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- The Story of My Life, Volume 6. - 6/12 -
with those that belonged to the same lute.
Lepsius had a broader view than most of those engaged in so narrow a field of study. He would speak of me to him.
The next Thursday Lepsius called on me. I know this because that day was reserved for his subsequent visits.
After learning what progress I had made by my own industry, he told me what to do next, and lastly promised to come again.
He had inquired about my previous education, and urged me to study philology, archaeology, and at least one Semitic language. Later he voluntarily informed me how much he, who had pursued philological, archaeological, Sanscrit, and Germanistic studies, had been impeded in his youth by having neglected the Semitic languages, which are more nearly allied to the Egyptian. It would be necessary also for me to understand English and Italian, since many things which the Egyptologist ought to know were published in these languages, as well as in French. Lastly he advised me to obtain some insight into Sanscrit, which was the point of departure for all linguistic studies.
His requirements raised mountain after mountain in my path, but the thought of being compelled to scale these heights not only did not repel me, but seemed extremely attractive. I felt as if my strength increased with the magnitude and multiplicity of the tasks imposed, and, full of joyous excitement, I told Lepsius that I was ready to fulfil his requirements in every detail.
We now discussed in what sequence and manner I should go to work, and to this day I admire the composure, penetration, and lucidity with which he sketched a plan of study that covered years.
I have reason to be grateful to this great scholar for the introduction to my special science, but still more for the wisdom with which he pointed out the direction of my studies. Like Jacob Grimm, he compelled me, as an Egyptologist, to remain in connection with the kindred departments.
Later my own experience was to teach me the correctness of his assertion that it would be a mistake to commence by studying so restricted a science as Egyptology.
My pupils can bear witness that during my long period of teaching I always strove to urge students who intended to devote themselves to Egyptology first to strengthen the foundations, without which the special structure lacks support.
Lepsius's plan of instruction provided that I should follow these principles from the beginning. The task I had to perform was a great and difficult one. How infinitely easier it was for those whom I had the privilege of introducing to this science! The lecture-rooms of famous teachers stood open to them, while my physical condition kept me for weeks from the university; and how scanty were the aids to which the student could turn! Yet the zeal--nay, the enthusiasm--with which I devoted myself to the study was so great that it conquered every difficulty.
[I had no dictionary and no grammar for the hieroglyphic language save Champollion's. No Stern had treated Coptic in a really scientific manner. I was obliged to learn it according to Tuki, Peyron, Tattam, and Steinthal-Schwarze. For the hieratic there was no aid save my own industry and the lists I had myself compiled from the scanty texts then at the disposal of the student. Lepsius had never devoted much time to them. Brugsch's demotic grammar had appeared, but its use was rendered very difficult by the lack of conformity between the type and the actual signs.]
When I recall the amount of knowledge I mastered in a few terms it seems incredible; yet my labour was interrupted every summer by a sojourn at the springs--once three months, and never for a less period than six weeks. True, I was never wholly idle while using the waters, but, on the other hand, I was obliged to consider the danger that in winter constantly threatened my health. All night-work was strictly forbidden and, if I sat too long over my books by day, my mother reminded me of my promise to the doctor, and I was obliged to stop.
During the first years I worked almost exclusively at home, for I was permitted to go out only in very pleasant weather.
Dr. Romberg had wisely considered my reluctance to interrupt my studies by a residence in the south, because he deemed life in a well-ordered household more beneficial to sufferers from spinal diseases than a warmer climate, when leaving home, as in my case, threatened to disturb the patient's peace of mind.
For three winters I had been denied visiting the university, the museum, and the libraries. On the fourth I was permitted to begin, and now, with mature judgment and thorough previous preparation, I attended the academic lectures, and profited by the treasures of knowledge and rich collections of the capital.
After my return from Wildbad Lepsius continued his Thursday visits, and during the succeeding winters still remained my guide, even when I had also placed myself, in the department of the ancient Egyptian languages, under the instruction of Heinrich Brugsch.
At school, of course, I had not thought of studying Hebrew. Now I took private lessons in that language, to which I devoted several hours daily. I had learned to read Sanscrit and to translate easy passages in the chrestomathy, and devoted myself with special zeal to the study of the Latin grammar and prosody. Professor Julius Geppert, the brother of our most intimate family friend, was my teacher for four terms.
The syntax of the classic languages, which had been my weak point as a school-boy, now aroused the deepest interest, and I was grateful to Lepsius for having so earnestly insisted upon my pursuing philology. I soon felt the warmest appreciation of the Roman comedies, which served as the foundation of these studies. What sound wit, what keenness of observation, what a happy gift of invention, the old comic writers had at their disposal! I took them up again a few years ago, after reading with genuine pleasure in Otto Ribbeck's masterpiece, The History of Roman Poetry, the portions devoted to Plautus and Terence.
The types of character found in these comedies strengthened my conviction that the motives of human actions and the mental and emotional peculiarities of civilized men in every age always have been and always will be the same.
With what pleasure, when again permitted to go out in the evening, I witnessed the performances of Plautus's pieces given by Professor Geppert's pupils!
The refreshed and enlarged knowledge of school Latin was of great service in writing, and afterwards discussing, a Latin dissertation. I devoted perhaps a still larger share of my time to Greek, and, as the fruit of these studies, still possess many translations from Anacreon, Sappho, and numerous fragments from the Bergk collection of Greek lyrics, but, with the exception of those introduced into my novels, none have been printed.
During my leisure hours translating afforded me special pleasure. An exact rendering of difficult English authors soon made Shakespeare's language in both prose and poetry as intelligible as German or French.
After mastering the rules of grammar, I needed no teacher except my mother. When I had conquered the first difficulties I took up Tennyson's Idyls of the King, and at last succeeded in translating two of these beautiful poems in the metre of the original.
My success with Enid I think was very tolerable. The manuscript still lies in my desk unpublished.
As I was now engaged in studying the languages I easily learned to read Italian, Spanish, and Dutch books.
In view of this experience, which is not wholly personal, I have wondered whether the instruction of boys might not be shortened to give them more outdoor exercise. In how brief a time the pupils, as men studying for their own benefit, not the teacher's, would acquire many things! Besides the languages, I studied, at first exclusively under Lepsius's thoroughly admirable instruction, ancient history and archeology.
Later I owed most to Gerhard, Droysen, Friederichs, and August Bockh.
A kind fate afterwards brought me into personal relations with the latter, whose lectures on the Athenian financial system were the finest and the most instructive I have ever heard. What clearness, what depth of learning, what a subtle sense of humour this splendid old man possessed! I attended his lectures in 1863, and how exquisite were the allusions to the by no means satisfactory political conditions of the times with which he spiced them. I also became sincerely attached to Friederichs, and it made me happy to be able to requite him in some small degree in Egypt for the kindness and unselfishness he had shown me in Berlin.
Bopp's lectures, where I tried to increase my meagre knowledge of Sanscrit, I attended, unfortunately, only a few hours.
The lectures of the African traveller Heinrich Earth supplied rich sources of material, but whoever expected to hear bewitching narratives from him would have been disappointed. Even in more intimate intercourse he rarely warmed up sufficiently to let others share the rich treasure of his knowledge and experience. It seemed as if, during his lonely life in Africa, he had lost the necessity of exchanging thoughts with his fellow- men. During this late period Heinrich Brugsch developed in the linguistic department of Egyptology what I had gained from Lepsius and by my own industry, and I gladly term myself his pupil.
I have cause to be grateful for the fresh and helpful way in which this great and tireless investigator gave me a private lecture; but Lepsius had opened the door of our science, and though he could carry me only to a certain stage in the grammar of the ancient Egyptians, in other departments I owe him more than any other of my intellectual guides. I am most indebted to him for the direction to use historical and archaeological authorities critically, and his correction of the tasks he set me; but our conversations on archaeological subjects have also been of the greatest interest.
After his death I tried to return in some small degree what his unselfish kindness had bestowed by accepting the invitation to become his biographer. In "Richard Lepsius," I describe reverently but without deviating one step from the truth, this wonderful scholar, who was a faithful and always affectionate friend.
I can scarcely believe it possible that the dignified man, with the grave, stern, clear-cut, scholarly face and snow-white hair, was but forty-five years old when he began to direct my studies; for, spite of his erect bearing and alert, movements, he seemed to me at that time a venerable old man. There was something in the aristocratic reserve of his nature and the cool, penetrating sharpness of his criticism, which is
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