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ORIENTAL LITERATURE. REVIEW.–Bhagavad Gita,id est OEENTELION MEAOE,
sive Almi Krishnæ et Arjunæ Colloquium de Rebus divinis Bharatæ Episodium. Textum cum annotationibus criticis, et interpretatione latina--- Augustus Gulielmus SCHLEGEL. Bonn. I vol. 8vo. V
The cultivation of Sanscrit by the Scholars of the Continent is no pretended nor unprofitable pursuit: they have not engaged in it merely to acquire the repute of mastering a venerable and difficult language, or to familiarise themselves with a new branch of literature for their private gratification, but they have come forward to exhibit public proofs of their proficiency, and have enriched the community of letters with the spoils of individual research. Amongst the foremost is Augustus William SCHLEGEL, a name long known in the highest departments of literature, and one particularly dear to Englishmen, as that of the enthusiastic and able commentator of Shakespeare.
To an almost universal conversancy with the languages of ancient and modern Europe, Schlegel has superadded a very extensive knowledge of the Sanscrit language, proofs of which attainment have been for some time before the public, in his Indische Bibliothek, particularly in his elaborate and masterly review of Wilson's Sanscrit Dictionary. He has how. ever now adduced one still more convincing in his
edition of the text of the Bhagavat Gita with a Latin translation and critical annotations, and he is about to furnish still more ample testimony in the text, and translation of the Ramayana.“ How far he is equal to this latter undertaking may be inferred from the success of the present, of which we shall proceed to offer some account. The learned translator has a right to demand this at our hands, as the worthy riyat of our countrymen, in a path they have hitherto almost monopolised: the monopoly is theirs no longer, and Frank, Bopp, Chezy, and Schlegel have all preferred respectable claims to participation in the walk of Sanscrit literature ; claims which it is to be hoped will only serve to animate our zeal, and'urge us to prove, that we have not been indebted for distinction, only to the absence of competitors.
The first object of Schlegel, in publishing the Bhagavad Gita, was the wish to employ in a becoming manner the fount of Nagari types, presented by the King of Prussia to the university of Bonn. This fount was executed at Paris under the professor's inspection, and is a creditable specimen of typographic art. We are not disposed, however, to admire exceedingly the forms of the letters : the vowels, which occur above and below the lines, are inelegantly engraved and clumsily connected, many of the conjunct consonants are much too slight, and the heads of the letters are too square. Such as they are however, the characters are neatly executed, and with the advantage of Europe ink and printing, make the handsomest book, except the Nalus of Bopp, which has yet been published in the sacred language of the Hindus:
The text of the Gita has been printed from a copy, made by Schlegel himself from four Manuscripts in the Royal Library at Paris; three of these were described by Hamilton in his catalogue, the fourth is a recent addition from the collection of Col. Polier. Schlegel's copy was also compared with the Calcutta Edition of 1808, which it appears is no longer procurable even in England, and which Schlegel obtained only from a friend. The
text now printed, it must be admitted, is singularly cor. rect; much more so than that of the Calcutta edition : a circumstance not very surprising, however, as the latter was the work of Native Editors without any assistance from European superintendance.
Of the translation we shall speak in detail, and shall particularise such passages, as seem to be erroneously rendered. In doing this, however, we must observe that particular exceptions are not to be regarded, as detracting from the merits of the whole : on the contrary as the objections are almost entirely verbal, and few mistakes or misconceptions of any moment occur, the necessity of seeking for blemishes, in matters of so little moment, is the highest compliment that can be paid to the accuracy, and knowledge of the translator:
That the translation made by Mr. Wilkins in 1787, was of essential service to the present translator is fully acknowleged by him “ In interpretatione Bhagavat Gitæ elaboranda interpretationem v. cl. Caroli Wilkins magno mihi adjumento fuisse, non modo non diffiteor, sed ultro gratoque animo id agnosco:” he adds however, what is correct, that he has occasionally deviated from the steps of his predecessor, and that if the original translator were now to revise his performance, he would no doubt authorise such deviations: in this we are disposed to concur with him, as there are several passages in Wilkins's translation, which might be amend. ed; on the whole however it is very correctly executed and with reference to the early period of Sanscrit study, at which it was accomplished, and the absence of all assistance from Grammars and Dictionaries, a publication of singular merit. Some of Schlegel's variations are very justifiable, and he might have made them more numerous still, as we think in some places he has been misled by the English version : occasionally, however, his variations are not warranted by the text, as we shall have occasion to observe.
· The Bhagavad Gita, as is well known, is a treatise on theology, communicated by Krishna to his friend and pupil Arjuna, during a short suspension of the en. gagement between the Pandava, and Curu armies. It is à section of the Mahabharat, and as observed by Schlegel, is proved by the concurrence of the Parisian manuscripts, the printed text of Calcutta, and the translation of Wilkins, to be a genuine and unadulterated work--Schlegel, and Wilkins both regard it as a composition of high antiquity, but this requires proof: we may admit with the former, that the origin of philo. sophy amongst the Hindus is remote, “sine dubio valde antiqua fuit apud Indos philosophiæ origo,” and that the Brahmans of India investigated subjects of theo. logical philosophy, long before Plato or Pythagoras; but upon examining the doctrines of the Bhagavat Gita, we shall find many as foreign to the theology of the Vedas, as to philosophical speculation, and indicative of a deviation from the primitive system, which we shrewdly suspect is the work of a comparatively recent date.
The original Hindu system comprised a two fold division, and inculcated the worship of the minor dei. ties by works, or sacrifice, gifts, and penance, and the knowledge of the great universal spirit by abstract, and secluded meditation. These two divisions were not incompatible: works were proper for men engaged in active life, and who had to discharge the positive duties of their caste and condition, but when they arrived at an age, at which they could no longer take a use. ful share in social pursuits, it was enjoined them to leave the world, and in the silence and solitude of the hermitage, to devote themselves to the cultivation of divine knowledge; performing in the first stage of this course, the essential ceremonies, but finally depo. siting, as it is quaintly expressed, the holy fires in the mind, or discarding further attention to the ceremonial offices of religion. With the natural tendency of en.. thusiasm it soon happened, that the period of seclusion was accelerated, and men adopting the notion, that works were altogether unworthy of human attention, deserted