The life of Sir William Jones has been written by his friend Lord Teignmouth with that minuteness which the character of so illustrious and extraordinary a man deserved. He was born in London on the twenty-eighth of September, 1746. His father, whose Christian name he bore, although sprung immediately from a race of yeomen in Anglesea, could yet, like many a Cambro-Briton beside, have traced his descent, at least in a maternal line, from the ancient princes of Wales. But what distinguished him much more was, that he had attained so great a proficiency in the study of mathematics as to become a teacher of that branch of science in the English metropolis, under the patronage of Sir Isaac Newton, and rose to such reputation by his writings, that he attracted the notice and esteem of the powerful and the learned, and was admitted to the intimacy of the Earls of Hardwicke and Macclesfield; Lord Parker, President of the Royal Society; Halley; Mead; and Samuel Johnson. By his wife, Mary, the daughter of a cabinet-maker in London, he had two sons, one of whom died an infant, and a daughter. In three years after the birth of the remaining son, the father himself died, and left the two children to the protection of their mother. An extraordinary mark of her presence of mind sufficiently indicated how capable this mother was of executing the difficult duty imposed on her by his decease. Doctor Mead had pronounced his case, which was a polypus on the heart, to be a hopeless one; and her anxious precautions to hinder the fatal intelligence from reaching him were on the point of being defeated by the arrival of a letter of condolence and consolation from an injudicious but well-meaning friend, when, on discovering its purport, she had sufficient address to substitute the lively dictates of her own invention for the real contents of the epistle, and by this affectionate delusion not merely to satisfy the curiosity but to cheer the spirits of her dying husband.
So great was her solicitude for the improvement of her son, that she declined the pressing instances of the Countess of Macclesfield to reside under her roof, lest she should be hindered from attending exclusively to that which was now become her main concern. To the many inquiries which the early vivacity of the boy prompted him to put to her, the invariable answer she returned was, read, and you will know. This assurance, added to the other means of instruction, from which her fondness, or more probably her discernment, induced her to exclude every species of severity, were so efficacious that in his fourth year he was able to read at sight any book in his own language. Two accidents occurred to hinder this rapid advancement from proceeding. Once he narrowly escaped being consumed by flames from having fallen into the fire, while endeavouring to scrape down some soot from the chimney of a room in which he had been left alone; and was rescued only in consequence of the alarm given to the servants by his shrieks. At another time, his eye was nearly put out by one of the hooks of his dress, as he was struggling under the hands of the domestic who was putting on his clothes. From the effects of this injury his sight never completely recovered.
In his fifth year he received a strong impression from reading the twentieth chapter of the Apocalypse. The man must have a cold imagination who would deny that this casual influence might have first disclosed not only the lofty and ardent spirit, but even that insatiable love of learning, by which he was afterwards distinguished above all his contemporaries. Amidst the general proscription of reading adapted to excite wonder, that germ of knowledge, in the minds of our children, it is lucky that the Bible is still left them.
At the end of his seventh year he was placed under the tuition of Dr. Thackeray, the master of Harrow school; but had not been there two years before a fracture of his thigh-bone, that happened in a scramble among his play-fellows, occasioned another suspension of his studies. During the twelvemonth which he now passed at home with his mother, he became so conversant with several writers in his own language, especially Dryden and Pope, that he set himself about making imitations of them.
On his return to Harrow, no allowance was made for the inevitable consequences of this interruption: he was replaced in the class with those boys whose classical learning had been progressive while his was stationary, or rather retrograde, and unmerited chastisement was inflicted on him for his inferiority to those with whom he had wanted the means of maintaining an equality. Impelled either by fear, by shame, or by emulation, he laboured hard in private to repair his losses; of his own accord recurred to the rudiments of the grammar; and was so diligent that he speedily outstripped all his juvenile competitors.
In his twelfth year he entered into a scheme for representing a play in conjunction with his schoolfellows; but instead of seeking his Dramatis Personae among the heroes of Homer, as Pope had done in his boyhood, Jones, by a remarkable effort of memory, committed to paper what he retained of Shakspeare's Tempest, which he had read at his mother's; and himself sustained the part of Prospero in that Comedy. Meanwhile his poetical faculty did not lie dormant. He turned into English verse all Virgil's Eclogues and several of Ovid's Epistles; and wrote a Tragedy on the fable of Meleager, which was acted during the holidays by himself and his comrades, and in which he sustained the character of the hero. A short specimen of the drama is preserved. The language brings to our recollection that of the Mock Tragedy in Hamlet.
When the other boys were at their sports, Jones continued to linger over his book, or, if he mingled in their diversions, his favourite objects were still uppermost in his thoughts; he directed his playmates to divide the fields into compartments to which he gave the names of the several Grecian republics; allotted to each their political station; and "wielding at will the fierce democracies," arranged the complicated concerns of peace and war, attack and defence, councils, harangues, and negociations. Dr. Thackeray was compelled to own that "if his pupil were left naked and friendless on Salisbury plain, he would yet find his way to fame and riches."
On the resignation of that master, the management of the school devolved on Dr. Sumner, by whom Jones, then in his fifteenth year, was particularly distinguished. Such was his zeal, that he devoted whole nights to study; and, not contented with applying himself at school to the classical languages, and during the vacations to the Italian and French, he attained Hebrew enough to enable him to read the psalms in the original, and made himself acquainted with the Arabic character. Strangers, who visited Harrow, frequently inquired for him by the appellation of the great scholar.
Some of his compositions from this time to his twentieth year, which he collected and entitled Limon, in imitation of the ancients, are printed among his works. A young scholar who should now glance his eye over the first chapter, containing speeches from Shakspeare and Addison's Cato translated into Greek iambics on the model of the Three Tragedians, would put aside the remainder with a smile of complacency at the improvement which has since been made in this species of task under the auspices of Porson.
His mother was urged by several of the legal profession, who interested themselves in his welfare, to place him in the office of a special pleader; but considerations of prudence, which represented to her that the course of education necessary to qualify him for the practice of the law was exceedingly expensive and the advantages remote, hindered her from acquiescing in their recommendation; at the same time that his own inclination and the earnest wishes of his master concurred in favour of prosecuting his studies at college. Which of the two universities should have the credit of perfecting instruction thus auspiciously commenced was the next subject of debate. But the advice of Dr. Glasse, then a private tutor at Harrow, prevailing over that of the head master, who, by a natural partiality for the place of his own education would have given the preference to Cambridge, he was in 1764 admitted of University College in Oxford, whither his mother determined to remove her residence, either for the purpose of superintending his health and morals, or of enjoying the society of so excellent a son.
Before quitting school he presented to his friend Parnell, nephew of the poet, and afterwards chancellor of the Exchequer in Ireland, a manuscript volume of English verses, consisting, among other pieces, of that essay which some years after he moulded into his Arcadia; and of translations from Sophocles, Theocritus, and Horace. If the encouragement of Dr. Sumner had not been overruled by the dissuasion of his more cautious friends, he would have committed to the press his Greek and Latin compositions, among which was a Comedy in imitation of the style of Aristophanes, entitled Mormo.
Like many other lads, whose talents have unfolded in all their luxuriance tinder the kindness of an indulgent master, he experienced a sudden chill at his first transplantation into academic soil. His reason was perplexed amid the intricacies of the school logic, and his taste revolted by the barbarous language that enveloped it.
On the 31st of October he was unanimously elected to one of the four scholarships founded by Sir Simon Bennet. But as he had three seniors, his prospect of a fellowship was distant; and he was anxious to free his mother from the inconvenience of contributing to his support. His disgust for the University, however, was fortunately not of long continuance. The college tutors relieved him from an useless and irksome attendance on their lectures, and judiciously left the employment of his time at his own disposal. He turned it to a good account in perusing the principal Greek historians and poets, together with the whole of Lucian and of Plato; writing notes, and exercising himself in imitations of his favourite authors as he went on. In order to facilitate his acquisition of the Arabic tongue, more particularly with regard to its pronunciation, he engaged a native of Aleppo, named Mirza, whom he met with in London, to accompany him to Oxford, and employed him in retranslating the Arabian Nights' Entertainments into their original language, whilst he wrote out the version himself as the other dictated, and corrected the inaccuracies by the help of a grammar and lexicon. The affinity which he discovered between this language and the modern Persian, induced him to extend his researches to the latter dialect; and he thus laid the foundation of his extraordinary knowledge in oriental literature.
During the vacations he usually resorted to London, where he was assiduous in his attendance on the schools of Angelo, for the sake of accomplishing himself in the manly exercises of fencing and riding; and, at home, directed his attention to modern languages, and familiarised himself with the best writers in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese: "thus," he observed, "with the fortune of a peasant, he gave himself the education of a prince."
The year after his entrance at college, he accepted a proposal that was made him to undertake the education of Lord Althorpe, then a child about seven years old; and for that purpose spent much of his time at Wimbledon, where he composed many of his English poems, and studied attentively the Hebrew Bible, particularly the prophetical writings, and the book of Job.
In the summer of 1766, a fellowship of University College unexpectedly became vacant; and being conferred on Jones, secured him the enjoyment of that independence which he had so much desired. With independence he seems to have been satisfied; for, on his return to Wimbledon, he declined an offer made him by the Duke of Grafton, then first Lord of the Treasury, of the place of interpreter for eastern languages. The same answer which conveyed his refusal recommended in earnest terms his friend Mirza as one fitted to perform the duties of the office, but the application remained unnoticed; and he regretted that his inexperience in such matters had prevented him from adopting the expedient of nominally accepting the employment for himself and consigning the profits of it to the Syrian.
In 1767 he began his treatise De Poesi Asiatica, on the plan of Lowth's Praelectiones, and composed a Persian grammar for the use of a school-fellow, who was about to go to India. His usual course of study was for a short time interrupted by an attendance on Earl Spencer, the father of his pupil, to Spa. The ardour of his curiosity as a linguist made him gladly seize the opportunity afforded him by this expectation of obtaining some knowledge of German. Nor was he so indifferent to slighter accomplishments as not to avail himself of the instructions of a celebrated dancing master at Aix-la-Chapelle. He had before taken lessons from Gallini in that trifling art. From a pensioner at Chelsea he had learnt the use of the broadsword. He afterwards made an attempt, in which, however, he does not seem to have persevered, to become a performer on the national instrument of his forefathers, the harp. Ambition of such various attainments reminds us of what is related concerning the Admirable Crichton, and Pico of Mirandola.
Christian the Seventh, King of Denmark, who in 1768, was on a visit to this country, had brought with him a Persian history of Nadir Shah in manuscript, which he was desirous to have translated from that language into the French. On this occasion Jones was applied to by one of the under secretaries to the Duke of Grafton, to gratify the wishes of the Danish monarch. The task was so little to his mind that he would have excused himself from engaging in it; and he accordingly suggested Major Dow, a gentleman already distinguished by his translations from the Persic, as one fit to be employed; but he likewise pleading his other numerous occupations as a reason for not undertaking this, and the application to Jones being renewed, with an intimation that it would he disgraceful to the country if the King should be compelled to take the manuscript into France, he was at length stimulated to a compliance. At the expiration of a twelvemonth, during which interval it had been more than once eagerly demanded, the work was accomplished. The publication of it was completed in 1770, and forty copies were transmitted to the court of Denmark. To the history was appended a treatise on Oriental poetry, written also in French. One of the chief difficulties imposed on the translator had been the necessity of using that language in the version, of which it could not be expected that he should possess an entire command; but to obviate this inconvenience, he called in the aid of a Frenchman who corrected the inaccuracies in the diction. Christian expressed himself well satisfied with the manner in which his intentions had been fulfilled: but a diploma, constituting the translator a member of the Royal Society at Copenhagen, together with an earnest recommendation of him to the regard of his own sovereign, were the sole rewards of his labour. Of the history he afterwards published an abridgment in English.
The predilection he had conceived for the Muses of the East, whom, with the blind idolatry of a lover, he exalted above those of Greece and Rome, was further strengthened by his intercourse with an illustrious foreigner whom they had almost as much captivated. The person, with whom this similarity of taste connected him, was Charles Reviczki, afterwards imperial minister at Warsaw, and ambassador at the English court with the title of Count. Their correspondence, which turns principally on the object of their common pursuit, and is written in the French and Latin languages, commenced in 1768. At this time he took his degree of Bachelor of Arts.
In the summer of the ensuing year, Jones accompanied his pupil to the school at Harrow. During his residence there he transcribed his Persian grammar. He had already begun a dictionary of that language, with illustrations of the principal words from celebrated writers, a work of vast labour, which he resolved not to prosecute without the assurance of an adequate remuneration from the East India Company.
At the entreaty of Dr. Glasse, he now dedicated some portion of his time to religious inquiry. The result was a conviction of the truth of Christianity, in his belief of which, it is said, he had hitherto been unconfirmed. In the winter he made a second visit to the Continent with the family of his noble patron. After a longer stay at Paris than was agreeable to him, they passed down the Rhine to Lyons, and thence proceeded by Marseilles, Frejus, and Antibes, to Nice. At the last of these places they resided long enough to allow of his returning to his studies, which were divided between the arts of music and painting; the mathematics; and military tactics, — a science of which he thought no Briton could, without disgrace, be ignorant. He also wrote a treatise on education; and began a tragedy, entitled Soliman, on the murder of the son of that monarch by the treachery of his step-mother. Of the latter, although it appears from one of his letters that he had completed it, no traces were found among his papers, except a prefatory discourse too unfinished to meet the public eye. The subject has been treated by Champfort, a late French writer, and one of the best among Racine's school, in a play called Mustapha and Zeangir. I do not recollect, and have not now the means of ascertaining, whether that fine drama, the Solimano of Prospero Bonarelli, is founded on the same tragic incident in the Turkish History.
An excursion which he had meditated to Florence, Rome, and Naples, he was under the necessity of postponing to a future occasion. On his way back he diverged to Geneva, in hopes of seeing Voltaire; but was disappointed, as the Frenchman excused himself, on account of age and sickness, from conversing with a stranger. At Paris he succeeded by the help of some previous knowledge of the Chinese character, and by means of Couplet's Version of the Works of Confucius, in construing a poem by that writer, from a selection in the king's library, and sent a literal version of it to his friend Reviczki. From the French Capital the party returned through Spa to England. During their short residence at Spa he sketched the plan of an epic poem, on the discovery of Britain by the Prince of Tyre. The suggestion and advice of his friends, who thought that abilities and attainments like his required a more extensive sphere of action than was afforded them by the discharge of his duties as a private tutor, strengthened, probably, by a consciousness of his own power, induced him to relinquish that employment, and henceforward to apply himself to the study and practice of the law. An almost enthusiastic admiration of the legal institutions of his own country, a pure and ardent zeal for civil liberty, and an eminent independence and uprightness of mind, were qualifications that rendered this destination of his talents not less desirable in a public view than it was with reference to his individual interests. He accordingly entered himself a member of the Temple, on the 19th of September, 1770. To faculties of so comprehensive a grasp, the abandonment of his philological researches was not indispensable for the successful prosecution of his new pursuit. Variety was perhaps even a necessary aliment of his active mind, which without it might have drooped and languished. Indeed, the cultivation of eastern learning eventually proved of singular service to him in his juridical capacity.
In 1771 he published in French a pamphlet in answer to Anquetil du Perron's Attack on the University of Oxford, in the discourse prefixed to his "Zind-Avesta;" and entered on "A History of the Turks," the introduction to which was printed, but not made public till after his death. He had a design to apply for the office of minister at Constantinople, n the event of a termination of the war with Russia, and looked forward with eagerness to an opportunity of contemplating the Turkish manners at their source. A small volume of his poems, consisting chiefly of translations from the Eastern languages, with two prose dissertations annexed, made their appearance in the following year, when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. From the preface to the poems, it appears that his relish for the Greek and Roman writers had now returned; and that he justly regarded them as the standard of true taste. His terms not having been regularly kept in the University, (where his mother and sister had still continued to reside) he did not take his degree of Master of Arts till the Easter of 1773. In the January following he was called to the bar. At the conclusion of the preface to his Commentaries de Poesi Asiatica, published at this period, he announces his determination to quit the service of the muses, and apply himself entirely to his professional studies. In a letter to Reviczki, of February, 1775, we find him declaring that he no longer intended to solicit the embassy to Constantinople. This year he attended the spring circuit, and sessions at Oxford; and the next was appointed one of the commissioners of bankrupts, and was to be found regularly as a legal practitioner in Westminster Hall. At the same time, that he might not lose sight of classical literature, he was assiduous in his perusal of the Grecian orators, and employed himself in a version of the Orations of Isaeus; nor doss he appear to have broken off his correspondence with learned foreigners, among whom were the youngest Schultens, and G. S. Michaelis. The translation of Isaeus, which appears to be executed with fidelity, was published in 1779, with a dedication to Earl Bathurst, in which he declares "his Lordship to have been his greatest, his only benefactor." His late appointment is the obligation to which he refers.
A vacancy had now occurred on the bench at Fort William, in Bengal; and Jones was regarded by his brethren at the bar as the fittest person to occupy that station. The patronage of the minister, however, was requisite to this office; and the violent measures which government had lately adopted, with respect to the American Colonies, were far from being such as accorded with his notions of freedom and justice. He was resolved that no consideration should induce him to surrender the independence of his judgment on this, or any other national topic. "If the minister," says he, in one of his letters to his pupil, Lord Althorpe, "be offended at the style in which I have spoken, do speak, and will speak of public affairs, and on that account, shall refuse to give me the judgeship, I shall not he at all mortified, having already a very decent competence without a debt, or a care of any kind." His patriotic feelings displayed themselves in a Latin Ode to Liberty, published in March, 1780, under the title of Julii Melesigoni ad Libertatem, an assumed name, formed by an anagram of his own in Latin.
The resignation of Sir Robert Newdigate, one of the members returned to parliament for the University of Oxford, in the meantime, induced several members of that learned body, who were friendly to Jones, to turn their eyes towards him as their future representative. The choice of a candidate undistinguished by birth or riches, and recommended solely by his integrity, talents, and learning, would have reflected the highest honour on his constituents; but many being found to be disinclined to his interest, it was thought more prudent to relinquish the canvass. He published in July a small pamphlet, entitled, an Enquiry into the Legal Mode of suppressing Riots, with a constitutional Plan of future Defence. The insurrection which had for some days disgraced the British metropolis, at the beginning of June, suggested the publication of this tract. In the autumn of this year he made a journey to Paris, as he had done the preceding summer. During a fortnight's residence in that capital, he attended some causes at the Palais; obtained access to a fine manuscript in the royal library, which opened to him a nearer insight into the manners of the ancient Arabians; and mingled in the society of as many of the American leaders as he could fall in with, purposing to collect materials for a future history of their unhappy contest with the mother country. In the midst of this keen pursuit of professional and literary eminence he had the misfortune to lose his mother, who had lived long enough to see her tenderness and assiduity in the conduct of his education amply rewarded.
An Essay on the Law of Bailments, and the translation of an Arabian Poem on the Mohammedan Law of Succession to the Property of Intestates, to the latter of which undertakings he was incited by his views of preferment in the East, testified his industry in the pursuit of his legal studies; while on the other hand, several short poems evinced, from time to time, his intended relinquishment of the tuneful art to be either impracticable or unnecessary.
In the summer of 1782 the interests of one of his clients led him again to Paris, from whence he returned by the circuitous route of Normandy, and the United Provinces. In the spring of this year he had become a member of the Society for Constitutional Information. A more equal representation of the people in parliament was at this time the subject of general discussion, and he did not fall to stand forward as the strenuous champion of a measure which seemed likely to infuse new spirit and vigour into our constitutional liberties. His sentiments were publicly professed in a speech before the meeting assembled at the London Tavern, on the 28th of May; and he afterwards gave a wider currency to them from the press. He maintained that the representation ought to be nearly equal and universal; an opinion in which few would now be found to coincide; and which, if he had lived a little longer, he would probably himself have acknowledged to be erroneous. At Paris, he had written a Dialogue between a Farmer and a Country Gentleman on the principles of Government, and it was published by the Society. A bill of indictment was found against the Dean of St. Asaph, whose sister he afterwards married, for an edition printed in Wales; and Jones avowed himself the author.
In the beginning of 1783 appeared his translation of the seven Arabian poems, suspended in the temple at Mecca about the commencement of the sixth century.
In the March or this year, he was gratified by the long desired appointment to the office of judge in the supreme court of judicature, at Fort William, in Bengal, which was obtained for him through the interest of Lord Ashhurton; and he received the honour of knighthood usually conferred on that occasion. The divisions among his political friends after the decease of that excellent nobleman, the Marquis of Rockingham, afforded him an additional motive for wishing to be employed at a distance from his country, which he no longer hoped to see benefited by their exertions. He was immediately afterwards united to Anna Maria Shipley, the daughter of the Bishop of St. Asaph, a learned and liberal prelate. His attachment to this lady had been of long continuance, and he had been waiting only for an honourable independence before he could resolve to join the fortunes of one so tenderly beloved to his own.
Sir William Jones embarked for the East in April, 1783. It is impossible not to sympathise with the feelings of a scholar about to visit places over which his studies had thrown the charm of a mysterious interest; to explore treasures that had rested as yet in darkness to European eyes; and to approach the imagined cradle of human science and art. During his voyage he made the following memoranda of objects for his inquiry, and of works to be begun or excuted during his residence in Asia.
1. The Laws of the Hindus and Mahommedans.
2. The History of the Ancient World.
3. Proofs and Illustrations of Scripture.
4. Traditions concerning the Deluge, &c.
5. Modern Politics, and Geography of Hindustisn.
6. Best Mode of Governing Bengal.
7. Arithmetic and Geometry, and Mixed Sciences of the Asiatics.
8. Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery, and Anatomy, of the Indians.
9. Natural Productions of India.
10. Poetry, Rhetoric, and Morality of Asia.
11. Music of the Eastern Nations.
12. The Shi-King, or 300 Chinese Odes.
13. The best Accounts of Thibet and Cashmir.
14. Trade, Manufactures, Agriculture, and Commerce of India.
15. Mogul Constitution contained in the Defteri Alemghiri, and Ayein Acbari.
16. Mahratta Constitution.
To print and publish the Gospel of St. Luke, in Arabic.
To publish Law Tracts, in Persian or Arabic.
To print and publish the Psalms of David, in Persian Verse.
To compose, if God grant me life,
1. Elements of the Laws of England. Model — the Essay on Bailment. Aristotle.
2. The History of the American War. Model — Thucydides and Polybius.
3. Britain Discovered, an Heroic Poem on the Constitution of England. Machinery. Hindu Gods. Model — Homer.
4. Speeches, Political and Forensic. Model — Demosthenes.
5. Dialogues, Philosophical and Historical. Model — Plato.
6. Letters. Model — Demosthenes and Plato.
In the course of the voyage the vessel touched at Madeira; and in ten weeks after quitting Cape Verd Islands arrived at that of Hinzuan or Joanna, of which he has left a very lively, and pleasing description.
In September he landed at Calcutta; and before the conclusion of the year, entered on the performance of his judicial function, and delivered his first charge to the grand jury, on the opening of the sessions. This address was such as not to disappoint the high expectations that had been formed of him before his arrival.
It was evident that the leisure, or perhaps even the undivided attention and labour of no one man, could have sufficed for prosecuting researches so extensive and arduous as those he had marked out for himself. The association of others in this design was the obvious method of remedying the difficulty. At his suggestion, accordingly, an institution was, in January, 1784, framed as closely as possible on the model of the Royal Society in London; and the presidency was offered to Mr. Hastings, then Governor-general in India, who not only was a liberal encourager of Persian and Sanscrit literature, but had made himself a proficient in the former of these languages at a time when its importance had not been duly appreciated; and was familiarly versed in the common dialects of Bengal. That gentleman, however, declining the honour, and recommending that it should be conferred on the proposer of the scheme, he was consequently elected president. The names of Chambers, Gladwyn, Hamilton, and Wilkins, among others, evince that it was not difficult for him to find coadjutors. How well the institution has answered the ends for which it was formed the public has seen in the Asiatic Researches.
A thorough acquaintance with the religion and literature of India appeared to be attainable through no other medium than a knowledge of the Sanscrit; and he therefore applied himself without delay to the acquisition of that language. It was not long before he found that his health would oblige him to some restriction in the intended prosecution of his studies. In a letter written a few days after his arrival in India, he informs one of his friends that "as long as he stays in India, he does not expect to be free from a bad digestion, the morbus literatorum; for which there is hardly any remedy but abstinence from too much food, literary and culinary. I rise," he adds, "before the sun, and bathe after a gentle ride; my diet is light and sparing, and I go early to rest; yet the activity of my mind is too strong for my constitution, though naturally not infirm; and I must be satisfied with a valetudinarian state of health." All these precautions, however, did not avail to secure him from violent and reiterated attacks. In 1784 he travelled to the city of Benares, by the route of Guyah, celebrated as the birth-place of the philosopher Boudh, and the resort of Hindu pilgrims from all parts of the East; and returned by Gour, formerly the residence of the sovereigns of Bengal. During this journey he laboured for some time under a fit of illness that had nearly terminated his life. Yet no sooner did he become a convalescent than be applied himself to the study of botany, and composed a metrical tale, entitled The Enchanted Fruit or Hindu Wife; and a Treatise on the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India; the latter of which he communicated to the Society. He had not been many months settled after his return to Calcutta, when he found the demand made on him for his company, by the neighbourhood of that place, so frequent as to produce a troublesome interruption to the course of his literary engagements. He therefore looked out for a situation more secluded, to which he might betake himself during the temporary cessations of his official duties; and made choice of Chrishnanagur, at the distance of about fifty miles, which, besides a dry soil and pure air, possessed an additional recommendation in its vicinity to a Hindu College. Indeed he omitted no means that could tend to facilitate his acquaintance with the learning and manners of the natives. A considerable portion of his income was set aside for the purpose of supporting their scholars, whom he engaged for his instruction.
The administration of justice was frequently interrupted by the want of integrity in the Pundits, or expounders of the statutes. To prevent the possibility of such deception, this upright magistrate undertook to compile and translate a body of Hindu and Mohammedan laws, and to form a digest of them in imitation of that of the Roman law framed by the order of the Emperor Justinian. The mind can scarcely contemplate a plan of utility more vast or splendid than one which aimed at preserving the fountain of right uncontaminated for twenty millions of people. During the period of sessions and term, when his attendance was required at Calcutta, he usually resided on the banks of the Ganges, five miles from the court.
In 1785 a periodical work, called the Asiatic Miscellany, which has been erroneously attributed to the Asiatic Society, was undertaken at Calcutta; and to the first two volumes, which appeared in that and the following year, he contributed six hymns addressed to Hindu deities; a literal version of twenty tales and fables of Nizami, expressly designed for the help of students in the Persian language; and several smaller pieces.
A resolution, which had passed the Board of the Executive Government of Bengal, for altering the mode of paying the salaries of the judges, produced from him a very spirited remonstrance. The affair, however, seems to have been misconceived by himself and his brethren on the Bench; and on its being explained the usual harmony was restored. At the commencement of 1786, while this matter was pending, he made a voyage to Chatigan, the boundary of the British dominions in Bengal towards the east. In this "Indian Montpelier," where he describes "the hillocks covered with pepper vines, and sparkling with blossoms of the coffee tree," in addition to his other literary researches he twice perused the poem of Ferdausi, consisting of above sixty thousand couplets. This he considered to be an epic poem as majestic and entire as the Iliad; and thought the outline of it related to a single hero, Khosrau, (the Cyrus of Herodotus and Xenophon), whom, as he says, "the Asiaticks, conversing with the Father of European History, described according to their popular traditions by his true name, which the Greek alphabet could not express." A nearer acquaintance with the great epic bard of Persia had now taught him therefore to retract the assertion he had made in his Commentary on Asiatic Poetry, that the hero, as it is called, of the poem, was that well known Hercules of the Persians, named Rustem; although there are several other heroes, or warriors, to each of whom their own particular glory is assigned. At the time of writing this, he had an intention, if leisure should be allowed him, of translating the whole work. A version of Ferdausi, either in verse unfettered by rhyme, or in such numerous prose as the prophetical parts of the Bible are translated into, would, I think, be the most valuable transfer that our language is now capable of receiving from foreign tongues.
In 1787 he flattered himself that his constitution had overcome the climate; but his apprehensions were awakened for the health of Lady Jones, to which it had been yet more unfavourable; and he resolved, if some amendment did not appear likely, to urge her return to her native, country; preferring, he said, the pang of separation for five or six years, to the anguish, which he should hardly survive, of losing her.
At the beginning of 1789 appeared the first volume of the Society's Researches, selected by the President. Two other volumes followed during his life-time, and a fourth was ready for the press at the time of his decease.
In the same year he published his version of an ancient Indian drama of Calidas, entitled Sacontala, or the Fatal Ring; a wild and beautiful composition, which makes its desire to see more by the same writer, who has been termed the Shakspeare of India, and who lived in the last century before the Christian era. The doubts suggested by the critics in England, concerning the authenticity of this work, he considered as scarcely deserving of a serious reply.
In his discourses, delivered before the Society, he discusses the origin of the several nations which inhabit the great continent of Asia, together with its borderers, mountaineers, and islanders; points out the advantages to be derived from the concurrent researches of the members of the Society, amongst which the confirmation of the Mosaic account of the primitive world is justly insisted on as the most important; and enlarges on the philosophy of the Asiatics. Besides several other essays, particular dissertations are allotted to the subjects of the Indian chronology; the antiquity of their zodiac, which he maintains not to have been formed from the Greeks or Arabs; the literature of the Hindus; and the musical modes used by that people.
In the course of the last two years he edited the Persian poem by Hatefi, of Laile and Majnoon, the Petrarch and Laura of the Orientals. The book was published at his own cost; and the profits of the sale appropriated to the relief of insolvent debtors in the goal at Calcutta.
In 1793 Lady Jones, to whose constitution, naturally a weak one, the climate continued still unpropitious, embarked for England. The physicians had long recommended a return to Europe as necessary for the restoration of her health, or rather as the only means of preserving her life; but her unwillingness to quit her husband had hitherto retained her in India. His eagerness to accomplish his great object of preparing the Code of Laws for the natives would not suffer him to accompany her. He hoped, however, that by the ensuing year he should have executed his design; and giving up the intention he had had of making a circuit through Persia and China on his return, he determined to follow her then without any deviation from his course. In the beginning of 1794 he published a translation of the Ordinances of Menu, on which he had been long employed, and which may be regarded as initiatory to his more copious pandect.
The last twenty years of his life he proposed passing in a studious retreat after his return to England; and had even commissioned one of his friends to look out for a pleasant country-house in Middlesex, with a garden, and ground to pasture his cattle.
But this prospect of future ease and enjoyment was not to be realized. The event, which put an unexpected end both to that and to his important scheme for the public advantage, cannot be so well related as in the words of Lord Teignmouth. "On the 20th of April, or nearly about that date, after prolonging his walk to a late hour, during which he had imprudently remained in conversation in an unwholesome situation, he called upon the writer of these sheets, and complained of agueish symptoms, mentioning his intention of taking some medicine, and repeating jocularly an old proverb, that 'an ague in the spring is medicine for a king.' He had no suspicion at the time of the real nature of his indisposition, which proved in fact to be a complaint common in Bengal, an inflammation in the liver. The disorder was, however, soon discovered by the penetration of the physician who after two or three days was called in to his assistance but it had then advanced too far to yield to the efficacy of the medicines usually prescribed, and they were administered in vain. The progress of the complaint was uncommonly rapid and terminated fatally on the 27th of April, 1794. On the morning of that day, his attendants, alarmed at the evident symptoms of approaching dissolution, came precipitately to call the friend who has now the melancholy task of recording the mournful event: not a moment was lost in repairing to his house. He was lying on a bed, in a posture of meditation, and the only symptom of remaining life was a small degree of motion in the heart, which after a few seconds ceased, and he expired without a pang or groan. His bodily suffering, from the complacency of his features, and the ease of his attitude, could not have been severe; and his mind must have derived consolation from those sources where he had been in the habit of seeking it, and where alone in our last moments it can be found." "The funeral ceremony," adds his noble biographer, "was performed on the following day, with the honours due to his public station; and the numerous attendance of the most respectable British inhabitants of Calcutta evinced their sorrow for his loss, and their respect for his memory. The Pundits who were in the habit of attending him, when I saw them at a public durbar, a few days after that melancholy event, could neither restrain their tears for his loss, nor find terms to express their admiration at the wonderful progress which he had made in the sciences which they professed."
A domestic affliction of the severest kind was spared him by his removal from life. Eight years after that event, his sister, who was married to an opulent merchant retired from business, perished miserably, in consequence of her clothes having taken fire.
His large collection of Sanscrit, Arabic, and other eastern manuscripts, was presented by his widow to the Royal Society. A catalogue of them, compiled by Mr. Wilkins, is inserted in his works.
The following list of desiderata was found among his papers, after his decease.
The Ancient Geography of India, &c. from the Puranas,
A Botanical Description of Indian Plants from the Coshas, &c.
A Grammar of the Sanscrit Language, from Panini.
A Dictionary of the Sanscrit Language, from thirty-two original Vocabularies and Niructi.
On the ancient Music of the Indians.
On the Medical Substances of India, and the Indian Art of Medicine.
On the Philosophy of the Ancient Indians.
A Translation of the Veda.
On Ancient Indian Geometry, Astronomy, and Algebra.
A Translation of the Puranas.
Translation of the Mahabharat, and Ramayan.
On the Indian Theatre, &c. &c.
On the Indian Constellations, with their Mythology, from the Puranas.
The History of India, before the Mahommedan Conquest, from the Sanscrit Cashmir Histories.
The History of Arabia before Mohammed.
A Translation of the Hamasa.
A Translation of Hariri.
A Translation of the Facahatal Khulafa. Of the Cafish.
The History of Persia, from authorities in Sanscrit, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Persian, ancient and modern.
The Five Poems of Nizami, translated in prose.
A Dictionary of pure Persian — Jehangiri.
Translation of the Shi-cing.
The Text of Con-fu-tsu, verbally translated.
A History of the Tartar Nations, chiefly of the Moguls and Othmans, from the Turkish and Persian.
By an unanimous vote of the East India Company Directors, it was resolved, that a cenotaph, with a suitable inscription, should be raised to his memory in St. Paul's Cathedral; and that a statue of him should be sent to Bengal, for the purpose of being placed there in a proper situation.
A monument has also been erected to his memory in the anti-chapel of University College, Oxford, by Lady. Jones, with the following inscription:
Guliemia Jones equitis aurati,
Qui clarum in literis nomen a patre acceptum
Magna cumulavit gloria.
Ingenium in illo erat scientiarum omnium capax,
Disciplinisque optimis diligentissime excultum.
Erat indoles ad virtutem eximia,
Et in Justitia, Libertate, Religione vindicanda
Quicquid autem utile vel honestum
Consillis, Exemplo, Auctonitate virus promoverat,
Id omne scriptis suis immortalibus
Etiam nunc tuctur atque ornat.
Praestantissimum hunc virum,
Cum a provincia Bengala,
Ubi judicis integerrimi munus
Per deccuniam obierat,
Reditum in patriam meditaretur,
Ingruentis morbi vis oppressit,
X. Kal. Jun. A.C.MDCCLXXXXLV. AET. XLVIII.
Ut quibus in aedibus
Ipse olin, socius inclaruisset,
In tisdems mehmuoria ejus potissimum conservaretur,
Honorarium bier monumentum
Anna Maria filia Jonathan Shilpley, Epis. Asaph.
Conjugi suo, B.M.
To the name of poet, as it implies the possession of an inventive faculty, Sir William Jones has but little pretension. He borrows much; and what he takes he seldom makes better. Yet some portion of sweetness and elegance must be allowed him.
In the hymns to the Hindu deities, the imagery, which is derived chiefly from Eastern sources, is novel and attractive. That addressed to Narayena is in a strain of singular magnificence. The description, in the fourth stanza, of the creative power or intelligence, issuing from the primal germ of being, and questioning itself as to its own faculties, has something in it that fills the mind with wonder.
What four-form'd godhead came,
With graceful stole and beamy diadem,
Forth from thy verdant stem?
Full-gifted Brahma! Rapt in solemn thought
He stood, and round his eyes fire-darting threw:
But whilst his viewless origin besought,
One plain he saw of living waters blue,
Their spring nor saw nor knew.
Then in his parent stalk again retired,
With restless pain for ages he inquired
What were his powers, by whom, and why, conferr'd?
With doubts perplex'd, with keen impatience fired,
He rose, and rising heard
Th' unknown, all-knowing word,
Brahma! no more in vain research persist.
My veil thou canst not move. — Go, bid all worlds exist.
To the hymns he subjoins the first Nemean ode of Pindar, "not only;" he says, "in the same measure as nearly as possible, but almost word for word with the original; those epithets and phrases only being necessarily added which are printed in Italic letters." Whoever will be at the trouble of comparing him with Pindar will see how far he is from fulfilling this promise.
Of the Palace of Fortune, an Indian tale, the conclusion is unexpected and affecting.
The Persian song from Hafez is one of those pieces that, by a nameless charm, fasten themselves on the memory.
In the Caissa, or poem on Chess, he is not minute enough to gratify a lover of the game, and too particular to please one who reads it for the poetry. The former will prefer the Scacchia Ludus of Vida, of which it is a professed imitation; and the latter will be satisfied with the few spirited lines which the Abbe de Lille has introduced into his L'Homme des Champs, on this subject. Vida's poem is a surprising instance of difficulty overcome, in the manner with which he has moulded the phraseology of the classics to a purpose apparently alien from it; and he has made his mythology agreeable, trivial as it is, by the skill with which it is managed. But I find that both the Caissa, and the Arcadia, which is taken from a paper in the Guardian, were done, as the author says, at the age of 16 or 17 years, and were saved from the fire in preference to a great many others, because they seemed more correctly versified than the rest. It is, therefore, hardly fair to judge them very strictly.
His Latin commentary on Asiatic poetry is more valuable for the extracts from the Persian and Arabic poets, which he has brought together in it, than to be commended for any thing else that it contains, or for the style in which it is written. Certain marks of hurry in the composition, which his old school-fellow, Doctor Parr, had intimated to him with the ingenuousness of a friend and a scholar, are still apparent. He takes up implicitly with that incomplete and partial, though very ingenious system, which Burke had lately put forth in his essay on the Sublime and Beautiful. He has supported that writer's definition of Beauty by a quotation from Hermogenes. A better confirmation of his theory might have been adduced from the Philebus of Plato, in which Socrates makes the same distinction as our eloquent countryman has taken so much pains to establish between that sensation which accompanies the removal of pain or danger, and which he calls delight — and positive pleasure.
As the work, however, of a young man, the commentary was such as justly to raise high expectations of the writer.
His style in English prose, where he had most improved it, that is, in his discourses delivered in India on Asiatic History and Literature, is opulent without being superfluous; dignified, yet not pompous or inflated. He appears intent only on conveying to others the result of his own inquiries and reflections on the most important topics in as perspicuous a manner as possible; and the embellishments of diction come to him unbidden and unsought. His prolixity does not weary, nor his learning embarrass, the reader. If he had been more elaborate, he might have induced a suspicion of artifice; if he had been less so, the weightiness of his matter would seem to have been scarcely enough considered.
But he has higher claims to the gratitude of his country, and of mankind, than either prose or poetry can give. His steady zeal in the cause of liberty, and justice, and truth, is above all praise; and will leave his name among the few
—quos aequus amavit
Jupiter, aut ardens evexit ad aethera virtus,