1902 Encyclopedia > Johann Joseph Hoffmann

Johann Joseph Hoffmann
German scholar of the Chinese and Japanese languages

JOHANN JOSEPH HOFFMANN, (1805-1878), an eminent Chinese and Japanese scholar, was born at Wurzburg on the 16th of February 1805. After studying in the philosophical department of the Würzburg university, the young man took to the stage in 1825 ; and it was only by an accidental meeting with the German traveller, Dr Siebold, in July 1830, that his interest was diverted to Oriental philology. From Siebold himself he acquired the rudiments of Japanese ; and in order to take advantage of the instructions of Ko-ching-chang, a Chinese teacher whom Siebold had brought home with him, he made himself acquainted with Malay, the only language except Chinese which the Chinaman could understand. Such rapid advance did Hoffmann make that in a few years he was able to supply the translations for Siebold's Nippon ; and the high character of his work soon attracted the attention of older scholars. Stanislas Julien invited him to Paris; and he would probably have accepted the invitation, as a disagreement had broken out between him and Siebold, had not M. Baud, the Dutch colonial minister, appointed him Japanese translator with a salary of 1800 florins or £150. The Dutch authorities were slow in giving him further recognition ; and he was too modest a man successfully to urge his claims. It was not till after he had received the offer of the professorship of Chinese in King's College, London, that the authorities made him professor at Leyden, and the king allowed him a yearly pension. In 1875 he was decorated with the order of the Netherlands Lion, and in 1877 he was elected corresponding member of the Berlin Academy. But these honours came almost too late ; for a disease of the lungs from which he had long suffered ter-minated fatally on the 19th of January 1878.

Hoffmann's chief work is his Japanese Dictionary. Though begun in 1839 it is still unfinished, for the difficulties against which he had to contend were immense. Unable at first to procure the necessary type, he set himself to the cutting of punches ; and even when the proper founts were obtained he had to act as his own compositor as far as Chinese and Japanese were concerned. His Japanese grammar is a standard work ; it was published in Dutch and English in 1867, and in English and German in 1876. Of his miscellaneous productions it is enough to mention " Japan's Bezüge mit der Komischen Halbinsel und mit Sehina " in Nippon, vii. ; Yo-San-fi-Rok, L'art d'élever les vers à soie au Japan,par Ouck-aki Mourikouni, Paris, 1848 ; "Die Heilkunde in Japan" in Mittheil. d. deutsch. Gesellsch. für Natur- und Völkcrk. Ost-Asiens, 1873-1874 ; and. Japanische Studien, 1877, dealing with Japanese poetry. The Dictionary is being continued by L. Serrurier.

For further details see Kern in Koninklijke Akademie van Wst-enschwppen ; W. Vissering in Het Vaderland, 23d Jan. 1878 ; and Leiden Stnidenten-almanak, 1879.

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