Joseph John Freeman an Wilhelm von Humboldt, 30.01.1833

30 Jan|uar|y 1833

To Baron Will.m Humbolt
&c &c &c

I extremely regret that it has not been in my power to forward, at <a> much earlier period for your perusal & use, the accompanying documents.

I have copied the principal part of the Gram.r I drew up some time ago on the Malagasy language. I need not say, it is far from being perfect. It was drawn up with a vein of condensing & embodying the various rules & illustrations I had collected from time to time, – some of which were scattered about or fragments of paper as they occurred at the moment – and a great part was entrusted to my own memory with the intention of supplying illustrations whereever a convenient opportunity should present itself. I regard the Grammar at present as an outline – to be corrected confirmed, – illustrated or altered as may seem requisite, from future investigations. Such as it is, however, it may possibly afford some guidance & aid in your important & highly <valuable> theories on the comparison of the Malay languages or Dialects. I am not with|ou|t the hope, that you will find further confirmation of the vein you have entertained of the relative subsistence|?| between the Malagasy language & the original Malay. It is a point I am most anxious to see illustrated and I shall eagerly avail myself of the publication you refer to on the subject – & which I trust is by this time, issuing from the press, as I judge it to have been in a considerable state of forwardness at the time of the date of y|ou|r last favor, Sep.r 1830.

|132v| You have most diligently availed yourself Sir of the few means which you posessed |sic| for the Study of the Malagasy. You had not I suppose seen a narrative of a fourteen years residence|?| on the Island by Drury, a shipwrecked mariner. It was written several years ago, – but I think it bears internal marks of authenticity. It has no pretensions to science or to any value as a Literary Composition, but you would have found there also another Vocabulary which would have as assisted a little|?| – with those you have named. Drury was a shipwrecked on the S. W. coast of Madagascar & his vocabulary relates principally to words used in that part of the Islands.

I have prepared to forward with this communication the Grammar as already mentioned – from the Verbs to the End – not however containing Syntax – for two reasons first, that various remarks occur on the course of the parts now sent illustrative of the leading principles on the Syntax of the language; – but secondly – I have not yet drawn out the Rules systematically. I have preferred making a pretty extensive collection of native compositions examining these & drawing up the rules – of I may be allowed the term, by induction, from those facts. Madagascar has been, ’till within the past four years without a written language. The few words who have written occasionally in the Malagasy ch language with the Arabic character, have been too few and I apprehend too unimportant to be considered exceptions to the remark. At any rate they could not be entitled to the phrase "Native compositions". – But Madagascar cannot be considered wholly destitute of materials. Its language is rich, extensive & philosophical, – and there around are the language innumerable native compositions – tho’ |133r| not hitherto reduced to writing; – they are traditional; – consisting of Legendary Rules, – historical reminiscences – Songs, – Proverbs – Repartees, – Salutations – Modes of addressing the Sovereign, – Solemn Oaths – &c &c These form the Stock, the material of the National unwritten literature. To rescue a portion of this, permits present fallacious & fugutive modes of perpetuation, is, I think a "pretium operis." Much that is more trash, – in an intellectual & moral view, – but may thus be amassed|?|, – but some literary curiosities may be found also – & as the natives themselves say on such occasions, when a selection is made, – what pleases cannot you keep – & what displeases cannot you reject? At any rate, it is not to bring the native compositions to a Literary, so much as to a Grammatical test, that I collect and examine|?| them. They are the people’s own mode of thinking, and of expressing themselves – & from therefor |sic|, good criteria, on the case requiring their assistance. Should I be able to reduce the rules to Syntax within a reasonable time – so as to be likely to afford you any further aid on the prosecution of your Studies, it will afford me pleasure to transmit a copy of it, to place by the side of the Grammar.

I have endeavoured also to answer the various questions you were free enough to propose for Solution. Some of the answers are less fully illustrate than they might have been, had I not been aware at the time, that the Grammar would supersede such additional illustrating. The same remark may apply to the Observations made of the Analysis of a few verses from Matthew & a passage from Flacourt. Flacourts "Voyage" I have by me – with Rochon[a].

|133v| I copied off for your amusement one or two pages of Native compositions. I think you will be able to construe them without difficulty.

With regard to the publication of a reimpression of Flacourts & Challans Vocabularies, it strikes me, with all reference to your own judgement, Sir, that such a work could be regarded only as a Literary curiosity – or may I say – Illustration of the Past state of <the> Malagasy language. I do not think it exists now, as in the time of Flacourt. The lapse of 150 or 180 yrs is very considerable in the progress of a language – the changes incidentally & unintentionally introduced are numerous; – still more so|?| where the custom has prevailed – & it has done in Madagascar and still does in some of its provinces|?| – of changing names – of places – persons & things on great & special occasions. I rely on your kindness & candour therefor |sic| to forgive me on suggesting – & I do not for a moment presume to do more than suggest, – that the publication of the above named vocabularies would but|?| be of extensive practical utility in assisting any person to allow a knowledge of the language now existing, I will not say only on Imerena[b] but prevailing extensively through the Island, & likely to become the one metropolitan language of Madagascar. The above vocabularies bear no comparison (I have examined them in Mauritius,) with the collection we have made, – and which may lay the foundation of a Dictionary at some, not|?| very distant period.

I purpose forwarding with this, a copy of all that we have issued from our Press since my last communication. Of the Scriptures – you will find All the New Testament & a part of the Old – up to 1 Samuel – a few new Tracts and a hymnBk |sic| – which we use in the Native Congregation – who now assemble for Christian worship. Of the excellent "Oberlin" of the Ban de la Roche I presume you may have heard – it may interest you to see a Sketch of him which I drew up in this language, & is now circulated <here> as a Tract. So eminent a character I see|?| <him> a fair specimen of the Religion we wish to teach this people.

|134r| I have the honor to remain
Your most obliged & faithful Ser.t
J. J. Freeman
|134v und 135r vacat|
To Baron William Humbolt |sic| –


    1. a |Editor| Rochons Werk, 1791 erschienen, wurde bereits 1792 ins Englische und Deutsche übersetzt – und erschien um einen Reisebericht nach Marokko ergänzt als dreibändiges Werk: Alexis Rochon (1801): Voyages à Madagascar, à Maroc, et aux Indes Orientales. Ouvrage en trois volumes, accompagné d’une Carte géographique de Madagascar, d’une Carte de l'Inde orientale, d’un Vocabulaire Madégasse, de Tables astronomiques, et d’une Table générale des matières, Paris: Prault, Levrault. [FZ]
    2. b |Editor| Imerina, die zentrale Hochlandregion Madagaskars. [FZ]