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‘No Less Pious than Sublime’: The Sympathetic Vision of Sir William Jones

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)

Abstract

Only a year before the collapse of Burke’s impeachment campaign, on 22 May 1794, Sir John Shore (later Lord Teignmouth) rose before the Asiatic Society in Calcutta to lament the death of its founding president, Sir William Jones. As an Orientalist scholar and judge who believed that India should be governed according to its own traditions, Jones seemed to embody the tolerant attitude to Indian culture that Hastings claimed to represent. Like Burke, Jones has been acknowledged as making an important contribution to the discourse surrounding contemporary India, and trying to assimilate India and the East more generally into the European imaginative landscape. Less frequently noted but equally pertinent is the shared interest of the two men in sympathy as a lynchpin of imaginative engagement with India. The term occurs at key moments in Jones’s writings, and underlies a great deal of his published work produced both before and during his decade serving as a puisne judge in the Calcutta Supreme Court. Jones evolved a more sophisticated model of sympathetic engagement with India based on the capacity of Eastern poetry and religion to convey the passions and so complicated the spectator-object relationship between Britain and India predicated by Burke. This was reinforced by Jones’s physical proximity to his objects of enquiry. In a letter to his former pupil Earl Spencer in 1787, Jones revealed his awareness of this advantage, writing that ‘in Europe you see India through a glass darkly: here, we are in a strong light; and a thousand little nuances are perceptible to us, which are not visible through your best telescopes’.1 Unlike Burke who was obliged to vault the span of geographical distance through imagination, Jones was able to consider the intrinsically sympathetic qualities of Indian culture at first hand.

Keywords

British Literature Indian Culture Musical Mode Arabian Night European Mind 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Sir William Jones, Letters, ed. Garland Cannon, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), ‘To 2nd Earl Spencer’, 4–30 August 1787, vol. 2, p. 749. Page numbers for subsequent citations are given in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Sir William Jones, Poems, consisting chiefly of translations from the Asiatick Languages. To Which are Added, Two Essays, I. On the Poetry of the Eastern Nations. II. On the Arts, commonly called Imitative (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1772), p. 217.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Studies of Jones and Orientalism that broadly follow the approach inaugurated by Said include Rana Kabbani, Imperial Fictions: Europe’s Myths of Orient (London: Macmillan, 1986); Ronald Inden, Imagining India (London: Hurst, 1990); Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj; Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge; and Chatterjee, Representations of India. Studies that take a more critical view of this approach include Aijaz Ahmad, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992); MacKenzie, Orientalism: History, Theory and the Arts; and Ibn Warraq, Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism (London: Prometheus Books, 2007).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Jones, Letters, vol. 2, p. 642, p. 615. Jones’s Dialogue was distributed by the Society for Constitutional Information and became the subject of a sedition trial when William Shipley, Dean of St Asaph and Jones’s future brother-in-law, republished it as The Principles of Government, in a Dialogue between a Gentleman and a Farmer in 1783. On the inconsistency in Jones’s political views regarding India, see S.N. Mukherjee, Sir William Jones: A Study in Eighteenth-Century British Attitudes to India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968); R.K. Kaul, Studies in Sir William Jones: An Interpreter of Oriental Literature (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1995); and Kate Teltscher, India Inscribed: European and British Writing on India 1600–1800 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 193–4.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (London: Meridian, 1945), p. 266.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    A.J. Arberry, Asiatic Jones: The Life and Influence of Sir William Jones (1746–1794) (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1946), p. 39.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    David Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dynamics of Indian Modernisation 1773–1835 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), pp. 24–5.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Garland Cannon, The Life and Mind of Oriental Jones: Sir William Jones, the Father of Linguistics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 358.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Rosane Rocher, ‘Weaving Knowledge: Sir William Jones and the Indian Pandits’, in Cannon and Kevin R. Brine (eds), Objects of Enquiry: The Life, Contributions and Influences of Sir William Jones (1746–1794) (London: New York University Press, 1995), pp. 51–79 (p. 63).Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Said, ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’, in Barker et al. (eds), Europe and its Others, vol. 1, pp. 14–27 (p. 15).Google Scholar
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    See also Ahmad, In Theory and Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    P.J. Marshall, The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 17.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    See M.H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953), pp. 87–8.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    Jerome McGann, The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 128.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Sir William Jones, A Grammar of the Persian Language (London: W. & J. Richardson, 1771), preface, p. xii.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    On the literariness of the Grammar, see Cannon, ‘Sir William Jones and the New Pluralism over Language and Cultures’, The Yearbook of English Studies 28 (1998), pp. 128–43 (p. 130).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 24.
    See, for instance, his comments to Richard Wilson in 1784 ‘that Jūdishteīr, Arjen, Corno, and the other warriours of the M’hab’harat appear greater in my eyes than Agamemnon, Ajax, and Achilles appeared, when I first read the Iliad’ (Letters, vol. 2, p. 652) and his remarks in the eleventh anniversary discourse ‘On the Philosophy of the Asiatics’ (1794).Google Scholar
  18. 25.
    Sir William Jones, Selected Poetical and Prose Works, ed. Michael J. Franklin (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1995), p. 320. Quotations will be taken from this edition where texts are available (page numbers are given in the text).Google Scholar
  19. 26.
    Zak Sitter, ‘William Jones, “Eastern”Poetry, and the Problem of Imitation’, Texas Studies in Literature and Language 50.4 (Winter 2008), pp. 385–407 (p. 402).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 27.
    William Wordsworth, Poetical Works, ed. Thomas Hutchinson and Ernest de Selincourt (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 735.Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    Consider, for example, Henry Homes, Lord Kames’s account of the ‘common sense of mankind’ in his Elements of Criticism, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Miller, Kincaid & Bell, 1762), where he states that ‘every doubt with relation to this standard, occasioned by the practice of different nations and different times, may be cleared by appealing to the principles that ought to govern the taste of every individual’ (vol. 2, pp. 497–8).Google Scholar
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  23. 36.
    Jones, Letters, vol. 1, p. 24. See Garland Cannon, ‘Sir William Jones and Dr Johnson’s Literary Club’, Modern Philology 63.1 (August 1965), pp. 20–37, where Cannon notes that the young Jones was valued for ‘Oriental learning rather than poetry; the latter naturally being the province of Goldsmith’, (p. 22).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 37.
    Dow’s translation of Ináyat Allah appeared as Tales, Translated from the Persian of Inatullah of Delhi, 2 vols (London: T. Becket & P.A. De Hondt, 1768). The section corresponding to Jones’s ‘The Palace of Fortune’ is ‘The Baar Danesh; or, Garden of Knowledge’, vol. 2, pp. 56–103.Google Scholar
  25. 40.
    This quintessential Orientalist image reappeared in Southey’s The Curse of Kehama (London: Longman et al., 1810) and Shelley’s Queen Mab (1813). See E. Koeppel, ‘Shelley’s Queen Mab and Sir William Jones’s The Palace of Fortune’, Englische Studien 28 (1900), pp. 43–53. The magical Palace of Fortune itself, undoubtedly inspired the ‘stately pleasure dome’ of Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’: on a rock of ice, by magick rais’d, High in the midst a gorgeous palace blaz’d; The sunbeams on the gilded portals glanc’d, Play’d on the spires, and on the turrets danc’d; To four bright gates four ivory bridges led, With pearls illumin’d, and with roses spread. (Jones, Selected Poetical and Prose Works, p. 40) For a full range of Jones’s influences on the Romantics, see Cannon, ‘Sir William Jones and Literary Orientalism’.Google Scholar
  26. 41.
    Dow, Tales, vol. 2, pp. 75–6.Google Scholar
  27. 42.
    Jones had access to the Arabic original, courtesy of a friend in Aleppo, and also Antoine Galland’s French translation, Mille et une nuits (1704). The latter was popularised in English through the so-called ‘Grub Street’ edition; the sections that correspond to ‘The Seven Fountains’ are Nights 57–62, Arabian Nights Entertainments: consisting of One Thousand and One Stories told by the Sultaness of the IndiesTranslated into French from the Arabian MSS, by M. Galland, of the Royal Academy; and now done into English from the last Paris edition, 6 vols (London: J. Osborne & T. Longman, 1725), vol. 1, pp. 95–116. See Margaret Sironval, ‘The Image of Sheherazade in French and English editions of the Thousand and One Nights’, in Yuriko Yamanaka and Tetsuo Nishio (eds), The Arabian Nights and Orientalism: Perspectives from East and West (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006), pp. 219–45.Google Scholar
  28. 44.
    Horace Walpole, Correspondence, ‘To Rev. William Mason’, 25 May 1772, vol. 28, p. 36. 45. Elizabeth Montagu to James Beattie, 5 September 1772, in Jones, Letters, vol. 1, p. 111; Chalmers, Works of the English Poets (1810), vol. 18, p. 440. See Cannon, ‘Sir William Jones and Literary Orientalism’.Google Scholar
  29. 46.
    Jenny Sharpe, ‘The Violence of Light in the Land of Desire; or, How William Jones Discovered India’, Boundary 2, 20.1 (Spring 1993), pp. 26–46 (p. 43).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 47.
    Marshall, British Discovery of Hinduism, p. 33. Bishop James Ussher pinpointed the Creation date at 4004 BC in his Annales veteris testamenti (1650), although his findings built on medieval tradition; see Graham Parry, The Trophies of Time: English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), Patrick Wyse Jackson, The Chronologers’ Quest: The Search for the Age of the Earth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) and Alan Ford, James Ussher: Theology, History, and Politics in Early Modern Ireland and England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  31. 48.
    See Frank E. Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959) and Nigel Leask, ‘Mythology’, in Iain McCalman (gen. ed.), An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 338–45.Google Scholar
  32. 49.
    Jones, Letters, ‘To Viscount Althorp’, 19 August 1777, vol. 1, pp. 239–40.Google Scholar
  33. 50.
    See Mukherjee, Sir William Jones, pp. 95–6. Rocher alerts us to the provisional nature of Jones’s thoughts on linguistic affinities during the 1770s and 1780s, claiming that ‘his statement on the relationship of what were to be called the Indo-European languages was later quoted out of context, and made the charter of a new discipline’, i.e. comparative linguistics (Rosane Rocher, Orientalism, Poetry and the Millennium: The Checkered Life of Nathaniel Brassey Halhed 1751–1830 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983), pp. 243–4).Google Scholar
  34. 51.
    Jones, Letters, ‘To Adam Czartoryski’, 17 February 1779, vol. 1, p. 285.Google Scholar
  35. 52.
    Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, A Grammar of the Bengal Language (Hoogly: [Charles Wilkins], 1778), preface. Charles Wilkins hand-made the Bengali types for this pioneering book, which earned him the epithet ‘Caxton of Bengal’. See Rocher, Orientalism, Poetry and the Millennium, p. 83.Google Scholar
  36. 53.
    Jones, Letters, ‘To Adam Czartoryski’, 17 February 1779, vol. 1, p. 285.Google Scholar
  37. 54.
    Jones, Letters, ‘To Richard Johnson’, 15 December 1783, vol. 2, p. 624.Google Scholar
  38. 55.
    Jones, Letters, ‘To Charles Wilkins’, 6 January 1784, vol. 2, p. 625 and ‘To John Hyde’, January 1784, vol. 2, p. 626.Google Scholar
  39. 56.
    Jones, Letters, ‘To Warren Hastings’, 22 January 1784, vol. 2, p. 627. The Members of the Society invited Hastings and his fellow members of the Supreme Council to become patrons of the society. Hastings declined but was continually supportive of the Society, notably in his dedicatory letter published in Wilkins’s Bhăgvăt-Gēētă. The Society was renamed the Asiatic Society of Bengal following the establishment by Henry Colebrooke of the Royal Asiatic Society in London in 1823.Google Scholar
  40. 57.
    The title page of the first volume of Asiatick Researches bears the date 1788. The Appendix, listing society members, was not printed until 1789. Drew gives an account of how demand for copies seemed to outstrip supply. Due to the shortage of copies much of the content of the Asiatick Researches, including some of Jones’s essays, reached the public in the form of reprints or extracts in critical reviews (John Drew, India and the Romantic Imagination (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 71).Google Scholar
  41. 60.
    Jones, Works, vol. 3, p. 319.Google Scholar
  42. 61.
    See Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters; and Richard H. Davis, Lives of Indian Images (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  43. 63.
    Marshall, British Discovery of Hinduism, p. 36. Jones’s findings were taken up by, amongst others, William Robertson in his An Historical Disquisition concerning the Knowledge which the Ancients had of India (London: A. Strahan & T. Cadell, 1791) and Thomas Maurice in his Indian Antiquities; or, Dissertations, relative to the Ancient Geographical Divisions, the Pure System of Primeval Theology, the Grand Code of Civil Laws, the Original Form of Government, the Widely-Extended Commerce, and the Various and Profound Literature, of Hindostan: compared, throughout, with the Religion, Laws, Government, and Literature, of Persia, Egypt, and Greece, 7 vols (London: H.L. Galabin, 1800).Google Scholar
  44. 66.
    Sharada Sugirtharajah, Imagining Hinduism: A Postcolonial Perspective (London: Routledge, 2003), ch. 1.Google Scholar
  45. 73.
    Jones, Works, vol. 4, pp. 196–7, p. 206.Google Scholar
  46. 77.
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  47. 78.
    Jones, Works, vol. 4, p. 220.Google Scholar
  48. 83.
    Jones, Letters, vol. 2, pp. 766–68.Google Scholar
  49. 84.
    See Richard King’s Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and ‘The Mystic East’ (London: Routledge, 1999), which accuses Jones and other members of the Asiatic Society in Bengal of fabricating a ‘mystical’ version of Hinduism based upon eighteenth-century European conceptions of neo-Platonism (pp. 89–90).Google Scholar
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    Jones, Works, vol. 3, pp. 12–13.Google Scholar

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