You are here

Lecture 1.

Lecture 1.
LORD GIFFORD'S munificent endowment of a Lectureship of Natural Theology to which I have had the undeserved honour of being elected by the Senate of this ancient and illustrious University must be reckoned among the signs of the times pregnant with meaning.

This lectureship with three others in the Universities of Edinburgh St. Andrews and Aberdeen was founded as you know by the late Lord Gifford a Scotch lawyer who by ability hard work and self-denial had amassed a large fortune and attained the dignified position of a seat on the Bench.

I have not been able to gather from his friends much information about his personal character and the private circumstances of his life. Nor do they all agree in the estimate they formed of him. Some represented him to me as a keen hardworking and judicious man engrossed by his professional work yet with a yearning for quietness for some hours of idleness that should allow him to meditate on the great problems of life those ancient problems which the practical man may wave away from year to year but which knock at our door louder and louder as we grow old and will not allow themselves to be turned into the street like beggars and vagabonds. We all know the practical man of the world who tells us that he has no time to listen to these inward questionings that he is satisfied with what the Church teaches or with what men wiser than himself have settled for him that he has tried to do his duty to his neighbours and that he trusts to God's mercy for all the rest. Men like to entrench themselves in their little castles to keep their bridges drawn and their portcullis ready to fall on any unwelcome guests. Or to quote the words of my friend Matthew Arnold—
‘I knew the mass of men conceal'd
Their thoughts for fear that if reveal'd
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference or with blame reprov'd:
I knew they lived and mov'd
Trick'd in disguises alien to the rest
Of men and alien to themselves.’
But this was not the impression which Lord Gifford left on the mind of those who know him best. Some of his relations and a few of his more intimate friends seem to have been startled at times by the fervour and earnestness with which he spoke to them on religious and philosophical topics. Even when he was in full practice as a lawyer the first thing he did I am told when he returned from the Parliament House on Saturdays was to lock the door of his library and devote himself to his own favourite authors never looking at a professional book or paper till it was necessary to begin work on Monday. He had a separate set of books altogether in his bedroom amongst which he spent every moment of his spare time during session and probably almost his whole vacation. He was devoted to Plato as well as to Spinoza and read philosophy both ancient and modern in all directions as well as poetry and the best current literature of the day.
But the world at large knew him chiefly as a successful lawyer as a man always ready to help in any useful and charitable work and satisfied to accept the traditional forms of public worship as a necessary tribute which every member of a religious as well as of a political community must pay for the maintenance of order peace and charity. During the last seven years of his life when confined to the sick-room by creeping paralysis his mind always active bright and serene became more and more absorbed in the study of the various systems of philosophy and religion both Christian and non-Christian and he made no secret to his own relatives of his having been led by these studies to surrender some of the opinions which they and he himself had been brought up to consider as essential to Christianity. There can be no doubt that he deliberately rejected all miracles whether as a judge on account of want of evidence or as a Christian because they seemed to him in open conflict with the exalted spirit of Christ's own teaching. Yet he remained always a truly devout Christian; trusting more in the great miracle of Christ's life and teaching on earth than in the small miracles ascribed to him by many of his followers. Some of his lectures and manuscript notes are still in existence and may possibly some day be published and throw light on the gradual development of his religious opinions. After his elevation to the Bench gave him comparative leisure he lectured from time to time on aesthetic literary philosophical subjects; but he never seems to have given offence and those who knew him little suspected this hard-working lawyer of having his whole soul engrossed by Spinoza's Ethics or the metaphysics of religion.
And yet when his Will was opened the one thing which that excellent man after making ample provision for his family had evidently had most at heart was to help the world to a clearer insight into the great problems of life than he himself in his busy career had been allowed to gain to spread more correct and more enlightened views on the origin the historical growth and the true purpose of religion and thus to help in the future towards an honest understanding between those who now stand opposed to each other the believers and unbelievers as they are called unaware that as we all see through a glass darkly we can only speak through our words faintly and not always rightly.
Allow me to quote some extracts from this remarkable Will:—
‘I Adam Gifford sometime one of the Senators of the College of Justice Scotland…having fully and maturely considered my means and estate…and the just claims and expectations of my son and relations…and considering myself bound to apply part of my means in advancing the public welfare and the cause of truth do hereby make my Trust-deed and latter Will and Testament that is to say I give my body to the earth as it was before in order that the enduring blocks and materials thereof may be employed in new combinations; and I give my soul to God in Whom and with Whom it always was to be in Him and with Him for ever in closer and more conscious union.’
When Lord Gifford proceeds to declare that after having provided for his relatives he feels himself bound to employ what is over and above for the good of his fellow men he says—
I having been for many years deeply and firmly convinced that the true knowledge of God that is of the Being Nature and Attributes of the Infinite of the All of the First and only Cause that is the One and Only Substance and Being and the true and felt knowledge (not merely nominal knowledge) of the relations of man and of the universe to Him and of the true foundations of all ethics and morals—being I say convinced that this knowledge when really felt and acted on is the means of man's highest well-being and the security of his upward progress I have resolved…to institute and found…lectureships or classes for the promotion of the study of said subjects and for the teaching and diffusion of sound views regarding them among the whole population of Scotland.’
In a later paragraph of his Will he defines more fully what he understands by Natural Theology and by sound views and what subjects he wishes particularly to be taught.
Natural Theology’ he says ‘in the widest sense of that term is the Knowledge of God the Infinite the All the First and Only Cause the One and the Sole Substance the Sole Being the Sole Reality and the Sole Existence the Knowledge of His Nature and Attributes the Knowledge of the Relations which men and the whole universe bear to Him the Knowledge of the Nature and Foundation of Ethics and Morals and of all Obligations and Duties hence arising.’
If Lord Gifford had said no more than this in his Will we might have thought that he had been influenced by the high and noble yet not very uncommon motives of a man who wishes to see his own peculiar views of religion perpetuated for the benefit of mankind. He would have ranked among the pious founders and benefactors of this country by the side of Chichele Wolsey Henry the Eighth and other patrons of the Church in former ages. But no; and here we see the wisdom and large-mindedness of Lord Gifford.
The lecturers’ he says ‘shall be subjected to no test of any kind and shall not be required to take any oath or to emit or subscribe any declaration of belief or to make any promise of any kind; they may be of any denomination whatever or of no denomination at all (and many earnest and high-minded men prefer to belong to no ecclesiastical denomination); they may be of any religion or way of thinking or as is sometimes said they may be of no religion or they may be so-called sceptics or agnostics or freethinkers provided only that the “patrons” will use diligence to secure that they be able reverent men true thinkers sincere lovers of and earnest inquirers after truth.’
And further—
I wish the lecturers to treat their subject as a strictly natural science the greatest of all possible sciences indeed in one sense the only science that of Infinite Being without reference to or reliance upon any supposed exceptional and so-called miraculous revelation. I wish it considered just as astronomy or chemistry is. I have intentionally indicated in describing the subject of the lectures the general aspect which personally I would expect the lectures to bear; but the lecturers shell be under no restraint whatever in their treatment of their theme; for example they may freely discuss—(and it may be well to do so)—all questions about man's conceptions of God or the Infinite their origin nature and truth whether he can have any such conceptions whether God is under any or what limitations and so on as I am persuaded that nothing but good can result from free discussion.’
You will now understand why I call the foundation of these Lectureships a sign and a very important sign of the times. Our nineteenth century which will soon have passed away has been described as a century of progress and enlightenment in all branches of human knowledge in science in scholarship in philosophy and in art. In religion alone it is said that we have remained stationary. While everything else has been improved while new discoveries have been made which have changed the whole face of the earth while our philosophy our laws even our morality bear the impress of the nineteenth century nay of all the nineteen centuries which have passed over them since the beginning of our era it is said and not without a certain kind of pride that our religion has remained unchanged at least in all its essential elements.
Whether this is really so depends on the meaning which we attach to the essential elements of religion and in religion more than in anything else essential elements are but too often treated as non-essential and what is worse non-essential as essential. The historian would have no great difficulty in showing that the Christianity of the Council of Nicaea is not in all essential points exactly the same as the Christianity of the Sermon of the Mount and that the reformers of the sixteenth century at all events did not consider the Christianity of Papal Rome essentially the same as that of the Council of Nicaea. There has been change whether we call it growth or decay during the nineteen centuries that Christ's religion has swayed the destinies of the world. Yet the fact remains that while in all other spheres of human thought what is new is welcomed anything new in religion is generally frowned upon. Nay even when we seem to see healthy growth and natural progress in religion it generally assumes the form of retrogression of a return to the original intentions of the founder of a religion of a restoration or reform in the etymological sense of that word that is of a going back to the original form.
Why should that be so? Why should there be progress in everything else only not in religion? The usual answer that religion rests on a divine and miraculous revelation and therefore cannot be improved is neither true nor honest. And to use such an argument in this place would be disloyal to the memory of the Founder of this lectureship; who wished religion to be treated ‘without reference to or reliance upon any supposed exceptional and so-called miraculous revelation.’ But those who use that argument seem really to forget that they are contradicting themselves. They hold the Old as well as the New Testament to have been divinely revealed and yet they would not deny that the New Testament represents a decided progress as compared with the Old. Through the whole of the Gospels there seems to sound that one deep note ‘Yθ have heard that it was said by them of old time—But I say unto you.’ Nay we might go further. We know that some of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity were in the eyes of the Jews irreligious. The idea of a divine sonship was not only new to the Jews it was blasphemy in their eyes and worthy of death. And yet that very idea has become the corner-stone of a new religion which new religion calls itself not the destruction but the fulfilment of the old.
There is nothing in the idea of revelation that excludes progress for whatever definition of revelation we may adopt it always represents a communication between the Divine on one side and the Human on the other. Let us grant that the divine element in revelation that is whatever of truth there is in revelation is immutable yet the human element the recipient must always be liable to the accidents and infirmities of human nature. That human element can never be eliminated in any religion certainly not in our own unless we claim infallibility not only for the founder of our religion and his disciples but for their disciples also and for a whole succession of the successors and vicars of Christ. To ignore that human element in all religions is like ignoring the eye as the recipient and determinant of the colours of light. We know more of the sun than our forefathers though the same sun shone on them which shines on us; and if astronomy has benefitted by its telescopes which have strengthened the powers of the human eye theology also ought not to despise whatever can strengthen the far-sightedness of human reason in its endeavours to gain a truer and purer idea of the Divine. A veil will always remain. No astronomer ventures to look at the sun without darkening his lens and man will have to look at what is beyond through a glass darkly. But as in every other pursuit so in religion also we want less and less of darkness more and more of light; we want call it life or growth or development or progress; we do not want mere rest mere stagnation mere death.
Now I say once more the foundation of this lectureship of Natural Theology seems to me a sign of the times pregnant with meaning. Lord Gifford intelligent observer of the world as he was must have been struck with the immense advances which all other sciences had been making during his life-time and the increasing benefits which they had conferred on society at large. And so he says in the clearest words:
I wish Natural Theology to be treated by my lecturers us astronomy or chemistry is as a strictly natural science the greatest of all possible sciences indeed in one sense the only science.’
What does that mean? It seems to me to mean that this observant and clear-headed Scotch lawyer though he could follow the progress of human knowledge from a distance only had convinced himself that theology should not stand aloof from the onward stream of human knowledge that it should not be treated according to rules of evidence and principles of criticism different from those to which all other sciences and more particularly his own science the Science of Law owed their strength their life and their vigorous growth but that it should take its place as a science among sciences undismayed by dangers and trusting in the inevitable triumph of truth. Whatever other Universities might say he wished the Scotch Universities to take the lead and to stretch out the right hand of fellowship to the newest among the sciences the last-born child of the nineteenth century the Science of Religion.
Some people profess to be frightened at the very name of the Science of Religion; but if they approached this new science more closely they would soon find that there is nothing behind that name that need frighten them. What does this science consist in? First of all in a careful collection of all the facts of religion; secondly in a comparison of religions with a view of bringing to light what is peculiar to each and what they all share in common; thirdly in an attempt to discover on the strength of the evidence thus collected what is the true nature the origin and purpose of all religion.
I ask then Where is the danger? And why should our Universities hesitate to recognise the Science of Religion as much as the Science of Language or the Science of Thought? The first Universities which provided chairs for the comparative study of the religions of the world were those of little plucky Holland. In 1880 France followed their example and M. Reville was appointed the first professor of the Science of Religion at the Collège de France. In 1886 a special school was founded at the École des Hautes Études in Paris for the study of religions. In Germany lectures on the great religions of the world were generally given by the professors who taught the languages in which the sacred writings were composed. This is an excellent plan perhaps the best that could be devised. The professor of Arabic would lecture on the Qur῾ân the professor of Persian on the Avesta the professor of Sanskrit on the Veda the professor of Hebrew on the Old Testament. Lately however separate chairs have been created for Comparative Theology in Germany also and even in the Roman Catholic University of Freiburg this new study has now found a worthy representative1.
It may seem strange to some that Lord Gifford should have expressed a wish that the Science of Religion should be treated as a strictly natural science. He may have thought of the method of the natural sciences only; but it seems to me not unlikely that he meant more and that looking on man as an integral part nay as the very crown of nature he wished religion to be treated as a spontaneous and necessary outcome of the mind of man when brought under the genial influence of surrounding nature. If religion such as we find it in all ages and among all races of men is a natural product of the human mind—and who denies this?—and if the human mind in its historical development cannot be dissevered from that nature on whose breasts it feeds and lives and grows the Science of Religion has certainly as perfect a right as the Science of Language to be classed as one of the natural sciences.
But that view does by no means exclude an historical study of religion; nay to my mind the more interesting if not the more important part of the Science of Religion is certainly concerned with what we call the historical development of religious thought and language. It is the same with the Science of Language. That science is certainly one of the natural sciences but we should never forget that it is full of interest also when treated as an historical science. The line of demarcation between the natural and the historical sciences is not so easy to draw as some philosophers imagine who would claim even the Science of Language as an exclusively historical science. All depends here as elsewhere on a proper definition of the terms which we employ. If we once clearly understand what we mean by the natural and what by the historical sciences we shall quickly understand each other; or if we differ still we may at all events agree to differ. Without it all wrangling pro or con is mere waste of time and may be carried on ad infinitum2.
From my own point of view which I need not vindicate again I am able to accept Lord Gifford's designation of the Science of Religion as a natural science in both meanings of which that name admits. I share with him the conviction that the same treatment which has caused the natural sciences to gain their greatest triumphs namely a critical collection of facts will be the most appropriate treatment of the Science of Religion; nor should I differ from him in looking on man in his purely phenomenal character as a part of nature nay as her highest achievement so that if religion can be shown to be a natural outcome of our faculties we may readily accept the Science of Religion as one of the natural sciences in the most comprehensive meaning of that term. Anyhow I hope I shall best carry out the intentions of the founder of this lectureship by devoting these lectures firstly to a careful collection of the facts of religion; secondly to an intercomparison of these facts; and thirdly to an interpretation of their meaning.
But Lord Gifford has not only indicated what he wished chiefly to be taught in these lectures on Natural Theology; he has been even more careful to indicate the spirit by which he hoped that his lecturers would be guided. And this seems to me the most remarkable feature of his bequest. Lord Gifford was evidently what the world would call a devout and religious man and you have heard how in his Will he expressed his conviction that a true knowledge of God is the means of man's highest well-being and the security of his upward progress. Yet so strong was his conviction that all scientific inquiry must be perfectly free if it is to be useful that he would hear of no restrictions in the choice of his lecturers.
They may be of any denomination whatever’ he says ‘or of no denomination at all; they may be of any religion or of no religion at all; they may be so-called sceptics or freethinkers so long as they have proved themselves sincere lovers of and earnest inquirers after truth.’
Now in this large-hearted charity and at the same moment in this unshaken faith in the indestructible character of religion we may surely recognise a sign of the times. Would such a Will have been possible fifty years ago? Would any English would any Scotch University at that time have accepted a lectureship on such conditions? I doubt it; and I see in the ready acceptance of these conditions on the part of the Scotch Universities the best proof that in the study and true appreciation of religion also our nineteenth century has not been stationary.
When it was first suggested that one of these Gifford readerships might be offered to me I replied at once to my friends at Edinburgh Glasgow and St. Andrews that I could not become a candidate. It so happened that I was informed at the same time that my own University might again require my services and I felt very strongly that at my time of life I ought not to undertake new duties but rather finish if possible the work which I had in hand. If I tell you that I was pledged to a new edition of the Rig-veda which consists of six volumes quarto of about a thousand pages each and that besides that I was engaged in putting a finishing touch to an English translation of the hymns of that Veda—to say nothing of new editions of several of my other books which like myself had grown old and antiquated you will readily believe that strongly as I felt tempted and highly as I felt honoured that I should have been thought of as a fit candidate I thought it wise not to enter on a new campaign.
But when I was informed by your Principal that though not a candidate I had been elected and unanimously elected by the Senate of your University I had not strength enough to say No. Whether I acted wisely or foolishly the future must show. But when I had once said Yes I must confess it was to me like the beginning of a new life. Some of the work on which I was engaged had to be thrown overboard; but I had now an opportunity and a splendid opportunity for summing up the whole work of my life.
Forgive me if for a short while I speak of myself. I know it is very wrong and may sound very selfish. But I am anxious to explain to you what the main outline of the work of my life has been and why I hope that in these lectures I may be able to gather up what seems to me worth preserving and at the same time to place before you the final outcome of life-long labours devoted to what the ancient Greeks called τὰ μέγιστα the greatest things. As a student at Leipzig in the year 1841 I began my studies as a classical scholar as a pupil of Gottfried Hermann Haupt Westermann Nobbe and Stallbaum. These were great names at the time and excellent teachers; but even before I had taken my degree I was tempted away by philosophy attending the lectures of Christian H. Weisse Drobisch Hartenstein and Lotze. Leipzig was then richer in great teachers than any other University in Germany. Hartenstein represented the classical Kantian school; Drobisch was a follower of Herbart; Weisse made propaganda for Hegelianism; Lotze then quite a young Privatdocent started a philosophical system of his own which now begins I believe to attract attention in Scotland also. I imagined at that time I was a Hegelian and I well remember when I passed my final Examination at Leipzig and had been wrangling for a long time with my Examiner Professor Drobisch all in Latin on the respective merits of Hegel and Herbart Drobisch who was then Dean of the Philosophical Faculty and who I believe is lecturing still at Leipzig addressed me in the following words: Vir doctissime quamvis nostris sententiis toto coelo distemus tamen to creo atque pronuntio magistrum Artium et Doctorem Philosophiae in Universitate nostra. The dissertation which I wrote in 1843 in order to obtain my Doctor's degree was ‘On the Third Book of Spinoza's Ethics De Affectibus.’
In the meantime like many other young philosophers I had been attracted by Schelling's fame to Berlin where I attended his lectures and soon become personally acquainted with the old sage. He was at that time an old man more of a poet and prophet than of a philosopher; and his lectures on the philosophy of mythology and religion opened many new views to my mind. But though I admired the depth and the wide range of his ideas I could not help being struck by what seemed to me his unfounded statements with regard to the ancient religions of the East. I had at Leipzig studied Arabic under Fleischer and Sanskrit under Brockhaus and I was then reading Persian with Rückert at Berlin. Though I was a mere boy Schelling was quite willing to listen to some of my criticisms and at his request I then translated for him some of the most important Upanishads which form part of the ancient Vedic literature. I have never been able to recover that translation and it was not till 1879 that I published a new and I hope more accurate translation of these theosophic treatises in my Sacred Books of the East.
I soon came to see however that these Upanishads were only the latest outcome of Vedic literature and that in order to know their antecedents in order to be able to appreciate the historical growth of the Indian mind during the Vedic age we must study the ancient hymns of the Veda. I remember having a most interesting discussion on the relative importance of the Vedic hymns and the Upanishads with Schopenhauer at Frankfort. He considered that the Upanishads were the only portion of the Veda which deserved our study and that all the rest was priestly rubbish (Priester-wirthschaft). His own philosophy he declared was founded on the Upanishads which as he says in one of his books ‘have been the solace of my life and will be the solace of my death3.’ To me it seemed that an historical study of the Vedic religion ought to begin with the hymns of the Rig-veda as containing in thought and language the antecedents of the Upanishads. The first book only of the Rig-veda the collection of hymns had then been published by Frederick Rosen and Rosen had died before even that first volume was printed. I felt convinced that all mythological and religious theories would remain without a solid foundation till the whole of the Rig-veda had been published. This idea took complete possession of me and young as I was and I ought to add reckless as I was instead of beginning my work as a lecturer in one of the German Universities I went to Paris to attend Burnouf's lectures and to copy and collate the MSS. of the Veda and its voluminous commentary. It was hard work very uphill work indeed for Sanskrit was not known then as it is now and the whole literature on which Sâyana's great commentary on the Rig-veda is founded was then almost entirely a terra incognita and had first to be discovered and to be studied from MSS. in the Bibliothèque Royale as it was then called or in Burnouf's private library. I often thought that I should have to give it up and return as a Privatdocent to a German University for I am not ashamed to say that during all that time at Paris I had to maintain myself as I have done ever since with these three fingers. However encouraged and helped by Burnouf I persevered and when I was ready to begin the printing of the first volume I came to England as I thought for a few weeks only to collate some MSS. at the East India House in Leadenhall Street and to make the acquaintance of Professor Wilson at that time the Nestor of real Sanskrit scholars in Europe. New clouds however were then gathering on my horizon. The Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg even at that time deeply interested in Indian literature had voted large funds for bringing out an edition of the Rig-veda with Sâyana's commentary and had asked the East India Company for the loan of those very MSS. which I had come to London to copy and collate. At the same time Professor Wilson in the name of the East India Company had sent invitations to the most learned Pandits in India asking them whether they would undertake an edition of the Rig-veda in India. All my plans seemed thus to collapse; but I need not trouble you with my personal troubles. Suffice it to say that the Pandits of India declined to undertake the edition of the text and commentary of the Rig-veda for the simple reason that the study of Vedic literature had at that time been entirely neglected in India; that the Directors of the late East India Company thought it unfair that the MSS. of the Rig-veda should be sent to the Imperial Academy at St. Petersburg at the very time when I had come to London to make use of them; and that on the recommendation of my old friend Professor Wilson the East India Company entrusted me with the publication of the Rig-veda at their expense.
I did not accept this offer with a light heart. It meant giving up my University career in Germany and more than that it meant severe drudgery and the very smallest pay for many years to come. I had no illusions about Sâyana's commentary. I knew it was the sine quâ non for all scholarlike study of the Veda; but I had seen enough of it to know that it certainly did not contain the key to a real understanding of the ancient hymns of the Veda. Besides that even the Veda was to me only a means to an end namely a philosophy of mythology and religion based on more trustworthy materials than those on which Schelling had been able to build his later philosophy of religion and mythology.
Thus while I determined to work for others in bringing out as complete and correct an edition of the Rig-veda and its commentary as was then possible I made up my mind at the same time to carry on my own work. Having then settled at Oxford and having been appointed to lecture on Modern Literature and Language I devoted my leisure to a study of the Science of Language. A study of language is absolutely necessary as an introduction to the study of philosophy as well as of religion. Whatever further research may teach us about the true nature of language it is clear from a purely practical point of view that language supplies at least the tools of thought and that a knowledge of these tools is as essential to a philosopher as a knowledge of his ship and his oars is to a sailor. The Science of Language as I treated it in my Lectures at Oxford is pre-eminently an analytical science. We take languages as we find them we trace them back to their earliest forms and classify them and then analyse every word till we arrive at elements which resist further analysis. These elements we call roots and leave them for the present as ultimate facts. In tracing the upward growth of words we arrive at a stage where we can clearly see the branching off of a large number of meanings springing from the same stem. And among these earliest ramifications we meet with a number of names familiar to us from what is called the mythology of ancient nations. We soon discover that these mythological expressions are by no means restricted to religious ideas but that there is a period in the growth of language in which everything may or must assume a mythological expression. It was the object of the second volume of my Lectures on the Science of Language to establish the fact that mythology in its true sense was an inevitable phase in the development of the human mind and that we could solve many of its riddles with the help of such indications as were supplied to us by a careful study of the general growth of language. I called this peculiar phase or affection of language a kind of disease though like many diseases it ought really to be recognised as a recuperative crisis in the youthful constitution of the human mind. In some few cases only to which on account of their perplexing nature I called particular attention could mythology rightly be considered as a disease as a premature hardening so to say of the organic tissues of language namely when a word had lost its original meaning and was afterwards interpreted or rather misinterpreted in accordance with the ideas of a later age. I tried to work out this principle in a number of essays which formed the foundation of what is now called Comparative Mythology or the Science of Mythology. In spite of much opposition arising chiefly from a failure on the part of my critics to understand the principles which I followed and to comprehend the objects I had in view that Science of Mythology is now as firmly established as the Science of Language4 and I can honestly say that nothing has strengthened my faith in it so much as a gallant and powerful charge lately made against it by a most learned and conscientious critic I mean Professor Gruppe in his Griechische Cultc und Mythen 1887. I shall often have to refer to this book in the course of my lectures I shall often have to express my entire dissent from it; but before we come to blows I like thus publicly to shake hands with an antagonist who is learned serious honest and honourable.
These mythological researches led me back naturally to the problem with which I had started the problem of the origin and growth of religion. And here it was a similar summons to that which has brought me here to-day namely an invitation to deliver the first course of the Hibbert Lectures in London in 1878 that enabled me to lay before a large public the principles of the Science of Religion and Comparative Theology5 as applied to the origin and growth of religion in India.
It was while engaged in these researches that I began to feel the absolute necessity of our possessing trustworthy translations not only of the Veda but of all the Sacred Books of the East. I had by that time finished the edition of the Rig-veda and its commentary and it was expected that I should publish a complete translation of it. But here I broke down for reasons which those who know anything of the present state of Vedic scholarship will readily understand. The accumulation of material was too great for a single and no longer a young scholar. The one scholar in Germany who by his lexicographic labours would seem to have been best qualified for that task Professor Roth declared honestly that a translation of the Veda is a task not for this but for the next century.
I had still many things to finish and I felt the time had come for drawing in my sails. Having lectured for twenty-five years at Oxford I thought I had a right to be relieved; nay I felt it a duty to the University to make room for younger and more vigorous men. I then formed a small society consisting of the best Oriental scholars in Europe and India and we began to publish a series of translations of the Sacred Books of the East which by this time amounts to thirty volumes and will ultimately comprise forty-eight.
While engaged in conducting this undertaking I felt it necessary before resuming my study of religion to define more clearly my own philosophical position. I had from the very first made it sufficiently clear I thought that to my mind language and thought were inseparable that thought was language minus sound instead of language being as was commonly supposed thought plus sound. It was from that point of view that I felt justified in treating mythology as I had done namely as an affection or even as a disease of language and it was in the same sense that I had tried to read in the annals of language some of the secrets of the growth of religion. The common illusion that language is different from thought and thought different from language seemed to me one of the best illustrations of modern philosophical mythology; but I found that even professed philosophers clung to that myth with the same tenacity with which they cling to their belief in faculties and forces as different from their manifestations. They had so little understood the fundamental principle on which my system rested namely the absolute identity of language and thought that one of them Professor Gruppe published his large work on Mythology chiefly in order to show that instead of explaining mythology as a peculiarity of language. I ought to have explained it as a peculiarity of thought. What is one to say to this kind of criticism which ignores or rather runs its head against the very walls of the fortress which it means to besiege? I thus was almost compelled to publish my last book the Science of Thought in which I collected all the facts that had been brought to light by the Science of Language in support of a theory held by the most eminent philosophers from Plato to Hegel6 namely that Logos is the same thing whether you translate it by language or by thought and that as there is no language without reason neither is there any reason without language.
I hope to treat this question more fully in some of my later lectures. At present I only wished to show what is the red thread which holds my literary work together and to explain to you why when I received the invitation to lecture on Natural Theology in this University I felt that if life and health were granted me this was the very work I ought still to accomplish. I want if possible to show you how the road which leads from the Science of Language to the Science of Mythology and to the Science of Thought is the only safe road on which to approach the Science of Religion. This Science of Religion will thus become the test and I hope the confirmation of previous theories on language mythology and thought; and the work which I began at Leipzig in 1843 will if my life is spared be brought to its final consummation in the Lectures which you have allowed me to give in the University of Glasgow.
The task with which you have entrusted me is enormous-far beyond the powers of any one man and I know full well far beyond my own powers. All I can promise you is to help to clear the ground and to lay the foundation; but to erect a building such as Lord Gifford shadowed forth in his Last Will to raise a temple wide enough strong enough high enough for all the religious aspirations of the human race that we must leave to future generations—to younger to stronger and to better hands.

  • 1.

    Die allgemeine rergleichende Religionswissenschaff im akademischen Studium unserer Zeit. von Dr. E. Hardy, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1887.

  • 2.

    Lecture on the science of Language, vol. i. p. 1; ‘The Science of Language as one of the Physical Sciences.’

  • 3.

    Upanishads, translated by Max Müller, Sacred Books of the East, vol. i, p. lxi.

  • 4.

    See A. Barth, Bulletin de la Mythologie Aryenne, in the Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, 1880, p. 109.

  • 5.

    Hibbert Lectures, Longmans, 1882.

  • 6.

    See Contemporary Review, October, 1888: ‘My Predecessors.’

From the book: