Scholarship or Philology?

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship, Vol. 1

Definition of ‘Scholarship’

“‘Scholarship’ may be defined as ‘ the sum of the mental attainments of a scholar ‘. It is sometimes identified with ‘learning’ or ‘erudition’; but it is often contrasted with it. Nearly half a century ago this contrast was clearly drawn by two eminent contemporaries at Oxford and Cambridge. ‘I maintain,’ says Donaldson,’ that not all learned men are accomplished scholars, though any accomplished scholar may, if he chooses to devote the time to the necessary studies, become a learned man’[1]. ‘It is not a knowledge’, writes Mark Pattison, ‘but a discipline, that is required; not science, but the scientific habit; not erudition, but scholarship’[2] ‘Classical Scholarship’ may be described as being, and in the present work is understood to be, ‘the accurate study of the language, literature, and art of Greece and Rome, and of all that they teach us as to the nature and the history of man’.


Scholarship and ‘Philology’

As compared with the term ‘philology’, often borrowed in English from the languages of France and Germany, and the term ‘scholarship’ has the advantage of being a more distinctively English word, and of having the terms ‘scholar’ and ‘scholarly’ in exact correspondence with it, whereas ‘philology’ is in England a borrowed word of ambiguous meaning, while ‘philologer’ and ‘philologist’ are apt to be used in a linguistic sense alone. Thus, Scott in the Antiquary makes one of his characters say of the question whether a particular word is Celtic or Gothic: — ‘I conceive that is a dispute which may be easily settled by philologists, if there are any remains of the language’[3] We may also recall the memorable words of Sir William Jones : — ‘No philologer could examine the Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin without believing them to have sprung from some common source’[4]. ‘Philologer’ is hardly ever used in any wider sense; even in the linguistic sense, the word we generally prefer is ‘scholar’. ‘When I speak contemptuously of philology‘, says Ruskin, ‘ it might be answered me, that I am a bad scholar[5].

The present confusion in the English use of the word ‘philology’ may be illustrated by the fact that in a standard work bearing the title of a ‘Manual of Comparative Philology’, the term ‘Philology’ is frequendy used in the same sense as ‘Comparative Philology’, and as a synonym for ‘the Science of Language’. The author, I need hardly add, is fully conscious of the confusion between the English and German senses of the word. “In Germany “(as he justly observes) “the word Philologie means only the body of knowledge dealing with the literary side of a language as an expression of the spirit and character of a nation and consequently the department dealing with language as language forms but a subordinate part of this wide science. But in England the study of language as such has developed so largely in comparison with the wider science of Philology under which it used to rank, that it has usurped for itself the name of ‘Comparative Philology ‘ and in recent years of ‘ Philology ‘without any limitation”[6]. Similarly, in the article on ‘Philology’ in the latest edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica:— “Philology is the generally accepted comprehensive name for the study of the word; it designates that branch of knowledge which deals with human speech, and with all that speech discloses as to the nature and history of man. Philology has two principal divisions, corresponding to the two uses of ‘word’ or ‘speech’, as signifying either what is said, or the language in which it is said, as either the thought expressed — which, when recorded, takes the form of literature — or the instrumentality of its expression: these dixnsions are the literary and the linguistic… Continental usage (especially German) tends more strongly than English to restrict the name ‘philology’ to” the literary sense. Meanwhile, in England, it is unfortunately the fact that ‘philology’ and ‘comparative philology’ are constantly confounded with one another. Yet, some forty years ago, Max Müller insisted that comparative philology has really nothing whatever in common with philology in the wider meaning of the word. ‘Philology… is, an historical science. Language is here treated simply as a means. The classical scholar uses Greek or Latin… as a key to the understanding of the literary monuments which bygone ages have bequeathed to us, as a spell to raise from the tomb of time the thoughts of great men in different ages and different countries, and as a means ultimately to trace the social, moral, intellectual, and religious progress of the human race…. In comparative philology the case is totally different. In the science of language, languages are not treated as a means; language itself becomes the sole object of scientific inquiry’[7]

The above reasons are sufficient to justify the choice of the title ‘History of Classical Scholarship’ for a work appealing primarily to students and scholars who, in England or elsewhere, claim English as their mother-tongue. But, whether, in this connexion, we prefer to use the English word ‘Scholarship’, or the foreign word ‘Philology’, in either case the history of the latter term is part of the history of our subject, and a few preliminary paragraphs may well be devoted to a brief examination of the ancient Greek originals from which that term and also the terms ‘philologer’, ‘grammarian’ and ‘critic’ are directly derived. The variations in the meanings of the ancient terms themselves, as compared with those of their modern derivatives, are not uninteresting or unimportant.”

[1] Classical Scholarship and Classical Learning, p.149 (1856)

[2] Essays, I 425 (written in 1855)

[3] C. vi p. 61 of Centenary ed.

[4] Works, iii 34, ed. 1807.

[5] Modern Painters, IV xvi § 28 n.

[6] P. Giles, Manual of Comparative Philology p. 3 f.

[7] Lectures on the Science of Language, I 24, ed. 1866

Related image

2 thoughts on “Scholarship or Philology?

Leave a Reply