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authentic books, both ancient and modern, the whole was translated into the Persian language, from which an English version was published by Mr. NATHANIEL B. HALHED, in 1776. The publication of this work may be regarded as an important event in the history of Hindoo literature.
It was long ago known, that all the science and literature possessed by the Brahmans were recorded in the Sanscrit, an ancient and sacred language which was understood only by a few of the most learned among themselves, and with which the rest of mankind were wholly unacquainted. For nearly three centuries different Europeans, settled in India, sought to acquire a knowledge of this language, but without success. The Brahmans, either systematically opposed to the use of any means for gaining proselytes to their religion and habits, or suspecting that some improper use was intended to be made of the information solicited, uniformly refused to instruct any one in their sacred books. But, at length, won by the address and persuasion with which the application was presented, and being convinced that no intention hos, tile to them or their religion was entertained by the applicants, they yielded. Mr. NATHANIEL B. HALHED, before mentioned, was the first Englishman who acquired a knowledge of the Sanscrit. He was soon followed in this interesting acquisition by Mr. CHARLES WILKINS, and Sir WILLIAM Jones, who were not long in giving to the public the fruits of their labours.
i About the middle of the sixteenth century, Akber, the sixth in descent from TAMERLANE, and a Prince of distinguished talents and virtues, ascended the throne of Hindostan. As in every part of his extensive dominions, the Hindoos formed the great body of his subjects, he laboured to acquire a perfect knowledge of their religion, sciences, laws, and institutions; that he might conduct every part of his government, particularly the administration of justice, in a manner as much accommodated as possible to their own ideas. In this undertaking he was seconded by his vizier, ABUL Fazel, a minister whose understanding was not lese enlightened than that of his master. By their assiduous researches and consultation of learned men, such information was obtained, as enabled ABUL Fazel to publish a brief compendium of Hindoo jurisprudence in the Ageen Akbery, which may be considered as the first genuine communication of its principles to persons of a different religion. About two centuries afterwards Mr. HastINGS imitated and surpassed the example of Akber. See ROBERTSON'S India, p. 260.
j The word Sanscrit, according to Mr. Wilkills, is compounded of the preposition San, signifying completion, and Skrita, finished, implying that the language is exquisitely refined and polished.
The first translation ever made from the sacred language of the Brahmans into English, was by Mr. Wilkins, and published in 1785. This translation was from the Mahabarat, an epic poem much esteemed among the Hindoos, and which, in the original, is very voluminous, consisting of more than four hundred thousand lines, of which Mr. WILKINS translated at least one third, but published only an Episode, entitled Baghvat-Geeta. The publication of this work excited great curiosity in the literary world, and was the occasion of increased attention to eastern learning. In 1786 a second translation from the Sanscrit language, by Sir William JONES, was laid before the public. This was Sacontala, a dramatic
of great antiquity, and indicating considerable refinement, both of sentiment and manners, among those who could produce or relish it. In 1787 Mr. Wilkins again laid the republic of letters under obligations to him, by publishing, a version of the Heeto-pades, or Amicable Instruction, a series of connected fables, interspersed
with moral, prudential, and political maxims. These were ‘followed by several other versions from the Sanscrit of less importance, by Mr. Wilkins, Sir WILLIAM Jones, and some anonymous hands.
In addition to the various translations which have been made from this ancient language, its structure, beauties, and antiquity, have been the subjects of much ingenious and instructive investigation, within a few years past. Among these the inquiries
of Mr. HALHED,' and especially of Sir William Jones, deserve particular attention, and the highest praise. To Father PAOLINO, formerly Professor of Oriental Languages in the Propaganda at Rome, the public are also indebted, for some useful exertions to promote the study of Sanscrit. During a residence of thirteen years in India he acquired much information concerning this language, and formed a gramınar, which is said to exhibit its elements in a very clear and satisfactory manner.
The institution of the Asiatic Society, in Calcutta, in the year 1784, forms an important era in the history of oriental learning. The design of this association was to trace the antiquities, arts, sciences, and literature of the immense continent of Asia. It was planned and founded by Sir WILLIAM Jones, who was long its president, and certainly the most active and extensively useful member. How diligent, and unwearied the labours of this association; and how curious and valuable the results of their investigations, are generally known by means of the several volumes of Asiatic Researches, which have been laid before the public in the course of the last fifteen years. In these volumes, the intelligent reader will find an amount of information, on the subjects of inquiry be
& Mr. Halhed is of opinion that the Sanscrit was, in ancient periods, current, not only over all India, considered in its largest extent, but over all the oriental world; and that traces of its original diffusion may still be discovered in almost every region of Asia.
1 “ The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists. There is similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with very different idioms, had the same origin with the Sanscrit: and the old Persian might be added to the same family." See Sir WILLIAM Jones's Third Discourse before the Asiatic Society.
fore stated, which the whole literary world could not have furnished antecedently to their appeara ance. By studying the Sanscrit language, in which the most authentic and ancient records of the Hindoos are written; by opening communications between distant regions of the East; and by frequently penetrating into the interior parts of the country, conversing with the learned men, inspecting their monuments, and observing their habits and manners, an astonishing mass of new facts has been obtained and given, by their labours, to the public; and from the same source, much more, perhaps, of still greater value, may be expected. They have entered into paths of inquiry which, if diligently and skilfully pursued, must conduct to. the richest treasures of information.
It is believed that neither the original Vedas, which are the sacred books of the Hindoos, nor the Shastahs, which are commentaries upon them, have ever yet been exhibited complete in any European language. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, scarcely any thing was known of these books, out of their native country. Since that time, important extracts from them have been published, and a tolerable view of their contents presented to the world, first by Mr. HolWELL, before-mentioned; afterwards, though with less faithfulness, by Mr. Dow; and at still later periods, by Sir WILLIAM JONES and others." The disclosures which these publications have effected, concerning the sacred literature of the Hindoos, have served equally to interest and to gratify the curiosity of the philosopher and the Christian.
m The books called Vedas are four in number. They are so denominated from Veda, a Sanscrit root, signifying to know.
" Sir William Jones tells us that the four Vedas are comprized in cleven large folio volumes, a complete copy of which was obtained by Col. Polier, of Great-Britain, who resided many years at Delbi, and displayed the most laudable zeal in collecting Indian curiosities.
The Astronomy and Chronology of Hindostan engaged much of the attention of oriental scholars, especially towards the close of the century under consideration. The honour is due to the French of having commenced this inquiry in a regular and scientific manner. M. Le Gentil first Brought to light, from the recesses of their temples, with any tolerable accuracy, the Astronomy of the Brahmans. Since he wrote, the inquiry has been pursued more fully and ingeniously by his countryman, M. BAILLY;' by Sir WilLIAM JONES, who has contributed to the illustration of almost every part of oriental literature and science; and by Mr. PLAYFAIR, of the University of Edinburgh; and still more recently by Mr. SAMUEL Davis, Mr. John BENTLEY, and others, whose valuable communications appear in the Asiatic Researches. To these may be added the chronological inquiries of Mr. MARSDEN and Mr. Pa
The result of all which is the most complete proof, that the extravagant and ridiculous claims made by the Brahmans, concerning the antiquity of their nation and their sciences,' are wholly destitute of foundation. Indeed, the latest inquiries afford satisfactory evidence not only that no antiquity inconsistent with the Mosaic chronology can be claimed by them; but that the dates of their most ancient books and records are far more recent than even the friends of the scripture history at first supposed.
The Geography of India received much elucida
See Le Voyage dans le Mers de l'Inde, &c. par M. Le Gentil. 1769. p Traitè de l'Astronomie Indienne et Orientale. 1787. 9 See Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol ii. p. 135.
In all the computations of the Brahmans the most enormous extravagance appears. They suppose the period which has elapsed since the creation to be more than seven millions of years ! In the same spirit of boundless absurdity, they make the circumference of the earth to be 500,000,000 yojanas, or 2,456,000,000 British miles; and the height of many mountains to be 100 yojanas, or 491 British miles !. VOL. II.