founded. He was Librarian of the society from 1855 to 1873, and has been its Corresponding Secretary since 1857. Of volumes v. to ix. of its "Journal," more than one half was contributed by him. He was in 1854 appointed Professor of Sanskrit, and in 1870 Professor of Comparative Philology, at Yale College, which chair he still occupies. In 1858 he edited, with notes, the republication of Colebrooke's "Miscellaneous Essays," which have principally to do with subjects connected with Sanskrit scholarship.

Besides contributing voluminously to the "Journal" of the American Oriental Society, he is the author of several critiques and essays published in sundry journals, American, English, and German. Among the more important papers either written or edited by him, and published in the "Journal," may be named Rev. Ebenezer Burgess's translation of the "Sûrya-Siddhânta" (a Hindoo treatise on astronomy) 1860, with notes and an appendix; text, with notes, of the "Atharva-Veda Prâtiçâkhya" (1862); the text of the "Taittirîya Prâtiçâkhya" (1871), with English version, notes, and native commentary, the last two being grammatical treatises—the edition of the "Taittirîya" won for Professor Whitney from the Berlin Academy the Bopp—prize reviews of Lipsius's phonetic alphabet and of the opinions of Biot, Weber, and Müller on the lunar zodiac of India, Arabia, and China. He was a contributor to the great Sanskrit Dictionary of Böhtlingk and Roth (St. Petersburg, 1853-’67, seven volumes). In 1869 he aided in founding the American Philological Association, and was its first President. His work, "Language and the Study of Language" (2 vols., 1867, republished in 1874), was made up of a series of lectures, delivered first at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and repeated at the Lowell Institute, Boston; it was translated into German, and edited, with additions, by J. Jolly, under the title of "Die Sprachwissenschaft" (Munich, 1874). His principal contributions to the "Journal of the American Oriental Society," "The North American Review," "The New-Englander," and other periodicals, were collected and published in two volumes, entitled "Oriental and Linguistic Studies" (1873-’74). To the "International Scientific Series" he contributed a volume in 1875, entitled "The Life and Growth of Language," which was very favorably received both at home and abroad, having been translated into French, German, and Italian. He has prepared several school manuals for the use of students of the German language, viz., a grammar, a reader, a dictionary, and texts of certain of the German classics. In 1877 appeared his work, "Essentials of English Grammar." He has now in press, in Leipsic, a Sanskrit Grammar, in English and German editions.

We append a list of papers published at various dates by Professor Whitney, but not contained in either of the two collections named above: "Material and Form in Language" (1872); "φνσει or θεσει"—"Natural or Conventional" (1874); "A Botanico-Philological Problem" (1876). The foregoing were published in the "Journal of the American Philological Association." Peile's "Greek and Latin Etymology" (1873-'74; "transactions of the London Philological Society"); "On the History of the Vedic Texts" (1854; "Journal of the American Oriental Society"); "Contributions from the Atharva-Veda" (1856; in the same journal); on Lipsius's "Standard Alphabet" (1862; the same); "On the Jyotisha Observation of the Place of the Colures and the Date derivable from it" (1864; "Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society," London); "Are Languages Institutions?" (1875; "Contemporary Review"); "Müller's Rig-Veda and Commentary" (1876; "New-Englander"); "The value of Linguistic Science to Ethnology" (1867; in the same).