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Max Müller as a young man

Friedrich Max Müller (December 6, 1823 – October 28, 1900), more regularly known as Max Müller, was a German philologist and Orientalist, one of the founders of the western academic field of Indian studies and the discipline of comparative religion. Müller wrote both scholarly and popular works on the subject of Indology, a discipline he introduced to the British reading public, and the Sacred Books of the East, a massive, 50-volume set of English translations prepared under his direction, stands as an enduring monument to Victorian scholarship.

Contents

Life and work

He was born in Dessau, the son of the Romantic poet Wilhelm Müller, whose verse Franz Schubert had set to music in his song-cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise. Max Müller's mother, Adelheide Müller, was the eldest daughter of a chief minister of Anhalt-Dessau. Müller knew Felix Mendelssohn and had Carl Maria von Weber as a godfather.

In 1841 he entered Leipzig University, where he left his early interest in music and poetry in favour of philosophy. Müller received his Ph.D. in 1843 for a dissertation on Spinoza's Ethics.[1] He also displayed an aptitude for languages, learning the Classical languages Greek and Latin, as well as Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. In 1844 Müller went to Berlin to study with Friedrich Schelling. He began to translate the Upanishads for Schelling, and continued to research Sanskrit under Franz Bopp, the first systematic scholar of the Indo-European languages. Schelling led Müller to relate the history of language to the history of religion. At this time, Müller published his first book, a German translation of the Hitopadesa, a collection of Indian fables.

In 1845, Müller moved to Paris to study Sanskrit under Eugène Burnouf. It was Burnouf who encouraged him to publish the complete Rig Veda in Sanskrit, using manuscripts available in England.

Müller moved to England in 1846 in order to study Sanskrit texts in the collection of the East India Company. He supported himself at first with creative writing, his novel German Love being popular in its day. Müller's connections with the East India Company and with Sanskritists based at Oxford University led to a career in Britain, where he eventually became the leading intellectual commentator on the culture of India, which Britain controlled as part of its Empire. This led to complex exchanges between Indian and British intellectual culture, especially through Müller's links with the Brahmo Samaj. He became a member of Christ Church, Oxford in 1851, when he gave his first series of lectures on comparative philology. He gained appointments as Taylorian Professor of Modern European Languages in 1854. Defeated in the 1860 competition for the tenured Chair of Sanskrit, he later became Oxford's first Professor of Comparative Theology (1868 – 1875), at All Souls College.

Müller attempted to formulate a philosophy of religion that addressed the crisis of faith engendered by the historical and critical study of religion by German scholars on the one hand, and by the Darwinian revolution on the other. Müller was wary of Darwin's work on human evolution, and attacked his view of the development of human faculties. His work was taken up by cultural commentators such as his friend John Ruskin, who saw it as a productive response to the crisis of the age (compare Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"). He analyzed mythologies as rationalizations of natural phenomena, primitive beginnings that we might denominate "protoscience" within a cultural evolution; Müller's "anti-Darwinian" concepts of the evolution of human cultures are among his least lasting achievements.

Müller circa 1898.

Müller shared many of the ideas associated with Romanticism, which coloured his account of ancient religions, in particular his emphasis on the formative influence on early religion of emotional communion with natural forces.

Müller's Sanskrit studies came at a time when scholars had started to see language development in relation to cultural development. The recent discovery of the Indo-European (IE) language group had started to lead to much speculation about the relationship between Greco-Roman cultures and those of more ancient peoples. In particular the Vedic culture of India was thought to have been the ancestor of European Classical cultures, and scholars sought to compare the genetically related European and Asian languages in order to reconstruct the earliest form of the root-language. The Vedic language, Sanskrit, was thought to be the oldest of the IE languages. Müller therefore devoted himself to the study of this language, becoming one of the major Sanskrit scholars of his day. Müller believed that the earliest documents of Vedic culture should be studied in order to provide the key to the development of pagan European religions, and of religious belief in general. To this end, Müller sought to understand the most ancient of Vedic scriptures, the Rig-Veda.[2]

Müller was greatly impressed by Ramakrishna Paramhansa, his contemporary and proponent of Vedantic philosophy, and authored several essays and books on him.[3].

A 1907 study of Müller's inaugural Hibbert Lecture of 1878 was made by one of his contemporaries, D. Menant.[4] It argued that a crucial role was played by Müller and social reformer Behramji Malabari in initiating debate on child marriage and widow remarriage questions in India.

For Müller, the study of the language had to relate to the study of the culture in which it had been used. He came to the view that the development of languages should be tied to that of belief-systems. At that time the Vedic scriptures were little-known in the West, though there was increasing interest in the philosophy of the Upanishads. Müller believed that the sophisticated Upanishadic philosophy could be linked to the primitive henotheism of early Vedic Brahmanism from which it evolved. He had to travel to London in order to look at documents held in the collection of the British East India Company. While there he persuaded the company to allow him to undertake a critical edition of the Rig-Veda, a task he pursued doggedly over many years (1849 - 1874), and which resulted in the critical edition for which he is most remembered.

For Müller, the culture of the Vedic peoples represented a form of nature worship, an idea clearly influenced by Romanticism. He saw the gods of the Rig-Veda as active forces of nature, only partly personified as imagined supernatural persons. From this claim Müller derived his theory that mythology is 'a disease of language'. By this he meant that myth transforms concepts into beings and stories. In Müller's view 'gods' began as words constructed in order to express abstract ideas, but were transformed into imagined personalities. Thus the Indo-European father-god appears under various names: Zeus, Jupiter, Dyaus Pita. For Müller all these names can be traced to the word 'Dyaus', which he understands to imply 'shining' or 'radiance'. This leads to the terms 'deva', 'deus', 'theos' as generic terms for a god, and to the names 'Zeus' and 'Jupiter' (derived from deus-pater). In this way a metaphor becomes personified and ossified. This aspect of Müller's thinking closely resembled the later ideas of Nietzsche.

Nevertheless Müller's work contributed to the developing interest in Aryan culture which set Indo-European ('Aryan') traditions in opposition to Semitic religions. He was deeply saddened by the fact that these later came to be expressed in racist terms. This was far from Müller's own intention. For Müller the discovery of common Indian and European ancestry was a powerful argument against racism, arguing that "an ethnologist who speaks of Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair, is as great a sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolichocephalic dictionary or a brachycephalic grammar" and that "the blackest Hindus represent an earlier stage of Aryan speech and thought than the fairest Scandinavians".[5]

In 1881, he published a translation of the first edition of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. He agreed with Schopenhauer that this edition was the most direct and honest expression of Kant's thought. His translation corrected several errors that were committed by previous translators. In his Translator's Preface, Müller wrote, "The bridge of thoughts and sighs that spans the whole history of the Aryan world has its first arch in the Veda, its last in Kant's Critique.…While in the Veda we may study the childhood, we may study in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason the perfect manhood of the Aryan mind.…The materials are now accessible, and the English-speaking race, the race of the future, will have in Kant's Critique another Aryan heirloom, as precious as the Veda — a work that may be criticised, but can never be ignored."

He was also influenced by the work Thought and Reality, of the Russian philosopher African Spir[6]

His wife, Georgina Adelaide (died 1916) had his papers and correspondence carefully bound; they are at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.[7] The Goethe Institutes in India are named Max Müller Bhavan in his honour.[8] Müller's son Wilhelm Max Müller was also an important scholar.

Reception

Portrait of the elderly Max Müller by George Frederic Watts, 1894-1895

Müller's comparative religion was criticized as subversive of the Christian faith. According to Monsignor Munro, the Roman Catholic bishop of St Andrew's Cathedral in Glasgow, his 1888 Gifford Lectures on the "science of religion" represented nothing less than "a crusade against divine revelation, against Jesus Christ and Christianity".[9] Similar accusations had already led to Müller's exclusion from the Boden chair in Sanskrit in favour of the conservative Monier Monier-Williams. By the 1880s Müller was being courted by Charles Godfrey Leland, Helena Blavatsky and other writers who were seeking to assert the merits of "Pagan" religious traditions over Christianity. The designer Mary Fraser Tytler stated that Müller's book Chips from a German Workshop (a collection of his essays) was her "Bible", which helped her to create a multi-cultural sacred imagery.

Müller distanced himself from these developments, and remained within the Lutheran faith in which he had been brought up. He several times expressed the view that a "reformation" within Hinduism needed to occur comparable to the Christian Reformation.[10] In his view, "if there is one thing which a comparative study of religions places in the clearest light, it is the inevitable decay to which every religion is exposed... Whenever we can trace back a religion to its first beginnings, we find it free from many blemishes that affected it in its later states". He used his links with the Brahmo Samaj in order to encourage such a reformation on the lines pioneered by Ram Mohan Roy.

In a letter to his wife, he said:

The translation of the Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion, and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3000 years.[11]

Munro had argued conversely that Müller's theories "uprooted our idea of God, for it repudiated the idea of a personal God." He made "divine revelation simply impossible, because it [his theory] reduced God to mere nature, and did away with the body and soul as we know them." Müller remained profoundly influenced by the Kantian Transcendentalist model of spirituality, and was opposed to Darwinian ideas of human development, arguing that "language forms an impassable barrier between man and beast."[12]

References

  1. ^ Müller biography at Gifford Lectures website
  2. ^ Müller, F. Max, Rig-Veda-Samhita: The Sacred Hymns of the Brahmans
  3. ^ Vedanta Society of New York: Ramakrishna
  4. ^ Menant M D, (1907) "Influence of Max Muller’s Hibbert Lectures in India", The American Journal of Theology, vol. 11, no. 2, p. 293-307, available to [jstor] subscribers.
  5. ^ Mull Max, Biographies of Words and the Home of the Aryas (1888), Kessinger Publishing reprint, 2004, p.120; Dorothy Matilda Figueira, Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority Through Myths of Identity, Suny Press, 2002, p.45
  6. ^ "William James, of Harvard, was among the first foreigners to take cognizance of Thought and Reality, already in 1873, then Max Müller of Oxford, in Holland Spruyt, Lund and G.[erardus] Heymans, the latter declared later that Spir exercised a real influence on the elaboration of his thought." Lettres inédites de African Spir au Professeur Penjon (Unpublished Letters of African Spir to Professor Penjon), Neuchâtel, 1948, p. 231, n. 7.
  7. ^ Bodleian Müller archive
  8. ^ Deepa A, Chitra (2007-05-14). "Max Mueller Bhavan gets new identity". The Hindu. http://www.hindu.com/edu/2007/05/14/stories/2007051451470400.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  9. ^ (S₣159) (S₣159) (S₣159) Myth/Folklore Scholar Reports
  10. ^ Menant M D, (1907) "Influence of Max Muller’s Hibbert Lectures in India", The American Journal of Theology, vol. 11, no. 2, p. 293-307
  11. ^ Müller, Georgina, The Life and Letters of Right Honorable Friedrich Max Müller, 2 vols. London: Longman, 1902.
  12. ^ Müller, F. Max. Three Lectures on the Science of Language, etc., with a Supplement, My Predecessors. 3rd ed. Chicago, 1899, p. 5.

Bibliography

  • Lourens P. van den Bosch, Friedrich Max Müller: A Life Devoted to the Humanities, 2002. Recent biography sets him in the context of Victorian intellectual culture.
  • Jon R. Stone (ed.), The Essential Max Müller: On Language, Mythology, and Religion, New York: Palgrave, 2002, ISBN 9780312293093. Collection of 19 essays; also includes an intellectual biography.
  • Nirad C. Chaudhuri , Scholar Extraordinary, The Life of Professor the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Muller, P.C.(1974)

Publications

Müller’s scholarly works, published separately as well as an 18-volume Collected Works, include:

  • A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature So Far As It Illustrates the Primitive Religion of the Brahmans (1859), 1859
  • Lectures on the Science of Language (1864, 2 vols.), Fifth Edition, Revised 1866
  • Chips from a German Workshop (1867-75, 5vols.)
  • Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873)
  • Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religions of India (1878) [1]
  • India, What can it Teach Us? (1883) [2]
  • Biographical Essays (1884)
  • Upanishads. Wordsworth Editions. 2001 (first 1884). ISBN 184022102. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=-dq1_WC-Y5gC&pg=PA3&dq=katha+upanishad&cd=2#v=onepage&q=katha%20upanishad&f=false. 
  • The German Classics from the Fourth to the Nineteenth Century (1886,2Vols) [3]
  • The Science of Thought (1887,2Vols)
  • Studies in Buddhism (1888) [4] [5]
  • Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy (1899)
  • Gifford Lectures of 1888–92 (Collected Works, vols. 1-4)
    • Natural Religion (1889), Vol. 1, Vol. 2
    • Physical Religion (1891), [6]
    • Anthropological Religion (1892), [7]
    • Theosophy, or Psychological Religion (1893), [8]
  • Auld Lang Syne (1898,2 Vols), a memoir
  • My Autobiography: A Fragment (1901) [9]
  • The Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Müller (1902, 2 vols.) Vol I [10], Vol II [

See also

External links

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Whenever we can trace back a religion to its first beginnings, we find it free from many blemishes that affected it in its later states.

Friedrich Max Müller (6 December 182328 October 1900), more commonly known as Max Müller (or Mueller), was a German philologist and Orientalist, who was a major pioneer of the discipline of comparative religion.

Sourced

History seems to teach that the whole human race required a gradual education before, in the fullness of time, it could be admitted to the truths of Christianity.
  • History seems to teach that the whole human race required a gradual education before, in the fullness of time, it could be admitted to the truths of Christianity. All the fallacies of human reason had to be exhausted, before the light of a high truth could meet with ready acceptance. The ancient religions of the world were but the milk of nature, which was in due time to be succeeded by the bread of life.... The religion of Buddha has spread far beyond the limits of the Aryan world, and to our limited vision, it may seem to have retarded the advent of Christianity among a large portion of the human race. But in the sight of Him with whom a thousand years are but as one day, that religion, like the ancient religions of the world, may have but served to prepare the way of Christ, by helping through its very errors to strengthen and to deepen the ineradicable yearning of the human heart after the truth of God.
    • History of Ancient Sanksrit Literature (1860)
When a religion has ceased to produce defenders of the faith, prophets, champions, martyrs, it has ceased to live, in the true sense of the word...
  • The worship of Shiva, Vishnu, and other popular deities was of the same and in many cases of a more degraded and savage character than the worship of Jupiter, Apollo or Minerva. ... A religion may linger on for a long time, it may be accepted by large masses of the people, because it is there, and there is nothing better. But when a religion has ceased to produce defenders of the faith, prophets, champions, martyrs, it has ceased to live, in the true sense of the word; and in that sense the old orthodox Brahmanism has ceased to live for more than a thousand years.
    • Lecture at Westminster Abbey (1873); as quoted in Hinduism: a religion to live by (1997) by Nirad C. Chaudhari ISBN 0195640136
If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life... I should point to India.
  • If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of the Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw the corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human a life... again I should point to India.
    • India, What can it teach us (1882) Lecture IV
  • They contain, by the side of simple, natural, childish thoughts, many ideas which to us sound decidedly modern, or secondary and tertiary.
    • On the Vedas, in India, What can it teach us (1882) Lecture IV
  • I have declared again and again that if I say Aryans, I mean neither blood nor bones, nor hair nor skull; I mean simply those who speak an Aryan language… in that sense, and in that sense only, do I say that even the blackest Hindus represent an earlier stage of Aryan speech and thought than the fairest Scandinavians... To me an ethnologist who speaks of Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair, is as great a sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolichocephalic dictionary or a brachycephalic grammar.
    • Biographies of Words and the Home of the Aryas (1888)
  • The translation of the Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion, and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3000 years.
    • Letter to his wife Georgina, published in The Life and Letters of Right Honorable Friedrich Max Müller (1902) edited by Georgina Müller
  • Would you say that any one sacred book is superior to all others in the world? ... I say the New Testament, after that, I should place the Koran, which in its moral teachings, is hardly more than a later edition of the New Testament. Then would follow according to my opinion the Old Testament, the Southern Buddhist Tripitaka, the Tao-te-king of Laotze, the Kings of Confucius, the Veda and the Avesta.
    • Letter to his son, published in The Life and Letters of Right Honorable Friedrich Max Müller (1902) edited by Georgina Müller, Vol. II, Ch. XXXII
  • Tell me some of your chief difficulties that prevent you and your countrymen from openly following Christ, and when I write to you I shall do my best to explain how I and many who agree with me have met them and solved them... From my point of view, India, at least the best part of it, is already converted to Christianity. You want no persuasion to become a follower of Christ. Then make up your mind to act for yourselves. Unite your flock, and put up a few folds to hold them together. The bridge has been built by you for those who came before you. Step boldly forward, it will not break under you, and you will find many friends to welcome you on the other shore, and among them none more delighted that you old friend and fellow labourer.
    • Letter to Protap Chunder Mozoomdar, author of The Oriental Christ (1883); published in The Life and Letters of Right Honorable Friedrich Max Müller (1902) edited by Georgina Müller, Vol. II., Ch. XXXIV
He must be a man of little faith, who would fear to subject his own religion to the same critical tests to which the historian subjects all other religions. We need not surely crave a tender or merciful treatment for that faith which we hold to be the only true one.

Chips from a German Workshop (1866)

  • He must be a man of little faith, who would fear to subject his own religion to the same critical tests to which the historian subjects all other religions. We need not surely crave a tender or merciful treatment for that faith which we hold to be the only true one. We should rather challenge it for the severest tests and trials, as the sailor would for the good ship to which he trusts his own life, and the lives of those who are dear to him. In the Science of Religion, we can decline no comparisons, nor claim any immunities for Christianity, as little as the missionary can, when wrestling with the subtle Brahmin, or the fanatical Mussulman, or the plain speaking Zulu.
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
The Science of Language has taught us that there is order and wisdom in all languages, and even the most degraded jargons contain the ruins of former greatness and beauty.
  • Missionaries are apt to look upon all other religions as something totally distinct from their own, as formerly they used to describe the languages of barbarous nations as something more like the twittering of birds than the articulate speech of men. The Science of Language has taught us that there is order and wisdom in all languages, and even the most degraded jargons contain the ruins of former greatness and beauty. The Science of Religion, I hope, will produce a similar change in our views of barbarous forms of faith and worship; and missionaries, instead of looking only for points of difference, will look out more anxiously for any common ground, any spark of the true light that may still be revived, any altar that may be dedicated afresh to the true God.
    And even to us at home, a wider view of the religious life of the world may teach many a useful lesson.
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
The great problems touching the relation of the Finite to the Infinite, of the human mind as the recipient, and of the Divine Spirit as the source of truth, are old problems indeed...
  • The position which believers and unbelievers occupy with regard to their various forms of faith is very much the same all over the world. The difficulties which trouble us, have troubled the hearts and minds of men as far back as we can trace the beginnings of religious life. The great problems touching the relation of the Finite to the Infinite, of the human mind as the recipient, and of the Divine Spirit as the source of truth, are old problems indeed; and while watching their appearance in different countries, and their treatment under varying circumstances, we shall be able, I believe, to profit ourselves, both by the errors which others committed before us, and by the truth which they discovered. We shall know the rocks that threaten every religion in this changing and shifting world of ours, and having watched many a storm of religious controversy and many a shipwreck in distant seas, we shall face with greater calmness and prudence the troubled waters at home.
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
The founders of the ancient religions of the world, as far as we can judge, were minds of a high stamp, full of noble aspirations, yearning for truth, devoted to the welfare of their neighbors, examples of purity and unselfishness.
  • If there is one thing which a comparative study of religions places in the clearest light, it is the inevitable decay to which every religion is exposed. It may seem almost like a truism, that no religion can continue to be what it was during the lifetime of its founder and its first apostles. Yet it is but seldom borne in mind that without constant reformation, i.e. without a constant return to its fountan-head, every religion, even the most perfect, nay the most perfect on account of its very perfection, more even than others, suffers from its contact with the world, as the purest air suffers froln the mere fact of its being breathed.
    Whenever we can trace back a religion to its first beginnings, we find it free from many of the blemishes that offend us in its later phases. The founders of the ancient religions of the world, as far as we can judge, were minds of a high stamp, full of noble aspirations, yearning for truth, devoted to the welfare of their neighbors, examples of purity and unselfishness. What they desired to found upon earth was but seldom realized, and their sayings, if preserved in their original form, offer often a strange contrast to the practice of those who profess to be their disciples. As soon as a religion is established, and more particularly when it has become the religion of a powerful state, the foreign and worldly elements encroach more and more on the original foundation, and human interests mar the simplicity and purity of the plan which the founder had conceived in his own heart, and matured in his communings with his God. Even those who lived with Buddha misunderstood his words, and at the Great Council which had to settle the Buddhist canon, Asoka, the Indian Constantine had to remind the assembled priests that "what had been said by Buddha, that alone was well said;" and that certain works ascribed to Buddha, as, for instance, the instruction given to his son, Râhula, were apocryphal, if not heretical.
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
It is necessary that we too should see the beam in our own eyes, and learn to distinguish between the Christianity of the nineteenth century and the religion of Christ.
  • It is necessary that we too should see the beam in our own eyes, and learn to distinguish between the Christianity of the nineteenth century and the religion of Christ. If we find that the Christianity of the nineteenth century does not win as many hearts in India and China as it ought, let us remember that it was the Christianity of the first century in all its dogmatic simplicity, but with its overpowering love of God and man, that conquered the worId and superseded religions and philosophies, more difficult to conquer than the religious and philosophical systems of Hindus and Buddhists. If we can teach something to the Brahmans in reading with them their sacred hymns, they too can teach us something when reading with us the gospel of Christ. Never shall I forget the deep despondency of a Hindu convert, a real martyr to his faith, who had pictured to himself from the pages of the New Testament what a Christian country must be, and who when he came to Europe found everything so different from what he had imagined in his lonely meditations at Benares!
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
  • How can a missionary in such circumstances meet the surprise and questions of his pupils, unless he may point to that seed, and tell them what Christianity was meant to be; unless he may show that. like all other religions, Christianity, too, has had its history; that the Christianity of the nineteenth century is not the Christianity of the Middle Ages, that the Christianity of the MiddIe Ages was not that of the early Councils, that the Christianity of the early Councils was not that of the Apostles, and "that what has been said by Christ, that alone was weII said?"
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
Hidden in this rubbish there are precious stones.
  • I do not wish by what I have said to raise any exaggerated expectations as to the worth of these ancient hymns of the Veda, and the character of that religion which they indicate rather than fully describe. The historical importance of the Veda can hardly be exaggerated; but its intrinsic merit, and particularly the beauty or elevation of its sentiments, have by many been rated far too high. Large numbers of the Vedic hymns are childish in the extreme: tedious, low, commonplace. The gods are constantly inyoked to protect their worshippers, to grant them food, large flocks, large families, and a long life; for all which benefits they are to be rewarded by the praises and sacrifices offered day after day, or at certain seasons of the year. But hidden in this rubbish there are precious stones.
    • "Lecture on the Vedas" - first presented at the Philosophical Institution, Leeds (March 1865)
Then first came love upon it, the new spring
Of mind — yea, poets in their hearts discerned,
Pondering, this bond between created things
And uncreated...
Who knows from whence this great creation sprang?
He from whom all this great creation came,
Whether his will created or was mute,
The Most High Seer that is in highest heaven,
He knows it — or perchance even He knows not.
  • Still the child betrays the passions of the man, and there are hymns, though few in number, in the Veda, so full of thought and speculation that at this early period no poet in any other nation could have conceived them. I give but one specimen, the 129th hymn of the tenth book of the Rig-veda. It is a hymn which long ago attracted the attention of that eminent scholar H. T. Colebrooke, and of which, by the kind assistance of a friend, I am enabled to offer a metrical translation. In judging it we should hear in mind that it was not written by a gnostic or by a pantheistic philosopher, but by a poet who felt all these doubts and problems as his own, without any wish to convince or to startle, only uttering what had been weighing on his mind, just as later poets would sing the doubts and sorrows of their heart.
Nor Aught nor Naught existed; yon bright sky
Was not, nor heaven's broad woof outstretched above.
What covered all? what sheltered? what concealed?

Was it the water's fathomles abyss?
There was not death — yet was there naught immortal,
There was no confine betwixt day and night;
The only One breathed breathless by itself,
Other than It there nothing since has been.
Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled
In gloom profound — an ocean without light —
The germ that still lay covered in the husk
Burst forth, one nature, from the fervent heat.
Then first came love upon it, the new spring
Of mind — yea, poets in their hearts discerned,
Pondering, this bond between created things
And uncreated. Comes this spark from earth
Piercing and all-pervading, or from heaven?
Then seeds were sown, and mighty powers arose —
Nature below, and power and will above —
Who knows the secret? who proclaimed it here,
Whence, whence this manifold creation sprang?
The gods themselves came later into being —
Who knows from whence this great creation sprang?
He from whom all this great creation came,
Whether his will created or was mute,
The Most High Seer that is in highest heaven,
He knows it — or perchance even He knows not.
  • "The Vedas"

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