1902 Encyclopedia > Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall

Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall
Austrian Orientalist
(1774-1856)




JOSEPH VON HAMMER-PURGSTALL, (1774-1856), was born at Gratz in 1774, and after some training in the Oriental academy of Vienna entered the Austrian diplo-matic service. He was the son of Joseph Johann von Hammer, and it was not till 1835, when he had inherited the estates of the countess of Purgstall (in Styria), that he received the title Baron von Hammer-Purgstall, by which he is generally known. His youth and early manhood were passed in the Levant, where he bent all his energies to the task of improving his acquaintance with Oriental literature, in which as early as 1796 he proved his interest by the translation of a Turkish poem. He did not again come forward as an author till 1804, when his Encyclopaedia of Oriental Learning appeared, a work whose ambitious character was so diffidently felt by its author that he feared to put his name to it. From that time there was little pause in his literary productiveness. For fifty years he wrote incessantly on the most diverse subjects, and his works were composed in most of the languages of Europe. He published numerous texts and translations of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish authors; compiled histories of Persian poetry, Turkish poetry, and Arabic literature; brought the poems of Hafiz, Mutanebbi, Baki, and Ibn-el-Fdridh within the reach of European readers; published travels in Turkey and Austria ; wrote the history of the Tatar races, the Krim Khans, the Golden Horde, the Russians, and the Ottoman Turks; formed a biogra-phical gallery of Eastern celebrities; put forth theories about every possible subject in the wide range of Oriental learning, discussing the Arabian Nights, Arab music, Mahometan theology, Egyptian papyri, gnostic coffrets, Arabic grammar, Eastern antiquities, the sect of the Assassins, the sieges of Vienna, the Knights Templars, and Spenser's sonnets, which he translated into German. Von Hammer did for Germany the same work that Sir William Jones did for England. He showed that Oriental subjects were not to be studied merely so far as they were connected with biblical theology, but were a worthy object of research for their own sake. For more than fifty years he per-sisted in introducing Eastern authors and Eastern topics to the general reader, and there was a time when no Orientalist was more widely known and admired. As Jules Mohl said—" C'était le doyen de la littérature ori-entale, le premier associé que la Société (Asiatique de Paris) ait tenu à l'honneur d'inscrire sur sa liste, et le plus zélé, le plus fertile, et le plus célèbre des hommes qui se sont voués, de nôtres temps, à la culture des lettres orientales."

It was natural th.it a scholar who traversed so large a field and wrote so rapidly should lay himself open to the criticism of specialists, and no man was more severely handled by his critics than Von Hammer, to whom Diez, for example (in Unfug unci Betrug, 1815), devotes nearly 600 pages of heavy abuse. Von Hammer was undoubtedly inaccurate and superficial at times ; he attempted more than he could possibly achieve with thoroughness, and was in the habit of giving his own whimsical view of matters about which he knew next to nothing ; and he used to offend his critics as much by his Oriental florid style and want of method as by the occasional inaccuracy of his facts and the inconsequence of his deductions. But in spite of his faults he did more for Oriental studies than most of his critics put together.





When he was seventy-six years of age he planned a second edition of his Encyclopaedia of Oriental Learning, and designed a " preliminary " series of twelve volumes which should clear the ground by expounding the history of Arabic literature, aud for the last seven years of his life he regularly put forth his annual volume. Jules Mohl, going to see him, found the old man hard at work, helped by no colleague, and disdaining the aid of an amanuensis. His early travels in the Levant, and then his busy life at Vienna, where he held the post of court-interpreter, saved him from the crushing influence of solitary study ; and to the last he maintained his singular buoyancy of mind. "C'était un homme généreux, franc jusqu'à l'imprudence, hardi, bouillonnant d'esprit, aimable jusqu'à la coquetterie, doué d'une faculté de travail rare, ambitieux dans les grandes et les petites choses, et d'une vivacité inconcevable—vivacité qui fut la source de sa bonne et de sa mauvaise fortune." So Mohl pictured him in his address to the Société Asiatique in 1857, when he recorded the death of Von Hammer on November 23, 1856, at the age of eighty-two, a hard worker to the last, like his younger but greater English contemporary Lane, with whom he came into collision in a friendly way on the subject of the origin of The Thousand and One Nights.

Von Hammer's principal works are his Geschichte des osmanischen Meiches, 10 vols., 1827 (2d ed., 1834-6), translated into French (1835 and 1840) ; Geschichte der osmanischen Dichtkunst, 4 vols., 1836 ; Literatur-Gcschichte der Araber (unfinished), 7 vols., 1850-6 ; Les Origines Eusses, 1827 ; Geschichte der Goldenen Horde, 1840 ; Geschichte der Ilchane, 1842 ; Geschichte der Chane der Krim, 1856 ; Geschichte der Assassinat, 1818 ; Constantinopolis und der Bosjnros, 1822 ; Encyklopadische Uebersicht der Wissenschaften des Orients, 1804. Texts and translations of—Eth-Thadlabi, Arab, and Germ., 1829 ; Ibn Wahshiyah, History of the Mongols, Arab, and Engl., 1806 ; El-Wassdf, Pers. and Germ., 1856 ; Esch-Schebistani's Eosenflor des Geheimnisses, Pers. and Germ., 1838 ; Ez-Zam-akhsheri, Goldene Hahbdncler, Arab, and Germ., 1835 ; El-Ghazziili, Hujjct-el-Isldm, Arab, and Germ., 1838 ; El-Hamawi, Has arab. Hohe Lied der Liebe, Arab, and Germ., 1854. Transla-tions of—El-Mutaitebbi's Poems; Er-Bcsmi's Account of his' Embassy, 1809 ; Contes inédits des 1001 Nuits, 1828. Besides these and smaller works, Von Hammer contributed numerous essays and criti-cisms to the Fundgruben des Orients, which he edited ; to the Journal Asiatique ; and to many other learned journals ; above all to the Transactions of the Akademie der Wissenscbaften of Vienna, of which he was mainly the founder ; and he translated Evliya Effendi's Travels in Europe, for the English Oriental Translation Fund. For a fuller list of his works, which amount in all to nearly 100 volumes, see Comptes Eendus of the Acad, des Inscr. et des Belles Lettres, 1857. (S. L. P.)







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