Robinson, Edward, Dd, Lld
Robinson, Edward, D.D., LL.D., the most German among English-speaking scholars, whose classical and invaluable work on Palestine has made his name as well known in Germany and England as in his native laud, was of Puritan descent, and inherited the piety, energy, love of liberty, and high moral principle of the settlers of New England. He was the son of a Congregational minister, was born at Southington, Conn., April 10, 1794, and from 1812 to 1816 attended Hamilton College at Clinton, N.Y., where he distinguished himself chiefly in mathematics and the ancient languages, and was at the head of his class. In the fall of 1817, after studying law for some time at Hudson, N.Y., he was called to a tutorship at Hamilton College and accepted. A year later he married Eliza Kirkland, daughter of the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, known as missionary to the Oneidas. Though somewhat older than her husband, she was a woman of uncommon intellect and cultivation, and very attractive in appearance. She died, however, within a year after her marriage. Mr. Robinson remained at Clinton until 1821, when he went to Andover, Mass., to publish an edition of eleven books of the Iliad, with notes and a Latin introduction, which appeared in 1822. This stay at Andover, however, destined him to the service of theology and the Church. He entered into intimate relations with Prof. Moses Stuart, the patriarch of Biblical scholarship in America, and became assistant professor of the Hebrew language and literature at the Andover Theological Seminary (1823-26). He assisted Prof. Stuart in preparing the second edition of his Hebrew Grammar (which was founded on that of Gesenius), and in the translation of Winer's Grammar of the New Testament Greek (1825). At the same time he prepared alone a translation of Wahl's Claris Philologica Novi Testamenti (Andover, 1825), which, in later editions, grew to be a much more important, independent work. These labors determined his future career, as well as the whole character of modern exegetical theology in America, of which Stuart and Robinson must be considered the founders and representatives. Stuart was brilliant and enthusiastic; Robinson. calm, sober, and critical; the former fresher and more animating, the latter more thorough and scholarly. The school of exegesis originated by them consists in an independent elaborating of the results of modern German investigation on the basis of AngloAmerican orthodoxy and practical piety. By this process many excrescences and extravagances of German research were done away with, but at the same time the old Puritan severity was largely modified. Since then it has become a necessity for every American theologian who would keep up with the times to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the German language and literature; and this necessity will long continue to exist, even after most of the classical works of German theology have been made accessible to the Anglo-American literary world by translations.
In the year 1826, Robinson, then thirty-two years of age, undertook a voyage to Europe in order there to complete his theological education at the fountainheads of German learning and research. He spent his time chiefly at the universities of Göttingen, Halle, and Berlin, and became, in point of persevering industry, a German among Germans. He was particularly intimate with Gesenius, Tholuck, and Rodiger in Halle, and with Neander and Ritter in Berlin. To the celebrated Berlin geographer, who elevated geography to the dignity of a science, constituting it the indispensable companion of ethnography and history, and who united with depth of learning sincere piety and a childlike faith, he was allied during his whole life by the closest bonds of esteem and affection, which were fully reciprocated by Ritter. He considered Ritter, as he assured the writer of this article on presenting, in 1844, a letter of introduction from him, the greatest man of his time. In 1828 he was married in Halle to Therese Albertine Luise, youngest daughter of L.A. von Jacob, professor of philosophy and political science at the University of Halle, a highly gifted lady of thorough culture, who has acquired, under the nom de plume of Talvj, a well merited reputation as a writer, and who, with German love and fidelity, was a true helpmeet to her American husband, in his literary labors, until he died.
After his return to America in 1830, Robinson was appointed professor extraordinary of Biblical literature and librarian at the Theological Seminary in Andover. Soon after, in 1831, he founded and edited a learned theological quarterly, the Biblical Repository, which subsequently (in 1851) was united with the Bibliotheca Sacra, founded in 1844, and edited by himself in conjunction with the Andover professors Edwards and Park, and as such still exists. This flourishing periodical contained in its first volumes, besides valuable independent articles, particularly by Robinson and Stuart, many translations and reviews of German works, and was thus a means of transferring the best results of foreign biblical and theological research to American soil. In the year 1832 Robinson published an improved and enlarged edition of Calmet's Dictionary of the Bible, which proved very successful. A year later he issued a smaller Dictionary of the Bible, for popular use, of which thousands of copies were spread abroad through the American Tract Society. At the same time he published in Halle a translation, by himself, of Buttmann's Greek Grammar, which has since then repeatedly reappeared in new and improved editions, and was, and is still, largely used as a text book in American colleges.
These severe labors, in connection with his daily duties as instructor, undermined his health, and forced him, in 1833, to resign his position. He removed to Boston, and there devoted himself to his studies. In 1834 he published a revised edition of Newcome's Greek Harmony of the Gospels, which was far superior to the earlier editions, and a valuable contribution to the literature on Gospel harmony. It was based on Knapp's text of the New Test., and did not possess the advantages of the later researches of Lachmann, Tischendorf, Alford, and Tregelles in the field of textual criticism. At the same time Robinson completed an English translation of Gesenius's Hebrew-Latin Lexicon, which first appeared in 1836, met a great want, and contributed much to the advancement of the study of Hebrew in America. The second and later editions were enriched by many additions from the Thesaurus of Gesenius. The most important fruit, however, of this season of leisure in Boston was the preparation of an independent Greek and English Lexicon of the New Test., which at once took the place of the author's translation of Wahl's Clavis. He made frequent use of his predecessors — Bruder, Schleussner, Wahl, Bretschneider, and all exegetic sources of importance; and. in the later editions particularly, of the commentaries of De Wette and Meyer, which he preferred on account of their great philological advantages and concise brevity, without, however, allowing them to disturb his American orthodoxy in any important point. This extremely valuable and sterling work first appeared in 1836, and was at once welcomed as the best English lexicon of the New Test., and reprinted in three different editions in England. A new edition, greatly improved and, in part, entirely altered, appeared in 1850, and made it the first work of its kind to the present time. It is likewise an almost complete concordance, and enables the student to nearly dispense with Bruder. This work is a monument of labor and industry. Its motto is, "Dies diem docet," and "Nulla dies sine linea." The exegetical point of view of the author belongs to the historico-grammatical school founded by Winer, so far as it agrees with a stricter conception of inspiration and a decidedly Protestant orthodox acceptation of all important doctrines. He kept equally aloof from rationalism and from mysticism, and was a progressive supernaturalist.
In the year 1837, Prof. Robinson received a call as professor of Biblical literature to the Union Theological Seminary of New York, a Presbyterian institution recently founded, which since then, and chiefly through Prof. Robinson, has risen to the first rank of theological seminaries in America, and stands side by side with Andover and Princeton; and which, by his efforts, was enriched, at an early day, by the Van Ess library and other literary treasures. He accepted the call on condition of his being permitted to devote some years (at his own expense) to the investigation of the Holy Land on the spot itself before entering upon his duties. On July 17, 1837, he sailed for Europe with his family, left the latter in Germany, and travelled by way of Athens and Egypt to Palestine. In conjunction with the Rev. Eli Smith, a highly esteemed missionary of the American Board, who was an accomplished Arabic scholar, he explored, with the acute judgment of a critical scholar and the devout heart of a believer in the Bible, all the important places of the Holy Land. In October, 1838, he returned to Berlin, after having been detained at Vienna by a severe illness, contracted during his travels, which nearly proved fatal. The two following years, spent in the metropolis of German science in the preparation of his Biblical Researches in Palestine, were among the happiest of his life. This pioneer work, which since then has been consulted and quoted on all questions of Biblical geography and topography by all the scholars of America, England, and Germany, appeared simultaneously in America and England in the original, and in Germany in a translation revised by Mrs. Robinson, in 1841. and secured the immortality of the author's name, placing him, in Biblical geography, in the same rank with Bochart, Reland, Ritter, Raumer, and Burckhardt; as in Biblical philology he stands side by side with Wahl, Gesenius, and Winer. The Biblical Researches are based throughout on personal inspection and investigation by the aid of the telescope, compass, and measuring tape; on keen observation, strict regard to truth, and sound and wholly independent judgment, which allowed itself to be dazzled by no mediaeval traditions or venerable monkish legends, but was guided by the principle, "Prima historiae lex est, ne quid falsi dicere audeat, ne quid veri non audeat." Though necessarily dry in many details, his simple and massive style rises at times to true eloquence. The work was immediately received with great favor in Germany, England, and America, and still continues to be quoted as the first authority in its department. We give as examples three criticisms upon it.
Ritter says of it (Die Erdkunde von Asien, 8, div. 2, 73):
"The union of the acutest observation of topographic and local conditions, like that of Burckhardt, with much preparatory study, particularly the erudite study of the Bible, and of philological and historical criticism as well as that of the language of the country by the author's travelling companion, the Rev. Eli Smith (whom a residence of many years in Syria as a missionary had made practically at home there), distinguish this work, which is carried through in the most conscientious manner and with great vigor of body and of mind, from all former ones of its kind, whereby the scientific treatment of the subject has only now gained firm ground upon which the future will be able to build up with more success than the past. The competent Olshausen remarks that no previous work has brought to light a richer funud of new tfad Important researches on Palestine. The admirable principles of investigation developed and acted up to therein will remain a guiding star for all future travelers who would undertake to contribute to the investigation of Biblical antiquity in the Holy Land itself, wherefore the work marks a new era in Biblical geography." The committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, in its publication Our Work in Palestine (Lond. 1873), p. 7, expresses itself as follows:
"The first real impulse, because the first successful impulse, towards scientific examination of the Holy Land, is due to the American traveller Dr. Robinson. He it was who first conceived the idea of making a work on Biblical geography to be based not on the accounts of others, but on his own observations and discoveries. He fitted himself for his ambitions undertaking by the special studies of fifteen years, mastering the whole literature of the subject, and, above all. clearing the way for his own researches by noticing the deficiencies and weak points of his predecessors .... We shall not go into the question here of his theories and his reconstruction of the old city, on which he has had both followers and opponents. Let it, however, be distinctly remembered that Dr. Robinson is the first of scientific travelers. His travels took him over a very large extent of ground, covering a large part of the whole country from Sinai north; and his books are still, after thirty years, the most valuable works which we possess on the geography of Palestine." Dean Stanley (Addresses and Sermons delivered in the United States, October, 1878, p. 26) says:
"Dr. Robinson, I believe it is not too much to say, was the first person who ever saw Palestine with his eyes open as to what he ought to see. Hundreds and thousands of travelers had visited Palestine before — pilgrims, seekers after pleasure, even scientific travelers — but there was no person before his time who had come to visit that sacred country with all the appliances ready beforehand which were necessary to enable him to understand what he saw; and he also was the first person who came there with an eye capable of observing, and a hand capable of recording, all that with these appliances he brought before his vision." The Royal Geographical Society of London awarded to the author, in 1842, their Patron's Gold Medal; in the same year the University of Halle conferred upon him the degree of D.D.; and Yale College, in 1841, that of LL.D.
On his return to America, in 1840, Dr. Robinson devoted himself to his labors in the Union Theological Seminary, at the same time not neglecting his literary work. He wrote numerous articles and essays, revised his former works for new editions, and in 1845 published a new and independent Greek Harmony of the Gospels, with notes of his own, which, with other important changes, made it far superior to any former work of the kind and won it general acknowledgment. This was followed in 1846 by an English Harmony, with the notes adapted for popular use.
In 1851 Dr. Robinson made a second visit to Germany and Palestine, in which he included Damascus. The valuable results of his new investigations were laid down in an improved and enlarged edition of his Biblical Researches, in 1856, which was at the same time published in Germany with a translation of the additional matter by Mrs. Robinson. Nevertheless, this invaluable work was, in the eyes of Dr. Robinson, merely a preparation for a complete physical, historical, and topographical geography of the Holy Land, which he considered the chief labor of his life. Unfortunately, he was not permitted to finish it; only the first part, the Physical Geography of Palestine, was fully prepared in manuscript, and his faithful helpmeet translated it into German after his death, and published it in both languages in 1865. Repeated attacks of illness undermined his constitution, and an incurable disease of the eyes obliged him, in the year 1861, to lay down his pen. In May, 1862, he set out on his fifth and last voyage to Europe, in order to consult the celebrated oculist Dr. von Grafe, in Berlin, who, however, could promise him no permanent cure. Nevertheless, he greatly enjoyed the intercourse with his learned friends in Halle and Berlin, and refreshed his soul once more by a clouded view of the Swiss Alps. On his return in November of the same year, he resumed his usual duties at the Union Theological Seminary, but was forced to cease with the Christmas vacation. After a short illness, he died in the bosom of his family, Jan. 27, 1863, universally esteemed and lamented, most so by his wife, son, and daughter, his colleagues, and a large number of students in the seminary, the learned ornament and crown of which he had been for a quarter of a century.
Dr. Robinson was a man of athletic form and imposing figure, though somewhat bent in later years; of strong, sound good sense; reserved and dry, though, when in the society of his learned brethren, often very entertaining and with a strong sense of humor. He was thorough and indefatigable in his investigations, somewhat sceptical by nature, but bowing in reverence to God's revelation; outwardly cold, but warm inwardly; of great kindness of heart and tender sympathy; a plain, serious, solid, thoroughly honorable character; and a pious, orthodox, evangelical Christian. Though a dangerous opponent when attacked, he was a lover of peace, avoided theological controversy, and adhered strictly to his task in life, which he accomplished faithfully. He is the most distinguished Biblical theologian whom America has brought forth, and one of the most distinguished of the 19th century. His Harmony of the Gospels, his popular Dictionary of the Bible (published by the Amer. Tract Society), his Greek and English Lexicon of the New Test., his Hebrew and English Lexicon based on Gesenius, and, above all, his Biblical Researches in Palestine, belong to the most useful works of modern Protestant theology, and will long continue to exert their influence, under the blessing of God, particularly in America.
Sources. — Next to the works quoted above in chronological order, particular reference is had to two excellent addresses by his two colleagues in the Union Theological Seminary — Profs. Henry B. Smith and Roswell D. Hitchcock — which appeared soon after his death under the title The Life, Writings, and Character of Edward Robinson, D.D., LL.D., read before the N.Y. Historical Society, published by request of the Society (N.Y. 1863). Dr. Hitchcock's address gives, at the same time, a thoroughly trustworthy biographical sketch, partly founded on the communications of the family. See also the noble tribute which dean Stanley of Westminster paid to Dr. Robinson in an address before the students of the Union Theological Seminary, New York, Oct. 29, 1878, published in his Addresses and Sermons delivered during a Visit to the United States and Canada (Lond. and N.Y. 1879, pp. 23-34). He holds him up as the noblest specimen of an American scholar. The original MS. of Robinson's Biblical Researches and a part of his library are in possession of the Union Theological Seminary in New York. (P.S.)