Report on Anthropological Proceedings at the Oriental Congress held at Florence,
September 12-18, 1878.

read by

Mr. Robert Cust

[Extracted from Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. 8 (1879), pp. 285-90.]


The Society has done me the honour of making me for the second time their delegate at an Oriental Congress. I regret that on my return from St. Petersburg, in 1876, I did not express my readiness to communicate any interesting points which had been discussed there; in fact, I awaited the arrival of the printed Report of the Proceedings, as the greatest portion of the discussions took place in Russian, was not interpreted at the time, and to this day no Report has been published; although Messrs. Brill, of Leiden, assure me that one will be published in the first days of January, 1879.

Warned by the past, I came before your Society on this occasion with an immediate, though perhaps imperfect, report of some of the interesting topics discussed at Florence in the month of September. I am assured by your Director that Philology is clearly recognised as a branch of your science. The familiar languages of Italian, French, and German, and the assistance of the "Bulletino," published within a week of the close of the Congress, have enabled me to speak with some degree of certainty of the nature of the topics, though I am unable to supply the details and the arguments.

The pages of the Times, the Athenaeum, and the Academy, will have informed you of the general outline of the proceedings of the Congress. It was attended by the greatest Oriental scholars of Europe, exceeding 100 in number, with some notable exceptions. Great harmony prevailed, and the only regret was that the time was too short for the work to be done.

The Congress was divided into seven sections, meeting separately and, by the necessity of the case, at the same hour in some instances; therefore no person could be present at all the meetings. Some scholars were satisfied with their own section; I should have liked to have attended all.

The sections were:

I. Egyptology and North Africa, or Chamitic.
II. Ancient Semitic, or Assyrian and Hebrew.

[p.286]

III. Modern Semitic, or Arabic of the Mohamedans.
IV. Indo-European and Iranic.
V. Indian.
VI. Altaic.
VII. Chinese, Japanese, and Indo-Chinese.

This grouping was not based on scientific considerations, neither was it exhaustive, but it suited the convenience of this particular Congress, which had to adjust its subdivisions to the requirements of the scholars present, and the number of communications sent in. In the elections of presidents, vice-presidents, and secretaries of sections, national and personal considerations had to be kept in view, for, while it was just and proper that there should be an Italian in the bureau of every section, it was not desirable to let any one nation get a preponderance in any section. On the whole, a very satisfactory cast was made.

In the first section an interesting fact was stated by M. Maspero and Professor Sapeto: that in the speech of some of the Negro tribes on the Blue Nile, the clicks, which were deemed a peculiarity of South African speech, are detected, and more than this, that an increase or diminution of the prevalence of this linguistic feature could be remarked as the traveller advances towards or from Central Africa.

Another remarkable fact became the subject of discussion, and we await with some interest the fuller details which the report will supply. Professor Lieblein, of Christiania, noticed the Egyptian antiquities, which had been disinterred in Sardinia; and Signor Fabiani exhibited specimens of others found in a tomb at Rome, under the wall of Servius Tullus. The remains were chiefly Egyptian Divinities. It was argued by Fabiani, that the site of Rome must have been occupied at a date anterior to the well-known era of "Urbs Condita." Phoenician remains were also found, supporting the hypothesis that there must have been a Phoenician and Egyptian influence in the pre-historic Italian civilisation. Many distinguished scholars took part in this discussion.

M. Lenormant proposed at this section that in future Congresses, Oriental Archaeology should have its place as well as Philology. It may suggest itself to this Institute, that a still further expansion should be given to the subject-matter of such Congresses, so as to include the Religions, Primitive Culture, Peculiar Customs, and Folklore, of Oriental peoples.

In the second section, Lenormant read a paper on the Myth of Tammuz (Adonis), as illustrated by Cuneiform inscriptions. M. Oppert gave a long discussion on the Chronology of the Book of [p.287] Genesis. M. Renan communicated his views on the subject of certain Phoenician and Aramean Graphit found by Mariette Bey, at Abydos, in Egypt. Many other topics of minor interest were discussed, but they are noticed in the Bulletins with such brevity that it is impossible to form an accurate opinion as to their nature.

In the third or modern Semitic section, no subject was handled worthy of notice, even the briefest; a certain number of Professors brought forward papers on petty points of purely literary interest. A very sensible proposal, however, was made by one member, that the Oriental Congresses had outlived the purely philological period, and should in future comprehend the Judicial Institutions of a Country, as the civilisation and consequent happiness of any people depend a good deal upon them. No doubt this was a move in the right direction; but if nice judicial disquisitions were substituted for petty literary discussions, science would not greatly gain, and the pedantry of Lawyers might, if uncontrolled, be as irksome as the pedantry of Professors.

In the fourth, or Indo-European, section, the subjects were more interesting. M. Oppert read a really important paper on the mode in which the alphabetic Cuneiform characters of the old Persian inscriptions were derived from the ideographic characters of the earlier Cuneiform system by the acrostychic process. Professor Schiefner, of St. Petersburg, made observations on certain properties of the Caucasian languages. He entered into a technical analysis of the morphological structure of these languages, contrasting them with the German and Latin. The publication of this paper by so great an authority on so difficult a subject will be looked forward to with the highest interest. Professor Ascoli, of Milan, by far the greatest of the Italian scholars, joined in the discussion that followed, which opened out some of the hardest questions of Glottology, such as the real origin of internal flexion, which Ascoli attributed, as far as we can gather from the brief account given, to the effect of the assimilation of the vowel to that of a post-positive element, which had subsequently disappeared.

The subject of the language of the Zingari or Gipsies brought on a discussion, in which Professor Balbu Costantinesco, of Bucharest, and Mr. Leland (Hans Brietmann) joined, assisted by Professor Ascoli, who was master of this, as of so many other subjects.

Professor Pizzi, of Parma, then started a remarkable theory, that the Zendic word "karet" appears in all the names of cutting instruments in Asia and Europe. His leading idea was to show how Philology came to the aid of Prehistoric Science in [p.288] the discovery and explanations of phenomena of primitive history.

Mr. E. L. Brandreth closed the session with a paper on certain resemblances between the Neo-Aryan Language of Northern India, and the Romance Languages of Europe. The conception, though not entirely original, has never been fully worked out, as it now promises to be. In the same way as the Sanskrit language, when it ceased to be a colloquial medium, was replaced by a group of Sanskritic, or Neo-Aryan vernaculars, viz., the well-known Hindi, Bengali, Urya, Marathi, Sindhi, &c., &c., the Latin language, when it ceased to be a living speech, was replaced by a group of Romance vernaculars, Italian, Spanish, French, Wallachian, &c., &c. But the curious feature is, that in both groups the same linguistic expedients to effect the transition from a synthetic to an analytic language can be traced; and, more than this, certain languages of each group seem to have undergone analogous phonetic influences, viz., the Sindhi and Italian, the Hindi and the French.

Dr. Leitner, who had been specially deputed by the Viceroy of India to attend this Congress, delivered an interesting lecture in the Museum of the Congress on the subject of the selection of the Greco-Buddhist Sculptures and other Antiquities, which he had disinterred in the trans-Indian Districts of the Punjab, and brought with him from India. Upon these remarkable monuments, and upon the dialects of the mountaineers of the neighbouring hills, which he had been the first to describe, he based certain theories regarding the connexion of the Indian and Greek Mythology, at a period previous to the Christian era. The subject was a very large one indeed, and the learned Doctor was the only member of the Congress who had the facility of speaking all the four languages, and he glided from one to the other to adapt himself to his particular hearer. A wish was expressed by the meeting that the Government of India would publish a description of all such monumental remains, and all definite opinions must be suspended till then.

In the Indian section. Professor Rudolph Roth read an interesting paper on the newly-discovered manuscript of the fourth or Atharva Veda, in the Valley of Kashmir, written in the peculiar variation of the Indian character; the discrepancies between this and other manuscripts was very marked.

Mr. Robert Cust read a paper on the Neo-Aryan Language of India with a view of drawing attention to the important, but rather neglected, subject. The Aryan languages are so celebrated, and spoken by such an overwhelming majority of the people of India, that it is often forgotten that five other families exist, comprising scores of languages, spoken by many millions [p.289] over an immense area. These families are the Dravidian, Kolarian, Tibeto-Burman, Tai, and Mon-Anam, some of which are of the agglutimative, and others of the monosyllabic order. An address was voted by this section to the Viceroy of India, soliciting the compilation of a volume of the Proverbs of the Indian people.

In the Altaic section, notwithstanding the presence of some very distinguished men, the subjects discussed were neither numerous nor interesting. Arminius Vambery, of Buda Pesth, read a paper on the Primitive Culture of the Turko-Tartar race. Dr. Donner, of Helsingfors, discussed the question of the connection of the Finnic language with that of the Samoides.

In the Chinese section, Dr. Legge read a paper on the state of Chinese studies, and what was wanted to complete the analysis of the Chinese written characters, which he described as being of incredible antiquity. He remarked that the fetters of this character prevented the language from getting beyond the monosyllabic stage.

Mr. Van der Gabelentz read a paper on the possibility of proving the existence of a genealogical affinity between the languages called Indo-Chinese. The languages referred to in this paper are the languages and dialects spoken in China, Tibet, Assam, and the trans-Gangetic Peninsula. Representing principally, according to common opinion, the isolating system, these languages, in their phonetic appearance, show the signs of advanced corruption, and are separated from each other by rules of position often diametrically opposite. He then inquired whether there is any morphological resemblance between these languages; any phonetic parallelism (langverschiebunggesetze). He considers that there is. The first thing that strikes us is the monosyllabic character common to them all, and which distinguishes them from the Ural-Altaic, Japanese, Corean, Aino, and Malayo-Polynesian languages. The type, no doubt, is less pronounced in some than in others. The Tai is more monosyllabic than the Tibetan; the latter more than the Naga dialect. There is also the idiom of the Vayu, of which the conjugation resembles in some respects that of the incorporating languages. Again, in these languages there are several homophones, and these homophones correspond to a remarkable extent between the different languages. This cannot be by chance. He claims for the written Tibetan the most ancient forms of the words. He finds traces of suffixes in ancient Chinese.

I have thus, in the time allotted to me, noticed the most important topics discussed at the late Congress. It would not be just to form any fixed opinion until the actual text of the communications is in our hands, as it soon will be. The range is [p.290] very considerable, and it is impossible not to admire the earnestness and devotion of the great scholars of Europe in their several departments of science. It is to be regretted that so many are men of a single subject, shutting their eyes absolutely upon all that lies beyond their particular study. Perhaps this is necessary to secure accuracy, and actual advance in knowledge. The days of omniscient savants is passed. The division of scholars into National parties is the safeguard of Truth. When French and German scholars agree in a discovery, it may be accepted as a fact.