Presentation from America’s ‘First Arabist of Note’

An Inaugural Discourse on Arabic and Sanskrit Literature, delivered in New Haven, Wednesday, August 16, 1843.

New Haven: Printed by B.L. Hamlen, 1843.

Price: $2,500.00

About the item

Printed for Private Circulation. 51 pp. 1 vols. 8vo. Presentation from America’s ‘First Arabist of Note’. Cream printed wrappers. Minor chipping, spine split, some foxing, else Very Good. See Robert Irwin, Dangerous Knowledge pp. 213-4.

Item #256061

Inscribed on front cover "Rev. Dr. Bacon with the respects of the author."

Edward Elbridge Salisbury (1814-1901), “America’s first Arabist of note”, studied theology and Hebrew, and graduated from Yale in the class of 1832. He travelled to Europe in 1837 to study Arabic with the great French orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy, and then studied Sanskrit and philology under Franz Bopp in Berlin. “In 1841 Salisbury was appointed Professor of Arabic and Sanskrit at Yale. This was the first Orientalist teaching post in the United States” (Irwin). He studied further in Bonn and Paris before returning to take up the professorship in 1843, upon which occasion this Discourse was presented. It is a brisk and wide ranging survey of “the subject of oriental learning, particularly those two great departments of it of which the Sanskrit and the Arabic languages are the key”.

“Without a knowledge of Arabic how little can that transitory period of history be understood, when upon the fall of the Byzantine empire the Arabs succeeded, as not only the preservers, but the enlargers of science, the only nation which could be called really civilized, for several centuries.”

In addition to sketching the outlines of Arabic poetical and religious literature, Salisbury touches upon the roots and flowering of Sanskrit literature, as well as the importance of the language in understanding Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Salisbury notes how in the preceding decades, European scholars had opened the doors of learning about the East, and suggests that America must not ne left behind by the further advance of learning.

In 1842, Salisbury was one of the founders of the American Oriental Society. He served as editor of its Journal from 1846 to 1863 and assumed the costs of acquiring Oriental type fonts and the Journal’s production. One of his contributions for 1847 was the first scholarly article on Buddhism published in the U.S., and his many essays also included the first American publication on cuneiform.

In the decade during which he taught Sanskrit, Salisbury had only two students. One of them was William Dwight Whitney, “who became one of the ablest Sanskritists of his time. … With characteristic generosity and self-effacement, Salisbury resigned his professorship in Sanskrit in Whitney's favor, endowing the chair from his own resources (1853-1854). He increased the endowment in 1869 when Harvard attempted to draw Whitney to its own faculty” (ANB).

The inscription on this copy of the Inaugural Discourse is to Leonard Bacon, Sr. (1802-1881) who from 1825 until his death was pastor of the First Church (Congregational) in New Haven. In 1843, Bacon was one of the founders of the New Englander (later the Yale Review) to which Salisbury was a regular contributor.

A cornerstone of American engagement with the languages and ideas of the Arab and Indian cultures, with a fine association.