JAMES DARMESTETER (1849-1894), French author and antiquarian, was born of Jewish parents on the 28th of March 1849 at Chateau Salins, in Alsace. The family name had originated in their earlier home of Darmstadt. He was educated in Paris, where, under the guidance of Michel Breal and Abel Bergaigne, he imbibed a love for Oriental studies, to which for a time he entirely devoted himself. He was a man of vast intellectual range. In 1875 he published a thesis on the mythology of the Zend Avesta, and in 1877 became teacher of Zend at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes. He followed up his researches with his Etudes iraniennes (1883), and ten years later published a complete translation of the Zend Avesta, with historical and philological commentary (3 vols., 1892-1893), in the Annales du musee Guimet. He also edited the Zend Avesta for Max Miller's Sacred Books of the East. Darmesteter regarded the extant texts as far more recent than was commonly believed, placing the earliest in the ist century B.C., and the bulk in the 3rd century A.D. In 1885 he was appointed professor in the College de France, and was sent to India in 1886 on a mission to collect the popular songs of the Afghans, a translation of which, with a valuable essay on the Afghan language and literature, he published on his return. His impressions of English dominion in India were conveyed in Letires sur l'Inde (1888). England interested him deeply; and his attachment to the gifted English writer, A. Mary F. Robinson, whom he shortly afterwards married (and who in 1901 became the wife of Professor E. Duclaux, director of the Pasteur Institute at Paris), led him to translate her poems into French in 1888. Two years after his death a collection of excellent essays on English subjects was published in English. He also wrote Le Mandi depuis les origines de ?Islam jusqu'd nos fours (1885); Les Origines de la poesie persane (1888); Prophetes d'Israel (1892), and other books on topics connected with the east, and from 1883 onwards drew up the annual reports of the Societe Asiatique. He had just become connected with the Revue de Paris, when his delicate constitution succumbed to a slight attack of illness on the 19th of October 1894.
His elder brother, Arsene Darmesteter (1846-1888), was a distinguished philologist and man of letters. He studied under Gaston Paris at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, and became professor of Old French language and literature at the Sorbonne. His Life of Words appeared in English in 1888. He also collaborated with Adolphe Hatzfeld in a Dictionnaire general de la langue francaise (2 vols., 1895-1900). Among his most important work was the elucidation of Old French by means of the many glosses in the medieval writings of Rashi and other French Jews. His scattered papers on romance and Jewish philology were collected by James Darmesteter as Arsene Darmesteter, reliques scientifiques (2 vols., 1890). His valuable Cours de grammaire historique de la langue frangaise was edited after his death by E. Muret and L. Sudre (1891-1895; English edition, 1902).
There is an eloge of James Darmesteter in the Journal asiatique (1894, vol. iv. pp. 519-534), and a notice by Henri Cordier, with a list of his writings, in The Royal Asiatic Society's Journal (January 1895); see also Gaston Paris, "James Darmesteter," in Penseurs et poetes (1896), pp. 1-61).
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