The Essential Max Müller: On Language, Mythology, and Religion Review

The Essential Max Müller: On Language, Mythology, and Religion
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The Essential Max Müller: On Language, Mythology, and Religion ReviewAll human knowledge, however antiquated, possesses some value for the present. True, such knowledge may not yield pure gold, but there might still be a few nuggets one can mine, specks of gold ore that can be used to enrich one's knowledge of human history and of human ideas. It is perhaps ironic that what Max Muller had observed in his "Lecture on the Vedas" became true of his own scholarship. For while he thought the Vedic hymns "tedious, low, commonplace," he still believed that "hidden in this rubbish there are precious stones." In the same way, one will find some "precious stones" hidden in the writings of Max Muller, but only if that person is willing to mine them.
Compiling an anthology of the essential writings of E Max Muller is no mean task. While the aim throughout was to include Muller's best-known and most often cited essays and addresses, page limitations have restricted the number of selections to fewer than twenty. As a result, those that have been included represent a mere sampling of his voluminous output, but a sampling, nevertheless, that presents to the reader the range of Muller's research interests in the origins of language, mythology, and religion. In addition, in view of Muller's wide-ranging interests in the comparative study of religion, mythology, folklore, linguistics, metaphysics, and human cognition, it is hoped that the selections in this "essential Max Muller" will be of interest to scholars and students in fields as diverse as religious studies, philosophy, anthropology, early linguistic theory, and the history of Western ideas.
There were a number of problems Stone encountered in editing this collection of essays that needs to be mentioned. The first has to do with the problem of multiple editions of and revisions to his catalogue of works. For instance, there are two published versions of Muller's famous 1870 "Lectures on the Science of Religion," an original edition, first published in 1872 under the title Lectures on the Science of Religion, and an expanded edition, published in 1873, that Muller retitled Introduction to the Science of Religion (as a point of interest, the latter edition was dedicated to Ralph Waldo Emerson). Further complicating matters, each version ran through several printings in Britain and the United States. Worse still, with each printing, Muller suggested corrections and revisions. In absence, therefore, of a definitive edition, for the selection included in this current anthology, "Lecture One," Stone decided to use the 1872 edition, which is closest to the actual lecture his audiences would have heard him give. It is shorter, "edgier," and less circumspect than Muller's revised and expanded versions.
With respect to other essays in this anthology whose originals were not available to me, Stone has had to content myself with using Muller's later and sometimes final versions, such as those essays he himself had selected for his Chips from a German Workshop, which by 1881 had grown from two to five volumes, as well as those he republished in his two volumes of Selected Essays (1881). Additionally, the three chapters from Muller's Lectures on the Origin and Growth ofReligion (1878) reprinted here are from his new edition, published in 1882. For this new edition, Muller updated some of his sources as well as tightened up his prose.
A second set of problems the editor encountered were numerous stylistic and mechanical incongruities. Muller was sometimes inconsistent in his spelling, in English transliterations of foreign words and phrases, and in his use of accent and stress marks. In addition, at least by modern standards, Muller made awkward use of commas, colons, and dashes and tended to write highly complex and overly long sentences and paragraphs. Many of the inconsistencies, of course, can be accounted for in the stylistic differences between his several British and American publishers. But his awkward use of punctuation was probably idiosyncratic. Though, for the reader's benefit, Stone has attempted to bring some consistency in both spelling and punctuation and have sought to reduce and simplify other res extraneae, in the end, it seemed inappropriate to "restyle" Muller's essays to fit modern tastes. For one thing, Stone did not want to dilute the nineteenth-century "flavour" of Muller's writings; and, for another thing, because a large amount of his published work had been written for lecture audiences, retaining most of the original accent and punctuation marks may preserve for the reader Muller's own speaking style; that is, it may allow the reader to "hear" his voice-which, according to contemporary reports was clear, passionate, erudite, and engaging. For instance, as Nirad Chaudhuri relates, after presenting a lecture on the Science of Language in the Council Chamber at which Queen Victoria and the royal family attended, Muller wrote to his wife that the Queen "listened very attentively, and did not knit at all, though the work was brought." When his lectures are read aloud, Muller's punctuation does indeed add variety to the pacing of his phrases and underscores their aural intensity. What is more, his indulgent use of commas and semicolons lends greater coherence to his long but carefully constructed sentences.The Essential Max Müller: On Language, Mythology, and Religion OverviewMax Muller is often referred to as the "father of Religious Studies," having himself coined the term "science of religion" (or religionswissenschaft) in 1873. It was he who encouraged the comparative study of myth and ritual, and it was he who introduced the oft-quoted dictum: "He who knows one [religion], knows none." Though a German-born and German-educated philologist, he spent the greater part of his career at Oxford, becoming one of the most famous of the Victorian arm-chair scholars. Muller wrote extensively on Indian philosophy and Vedic religion, translated major sections of the Vedas, the Upanisads, and all of the Dhammapada, yet never visited India. To be sure, his work bears the stamp of late 19th-Century sensibilities, but as artifacts of Victorian era scholarship, Muller's essays are helpful in reconstructing and comprehending the intellectual concerns of this highly enlightened though highly imperialistic age.

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