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

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


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.


British Literature Indian Culture Musical Mode Arabian Night European Mind 
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