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the time he might need it for his study, but also permission to reproduce it. After reaching Paris the Abbé applied himself with ardor to the classification and deciphering of the characters and symbols contained in the manuscript, with the help of those handed down by Landa. In 1869 he published the result of his labors in his work, "Études sur le Système Graphique et la Langue Maya." In it he announced that he had discovered, classified, and deciphered two hundred and thirty-three variants of the thirty-five alphabetic characters of Landa, and one hundred and forty-one variants of his twenty symbols of the days.
With this vast array of signs, the value of which he fancied he knew, and with his knowledge of the Maya language, he undertook the deciphering of the texts of the Maya book. He certainly was better qualified for the work than those who after him have attempted it, as proved by the results. Still, not only have they criticised his interpretations, without however offering better in their stead, but they have tried to belittle his labors, going so far as to assert that he had hindered for a long time the study of American palæography. Yet it may be asked, What have his critics done? Have they not made use of his works in their endeavors to find a clew to the meaning of these same texts? Have they not built a reputation for learning on the debris of his fame, and from his own materials, to which they have added not a single valuable particle? Do we not find them consulting his Maya and French vocabulary, and translating ancient characters and symbols by words of modern coinage, not to be found in old dictionaries, and that are unknown in the vernacular of the natives?
Brasseur's vocabulary is decidedly the work of a scholar. Were it mine I should be proud of it. It is a comparative
study of Maya with ancient Greek and other languages, marred, however, by his having taken too great a license with the language, and having given explanations of ancient lore and traditions according to his own personal bias and preconceived ideas. Barring these blemishes, it is a most valuable work for students of Maya antiquities and of philology. So also is his French translation and rearrangement of Father Gabriel de San Buenaventura's "Arte del Idioma Maya," which he transcribed from the copy in possession of my honored friend, Bishop Dn. Crecencio Carillo y Ancona.
Although his many scholarly attainments preëminently qualified him for the undertaking of the interpretation of the Maya texts, his great drawbacks were his preconceived opinions on the one hand, and a strange weakmindedness on the other. The first led him to see analogies and similitudes where none existed, and to launch into speculations and fancies unsupported by facts and lacking evidence; the second caused him to be influenced by criticisms of persons incapable, for want of the necessary knowledge, of judging of the accuracy or inaccuracy of his renderings; but who, in their dogmatic ignorance, presumed to jeer at the idea of the Troano MS. containing an account of earthquakes, of the subsidence of certain countries and the upheaval of others, of volcanic eruptions, of inundations and cyclones and other geological and meteorological phenomena, that either happened in the writer's time or a relation of which he had found in older works. Yet it is well known that all early chroniclers, speaking of the books found among the natives, state that some contained the events of their ancient history; that they had treatises on archæology, medicine, and other sciences; and why should not the Troano be one of these? Still he allowed himself to be persuaded, and
acknowledged (p. xxvii) in his "Bibliothèque México Guatémalienne précedée d'un coup d'œil sur les Études Américaines," that he had begun the reading of the Maya text at the wrong end; adding, however, that his translations were simply intended as mere experiments. Could he answer from beyond the grave, I would ask him: "Abbé, how did you know, when you wrote this confession, that you were not mistaken again in making it? You had not learned then how to read the texts better than before; you did not even know it at the time of your demise. Friend," I would tell him could he hear me, "you have been weak, and many have taken advantage of your weakness to ridicule you, and then place themselves where you ought to be, by making use of your own discoveries."
It is evident that he had no reliance on his ability to wade through the intricacies of the Maya symbols and characters; and that he did not notice the clew, placed by the author of the Troano within reach of his readers, like another thread of Ariadne, to guide them out of the mazes of the labyrinth. he took no heed of the red lines that divide the text into paragraphs, and mark to which part the illustrations correspond. He read the horizontal lines from end to end, mixing disconnected sentences of one paragraph with equally disconnected sentences of another, then beginning the reading of the perpendicular columns at the bottom instead of at the top; the results were, of course, what might naturally be expected-an incoherent jumble and senseless phrases.
He likewise interpreted literally the names of the symbols for the days, many of which he simply regarded as variants of the originals given by Landa, not reflecting that variation in the sign implied also variation in the meaning, and that many of the characters were composed of the elements of several
others, just as our polysyllabic words are formed of syllables found in many other vocables having very distinct meanings. However, through his acquaintance with the signification of the Maya words, and the works of the early writers and chroniclers, perhaps also guided by his scholarly intuition, he felt, more than he really made out, the general drift of the contents of the Maya text which he attempted to interpret. So he became convinced that in his writings the Maya author described volcanic eruptions and other geological phenomena. By publishing his convictions, he afforded his would-be critics an opportunity to condemn the results of his labors, although incapable themselves of deciphering a single sentence of the Maya books.
To the present day they are unable to correct his mistakes by offering a true translation of the passages which they accused Brasseur of having improperly rendered. And may I ask how they know that they are not well translated? It is the same old, old story so happily expressed in these few French words: La critique est facile, mais l'art est difficile.
This recalls to my mind a certain conversation which I once had on this same subject with a French antiquary, a member of the Société Ethnologique de Paris. He also was bitter in his denunciation of Brasseur's interpretation of the Troano.
"What do you know, personally, about translating Maya writings? Do you understand the Maya language? Can you interpret a single Maya sign?"
"No," he answered, "but Mr. de Rosny, and with him all authorized Americanists, have condemned Brasseur's interpretation."
"So, so, my man," I replied, "this is a case of give a dog a bad name and hang him, is it? Pray tell me who are the
authorized Americanists? Who are they that dare pass judgment on the efforts of a fellow student and condemn him? Is it Mr. de Charencey, whose assertions and speculations are not worth refuting?"1
"Oh!” replied my antiquary friend, "Mr. de Rosny has severely criticised all his attempts at decipherment of Central American inscriptions." "
"Yes, I am aware of it; he has also bitterly condemned those of Brasseur. By what right, pray? Is it because he has published large volumes on Maya palæography? What do their contents amount to, so far as the reading of the Maya books and inscriptions is concerned? True, he says that since he has determined, after a certain fashion,' the value of the greatest part of the Maya characters, it will be easy to read them. But he himself cannot translate a single sentence of said books; and yet he seems quite proud because the meaning of a few words interpreted by him has been accepted by some authorized Americanists, whoever these may be; or, in his own words, J'ai donné, dans divers receuils la lecture de quelques mots, la quelle a été acceptée par les americanistes autorisés.' 3 And do these quelques mots, which he thinks he has interpreted, give him a right to sit as judge, and enable him to pass such a severe verdict, on Abbé Brasseur?
"What I say of the French applies equally to the English German, and American Americanists. They have not advanced one step toward the interpretation of the Maya books and inscriptions, beyond Brasseur's attempts. He, at least, never
'H. de Charencey, Essai de Déchiffrement, Actes de la Société Philologique de Paris, vol. i., No. 3, p. 50, Mars, 1870.
Leon de Rosny, Essai sur le Déchiffrement de l'Écriture de l'Amérique Centrale, p. 13, Paris, 1876.
Ibid., Le Déchiffrement de l'Écriture Hieratique, Introduction.