Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. IX. - The History of British India, vol. 2
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CHAP. IX. - James Mill, The History of British India, vol. 2 
The History of British India in 6 vols. (3rd edition) (London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1826). Vol. 2.
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BOOK II. Chap. 9.AS the knowledge of what conduces to the augmentation of human enjoyment and the diminution of human misery, is the foundation of all improvement in the condition of human life; and as literature, if not synonymous with that knowledge, is its best friend and its inseparable companion, the literature of any people is one of the sources from which the surest inferences may be drawn with respect to their civilization.
The first literature is poetry. Poetry is the language of the passions, and men feel, before they speculate. The earliest poetry is the expression of the feelings, by which the minds of rude men are the most powerfully actuated. Before the invention of writing, men are directed also to the use of versification by the aid which it affords to the memory. As every thing of which the recollection is valuable must be handed down by tradition, whatever tends to make the tradition accurate is of corresponding importance. No contrivance to this end is comparable to verse; which preserves the ideas, by preserving the very words. In verse not only the few historical facts are preserved, to which the curiosity of a rude age attaches itself, but in verse are promulgated the maxims of religion, and the ordinances of law. Even after the noble art of writing is known, the habit of consigning to verse every idea, destined for permanency, continues, till certainBOOK II. Chap. 8. new steps are effected in the intellectual career.1
At this first stage the literature of the Hindus has always remained. The habit of expressing every thing in verse; a habit which urgent necessity imposes upon a people unacquainted with the use of permanent signs, and which the power of custom upholds, till after a certain progress in improvement, even among those to whom permanent signs are known; we trace among the Hindus to the present day. All their compositions, with wonderfully few exceptions, are in verse. For history they have only certain narrative poems, which depart from all resemblance to truth and nature; and have evidently no farther connexion with fact than the use of certain names and a few remote allusions. Their laws, like those of rude nations in general, are in verse. Their sacred books, and even their books of science, are in verse; and what is more wonderful still, their very dictionaries.2
BOOK II. Chap. 9.There is scarcely any point connected with the state of Hindu society, on which the spirit of exaggeration and enthusiasm has more signally displayed itself than the poetry of the Hindus. Among those whose disposition was more to admire than explore, scarcely any poetry has been regarded as presenting higher claims to admiration. Among the Hindus there are two great poems, the Ramayan, and the Mahabarat, which are long narratives, or rather miscellanies, in verse, and which their admirers have been puzzled whether to denominate histories, or epic poems. By the Hindus themselves, they are moreover regarded as books of religion; nay farther, as books of law; and in the Digest which the Brahmens, under the authority of the British government, have recently compiled, the text of these poems is inserted as text of the law, in the same manner as the text of any other legal authority and standard. They may even be regarded as books of philosophy; and accordingly the part of the Mahabarat, with the translation of which Mr. Wilkins has favoured us, he actually presents to his reader as one of the most instructive specimens of the philosophical speculations of the country.
It is incompatible with the present purpose to speak of these poems in more than general terms. They describe a series of actions in which a number of men and gods are jointly engaged. These fictions are not only more extravagant, and unnatural, less correspondent with the physical and moral laws of the universe, but are less ingenious, more monstrous,BOOK II. Chap. 9. and have less of any thing that can engage the affection, awaken sympathy, or excite admiration, reverence, or terror, than the poems of any other, even the rudest people with whom our knowledge of the globe has yet brought us acquainted.1 They are excessively prolix and insipid. They are often, through long passages, trifling and childish to a degree, which those acquainted with only European poetry can hardly conceive. Of the style in which they are composed it is far from too much to say, that all the vices which characterise the style of rude nations, and particularly those of Asia, they exhibit in perfection. Inflation; metaphors perpetual, and these the most violent and strained, often the most unnatural and ridiculous; obscurity; tautology; repetition; verbosity; confusion; incoherence; distinguish the Mahabarat and Ramayan. That amid the numberless BOOK II. Chap. 9.effusions, which a wild imagination throws forth, in its loose and thoughtless career, there should now and then be something which approaches the confines of reason and taste, is so far from surprising, that it would be truly surprising if there were not. A happy description, or here and there the vivid conception of a striking circumstance, are not sufficient; the exact observation of nature, and the symmetry of a whole, are necessary, to designate the poetry of a cultivated people.
Of the poems in dialogue, or in the dramatic form, Sacontala has been selected as the most favourable specimen. The author, Calidas, though he left only two dramatic pieces, Sir William Jones denominates the Shakspeare of India, and tell us that he stands next in reputation to their great historic poets, Valmic and Vyasa.
Sacontala was the daughter of a pious king, named Causica, and of a goddess of the lower heaven; brought up by a devout hermit, as his daughter, in a consecrated grove. The sovereign of the district, on a hunting excursion, arrives by accident in the forest. He observes Sacontala, and her two companions, the daughters of the hermit, in the grove, with watering pots in their hands, watering their plants. Instantly he is captivated. He enters into conversation with the damsels, and the heart of Sacontala is secretly inflamed. The king dismisses his attendants, and resolves to remain in the forest. In a little time the quality of the lover is ascertained, while the secret agitation in the bosom of Sacontala throws her into a languor which resembles disease. The king overhears a conversation between her and her companions, in which, being closely interrogated, she confesses her love. The king immediately discovers himself, and declares his passion. The two friends contrive to leave them together, and they consummateBOOK II. Chap. 9. “that kind of marriage which two lovers contract from the desire of amorous embraces.” So precipitate a conclusion, irreconcileable as it is with the notions of a refined people, is one of the numerous marriages legal among the Hindus. Presently, however, the king is summoned to his court. He promises to send for his wife in three days, and leaves a ring. In the mean time a Brahmen, of a proud and choleric temper, comes to the residence of the hermit, when his two daughters are at a little distance, and Sacontala has been overtaken with sleep. Finding no one to receive him with the expected honours, he utters an imprecation: “He on whom thou art meditating, on whom alone thy heart is now fixed, while thou neglectest a pure gem of devotion who demands hospitality, shall forget thee when thou seest him next, as a man restored to sobriety forgets the words which he uttered in a state of intoxication.” This malediction, which falls upon Sacontala, is overheard by her companions, and fills them with horror. They hasten to appease the angry Brahmen; who tells them, his words cannot be recalled, but that the spell would be dissolved when the lord of Sacontala should look upon his ring. Her two friends agree to conceal the calamity from Sacontala, who now languishes at the neglect of her husband, and finds herself pregnant. The hermit Canna, who at the time of the visit of the king was absent from home, returns, and is, by a voice from heaven, made acquainted with the events which have intervened. Encouraged by good omens, he soothes Sacontala, and resolves to send her to her lord. Her friends instruct her, should he not immediately recognise her, to show him the ring. Arrived at the palace, she is disowned by the king; thinks of the ring, but BOOK II. Chap. 9.discovers it is lost. The king treats her, and the messengers who brought her, as impostors; and orders them into custody; but while they are conveying her away, a body of light, descending in a female shape, receives her into its bosom, and disappears; upon which the king regards the whole as a piece of sorcery, and dismisses it from his thoughts. After a time, however, the ring is found, and conveyed to the king; when his wife, and all the connected circumstances, immediately rush upon his mind. He is then plunged into affliction; ignorant where Sacontala may be found. In this despondency, he is summoned by Indra, the god of the firmament, to aid him against a race of giants, whom Indra is unable to subdue. Having ascended to the celestial regions, and acquitted himself gloriously in the divine service, he is conveyed, in his descent to the earth, to the mountain Hemacuta, “where Casyapa, father of the immortals, and Aditi his consort, reside in blessed retirement.” To this sacred spot had Sacontala, by her mother’s influence, been conveyed; and there she had brought forth her son, a wonderful infant, whom his father found at play with a lion’s whelp, and making the powerful animal feel the superiority of his strength. The king now recognizes his wife and his son, of whom the most remarkable things are portended; and perfect happiness succeeds.
There is surely nothing in the invention of this story, which is above the powers of the imagination, in an uncultivated age. With the scenery and the manners which the Hindu poet has perpetually present to his observation, and the mythology which perpetually reigns in his thoughts, the incidents are among the most obvious, and the most easy to be imagined, which it was possible for him to choose. Two persons of celestial beauty and accomplishmentsBOOK II. Chap. 9. meet together in a solitary place, and fall mutually in love: To the invention of this scene but little ingenuity can be supposed to be requisite. To create an interest in this love, it was necessary it should be crossed. Surely no contrivance for such a purpose was ever less entitled to admiration than the curse of a Brahmen. A ring with power to dissolve the charm, and that ring at the moment of necessity lost, are contrivances to bring about a great event, which not only display the rudeness of an ignorant age, but have been literally, or almost literally, repeated, innumerable times, in the fables of other uncultivated nations. To overcome the difficulties, which the interest of the plot rendered it necessary to raise, by carrying a man to heaven to conquer giants for a god, for whom the god was not a match, is an expedient which requires neither art nor invention; and which could never be endured, where judgment and taste have received any considerable cultivation.
The poem, indeed, has some beautiful passages. The courtship, between Sacontala and Dushmantu, is delicate and interesting; and the workings of the passion in two amiable minds are naturally and vividly pourtrayed. The friendship which exists between the three youthful maidens is tender and delightful; and the scene which takes place when Sacontala is about to leave the peaceful hermitage where she had happily spent her youth; her expressions of tenderness to her friends, her affectionate parting with the domestic animals she had tended, and even with the flowers and trees in which she had delighted, breathe more than pastoral sweetness. These, however, are precisely the ideas and affections, wherever the scene is a peaceful one, which may naturally arise BOOK II. Chap. 9.in the simplest state of society; as the fables of the golden age and of Arcadia abundantly testify: and in whatever constitutes the beauty of these scenes they are rivalled by the Song of Solomon, which is avowedly the production of a simple and unpolished age.1 Beyond these few passages, there is nothing in Sacontala, which either accords with the understanding, or can gratify the fancy, of an instructed people.
Sir William Jones, who, on the subject of a supposed ancient state of high civilization, riches, and happiness among the Hindus, takes every thing for granted, not only without proof, but in opposition to almost every thing, saving the assumptions of the Brahmens, which could lead him to a different conclusion, says, “The dramatic species of entertainment must have been carried to great perfection, when Vicramaditya, who reigned in the first century before Christ, gave encouragement to poets, philologers, and mathematicians, at a time when the Britons were as unlettered and unpolished as the army of Hanumat.”2 Sir William forgets that, more than a century before Christ, the Britons had their Druids; between whom and the Brahmens, in character, doctrines, and acquirements, a remarkable similarity has been traced.3
The mere existence, however, of dramatic entertainmentsBOOK II. Chap. 9. has been held forth, in the case of the Hindus, as proof of a high state of civilization; and Sir William Jones, whose imagination on the accomplishments of the orientals delighted to gild, thinks the representation of Sacontala must have been something pre-eminently glorious; as the scenery must have been striking; and “as there is good reason,” he says, “to believe, that the court at Avanti was equal in brilliancy, in the reign of Vicramaditya, to that of any monarch in any age or country.”1 To how great a degree this latter supposition is erroneous, we shall presently see. In the mean time, it is proper to remark, that nations may be acquainted with dramatic entertainments, who have made but little progress in knowledge and civilization. In extent of dominion, power, and every thing on which the splendour of a court depends, it will not, probably, be alleged, that any Hindu sovereign ever surpassed the present emperors of China. The Chinese, too, are excessively fond of dramatic performances; and they excel in poetry as well as the Hindus; yet our British ambassador and his retinue found their dramatic representations very rude and dull entertainments.2
BOOK II. Chap. 9.As poetry is the first cultivated of all the branches of literature, there is at least one remarkable instance, that of Homer, to prove, that in a rude state of society it may acquire extraordinary perfection. At a point of civilization lower than that which we ascribe to the Hindus, poetry has been produced more excellent than theirs. From the effects produced by the poetic declamations of the Druids, it is certain that they must have possessed the faculty of working powerfully on the imaginations and sympathies of their audience. The Celtic poetry, ascribed to Ossian, and other bards, which, whatever age, more recent or more remote, controversy may assign for its date, is, beyond a doubt, the production of a people whose ideas were extremely scanty, and their manners rude, surpasses in every point of excellence, the sterile extravagance of the Hindus. In so rude a state of society as that which existed in Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, at the time of our Anglo-Saxon monarchies, the number of poets, and the power of their compositions, were exceedinglyBOOK II. Chap. 9. great.1
Even in that figurative and inflated style, which has been supposed a mark of oriental composition, and is, in reality, a mark only of a low stage of society, uniformly discovered in the language of a rude people, the poetry of the northern bards exhibits a resemblance BOOK II. Chap. 9.to that of the Hindus, the Fersians, Arabians, and other eastern nations. “The style of these ancient poems,” says Mallet, “is very enigmatical and figurative, very remote from common language; and for that reason, grand, but tumid; sublime, but obscure. If every thing should be expresssed by imagery, figures, hyperboles, and allegories, the Scandinavians may rank in the highest class of poets.”1 For these peculiarities, too, this author philosophically accounts. “The soaring flights of fancy, may possibly more peculiarly belong to a rude and uncultivated, than to a civilized people. The great objects of nature strike more forcibly on their imaginations. Their passions are not impaired by the constraint of laws and education.BOOK II. Chap. 9. The paucity of their ideas, and the barrenness of their language, oblige them to borrow from all nature images in which to clothe their conceptions.”1 The poetry of the Persians resembles that of the Arabians; both resemble that of the Hindus; both have been celebrated in still higher strains, and are entitled to more of our admiration. The Persians have their great historic poem, the Shah Namu, corresponding to the Mahabarat or Ramayan of the Hindus. It embraces a period of 3,700 years, and consists of 60,000 rhymed couplets. On this poem the most lofty epithets of praise have been bestowed; and a part of it, embracing a period of 300 years, Sir William Jones selects as itself a whole; a poem truly epic, of which the merit hardly yields to that of the Iliad itself.2 We shall speak of it in the language of an oriental scholar, who has made the literature of Persia more peculiarly his study than Sir William Jones. The Shah Namu, says Mr. Scott Waring, “has probably been praised as much for its length as its intrinsic merit. When we allow it is unequalled in the East, BOOK II. Chap. 9.we must pause before we pronounce it to be equal, or to approach very nearly, to the divinest poem of the West. The stories in the Shah Namu,” he says, “are intricate and perplexed, and as they have a relation to each other, they can only be understood by a knowledge of the whole. Episodes are interwoven in episodes; peace and war succeed each other; and centuries pass away without making any alteration in the conduct of the poem—the same prince continues to resist the Persian arms; the same hero leads them to glory—and the subterfuge of supposing two Afrasiabs or two Roostums, betrays, at least, the intricacy and confusion of the whole fable. The character of Nestor answered the most important ends, his eloquence and experience had a wonderful effect in soothing the contentions of a divided council; but the age of Zal or of Roostum answers no purpose, for they only share longevity in common with their fellow creatures.” In many instances, he adds, “the poet is tedious and uninteresting. He is often too minute; and by making his description particular makes it ridiculous. An example of this may be given in his description of the son of Ukwan Deo; which instead of expressing his immense size by some bold figure, gives us his exact measure: He was one hundred yards high and twenty broad.”1 With respect to the style of this as well as of other Persian poets, the same author informs us, that “the style of the most admired Persian authors is verbose and turgid; the mind is filled with words and epithets, and you probably meet with several quibbles and monstrous images before you arrive at one fact.”2 And in another passage he says, “The Persian poets, in all theirBOOK II. Chap. 9. similes or comparisons, fall infinitely below medioority.”1
As soon as reason begins to have considerable influence in the direction of human affairs, no use of letters is deemed more important than that of preserving an accurate record of those events and actions by which the interests of the nation have been promoted or impaired. But the human mind must have a certain degree of culture, before the value of such a BOOK II. Chap. 9.memorial is perceived. The actions of his nation, or of his countrymen, which the rude and untutored barbarian is excited to remember, are those which he wonders at and admires; and they are remembered solely for the pleasure of those emotions. Exaggeration, therefore, is more fitted to his desires than exactness; and poetry than history. Swelled by fiction, and set off with the embellishments of fancy, the scene lays hold of his imagination, and kindles his passions. All rude nations, even those to whom the use of letters has long been familiar, neglect history, and are gratified with the productions of the mythologists and poets.
It is allowed on all hands that no historical composition existed in the literature of the Hindus; they had not reached that point of intellectual maturity, at which the value of a record of the past for the guidance of the future begins to be understood. “The Hindus,” says that zealous and industrious Sanscrit scholar, Mr. Wilford, “have no ancient civil history.” Remarking a coincidence in this characteristic circumstance between them and another ancient people, he adds, “Nor had the Egyptians any work purely historical.”1 Major Rennel says, that, founded on Hindu materials, there is no known history of Hindustan, nor any record of the historical events of that country prior to the Mahomedan conquests;2 and since that period, it is not to Hindu, but Mahomedan pens that we are indebted for all our knowledge of the Mahomedan conquests, and of the events which preceded the passage to India, by the Cape of Good Hope.3 An inclination at first appeared among the warm admirers of Sanscrit to regard the poemsBOOK II. Chap. 9. Mahabharat and Ramayan, as a sort of historical records. A more intimate acquaintance with those BOOK II. Chap. 9.grotesque productions has demonstrated the impossibility of reconciling them with the order of human affairs, and, as the only expedient to soften the deformities in which they abound, suggested a theory that they are allegorical.1
The ancient Persians, who used the Pehlivi language, appear in this respect to have resembled the Hindus. “I never,” says Sir John Malcolm, “have been able to hear of the existence of any work in the ancient Pehlivi that could be deemed historical.”2
The modern Persians, in this, as in many otherBOOK II. Chap. 9. respects, are found to have made some progress beyond the ancient Persians, and beyond the Hindus. The first step towards the attainment of perfect history is the production of prose compositions, expressly destined to exhibit a record of real transactions, but in which imagination prevails over exactness, and a series of transactions appears in which the lines of reality can but faintly be traced. With histories of this description the Persians abound; but “the Persians,” says Mr. Scott Waring, “do not make a study of history; consequently their histories abound with idle tales, and extravagant fables.”2 Another celebrated Persian scholar says; “The Persians, like other people, have assumed the privilege of romancing on the early periods of society. The first dynasty is, in consequence, embarrassed by fabling. Their most ancient princes are chiefly celebrated for their victories over the demons or genii called dives; and some have reigns assigned to them of eight hundred or a thousand years.”2 On the comparison of the Grecian and native histories of Persia, he says, “There seems to be nearly as much resemblance between the annals of England and Japan, as between the European and Asiatic relations of the same empire.” The names and numbers of the kings, as exhibited by the historians of the two countries, have no analogy. No mention in the Persian annals is made of the Great Cyrus, nor of any King of Persia, the events of whose reign can, by any construction, be tortured into a similitude with his. No trace is to be found of Crœsus, of Cambyses, or of his expedition against the Ethiopians; none of Smerdis Magus, or of BOOK II. Chap. 9.Darius Hystaspes: “not a vestige of the famous battles of Marathon, Thermopylæ, Salamis, Platæa, or Mycale, nor of the mighty expedition of Xerxes.”1
On the geography and chronology, as parts of theBOOK II. Chap. 9. literature of the Hindus, I shall express myself in the language of Mr. Wilford. “The Hindus,” says that celebrated Hindu scholar, “have no regular work on the subject of geography, or none at least that ever came to my knowledge.—I was under a necessity of extracting my materials from their historical poems, or, as they may be called more properly, their legendary tales.” In another place he says, “The Hindu systems of geography, chronology, and history, are all equally monstrous and absurd. The circumference of the earth is said to be 500,000,000 yojanas, or 2,456,000,000 British miles: the mountains are asserted to be 100 yojanas, or 491 British miles high. Hence the mountains to the south of Benares are said, in the Puranas, to have kept the holy city in total darkness, till Matra-deva growing angry at their insolence, they humbled themselves to the ground, and their highest peak now is not more than 500 feet high. In Europe, similar notions once prevailed; for we are told that the Cimmerians were kept in continual darkness by the interposition of immensely high mountains. In the Calica Purana, it is said that the mountains have sunk considerably, so that the highest is not above one yojana, or five miles high.—When the Puranics speak of the kings BOOK II. Chap. 9.of ancient times, they are equally extravagant. According to them, King Yudhishthir reigned 27,000 years; King Nanda is said to have possessed in his treasury above 1,584,000,000 pounds sterling in gold coin alone; the value of the silver and copper coin, and jewels, exceeded all calculation: and his army consisted of 100,000,000 men. These accounts, geographical, chronological, and historical, as absurd and inconsistent with reason, must be rejected. This monstrous system seems to derive its origin from the ancient period of 12,000 natural years, which was admitted by the Persians, the Etruscans, and, I believe, also by the Celtic tribes; for we read of a learned nation in Spain, which boasted of having written histories of above six thousand years.”1
It is an error to suppose, that for the origin of unprofitable speculations respecting the nature and properties of thought, great progress in civilization is required. The fears and hopes, the conceptions and speculations, respecting the Divine Nature, and respecting a future state of existence, lead to inquiries concerning the invisible operations of the mind. If we consult but history, we shall be led to conclude, that certain curious, and subtle, but idle questions, respecting the mental operations, are a mark, not of a cultivated, but a rude state of society. It was during an age of darkness and barbarity, that metaphysical speculations engaged so passionately the minds of the European doctors; and called forth examples of the greatest acuteness and subtlety. It was prior to the dawn of true philosophy, that the sophists, whose doctrine was a collection of ingenious quibbles on abstract questions, enjoyed their celebrity in Greece. Pythagoras flourished at a very early age; and yet there is a high degree of subtleBOOK II. Chap. 9. ingenuity in the doctrines he is said to have taught. Amid the rudeness of the Celtic inhabitants of Gaul and Britain, the Druids carried, we know not how far, the refinements of metaphysical speculation. Strabo, as quoted by Dr. Henry,1 says. “The Druids add the study of moral philosophy to that of physiology.2 Ammianus Marcellinus informs us, that the inhabitants of Gaul, having been by degrees a little polished, the study of some branches of useful learning was introduced among them by the bards, the Eubates, and the Druids. The Eubates made researches into the order of things, and endeavoured to lay open the most hidden secrets of nature. The Druids were men of a still more sublime and penetrating spirit, and acquired the highest renown by their speculations, which were at once subtle and lofty.”3 The progress which the Arabians made in a semblance of abstract science has been highly celebrated. The following observations, borrowed from one of the most intelligent of the Europeans by whom they have been studied, will enable us to appreciate their metaphysical science. Of the Arabians, he says, even at the brightest period of their history, the Europeans, have been prone to form too favourable, indeed extravagant ideas.4 Their best writers are the translators or copiers of the Greeks. The only study peculiar to them, a study which they continue to BOOK II. Chap. 9.cultivate, is that of their own language. But by the study of language, among the Arabians, we must not understand that philosophical spirit of research, which in words investigates the history of ideas, in order to perfect the art by which they are communicated. The study is cultivated solely on account of its connexion with religion. As the word of God conveys the meaning of God, no conceivable nicety of investigation is ever too much to elicit that meaning in its divine purity. For this reason, it is of the highest moment to ascertain not only the exact signification of the words, but likewise the accents, inflections, signs, and pauses; in a word, all the most minute niceties of prosody and pronunciation; and it is impossible to conceive to what a degree of complication they have invented and refined on this subject, without having heard their declamations in the mosques. The grammar alone takes several years to acquire. Next is taught the nahou, which may be defined the science of terminations. These, which are foreign to the vulgar Arabic, are superadded to words, and vary according to the numbers, cases, genders, and person. After this, the student, now walking among the learned, is introduced to the study of eloquence. For this, years are required; because the doctors, mysterious like the Brahmens, impart their treasures only by degrees. At length arrives the time for the study of the law and the Fakah; or science peculiarly so called; by which they mean theology. If it be considered that the object of these studies is always the Koran; that it is necessary to be acquainted with all its mystical and allegorical meanings, to read all its commentaries and paraphrases, of which there are 200 volumes on the first verse; and to dispute on thousands of ridiculous cases of conscience; it cannot but be allowed that one may pass one’s whole life inBOOK II. Chap. 9. learning much and knowing nothing.1 It is vain, as the same author still further remarks, to tell us of colleges, places of education, and books: These words, in the regions of which we are treating, convey not the same ideas as with us.2 The Turks, though signal, even among rude nations, for their ignorance, are not without speculations of a similar nature, which by superficial observers have been taken for philosophy. “Certain it is,” says Sir James Porter, “that there are among the Turks many philosophical minds. They have the whole systems of the Aristotelian and Epicurean philosophy translated into their own language.”3 “The metaphysical questions,” says Gibbon, “on the attributes of God, and the liberty of man, have been agitated in the schools of Mahomedans, as well as in those of the Christians.”4 And Mr. Elphinstone informs us, that if the rude Afghaun is ever stimulated to any degree BOOK II. Chap. 9.of literary activity, it is when pursuing the subtleties of metaphysical speculation.1
These facts coincide with a curious law of human nature, which some eminent philosophers have already remarked. The highest abstractions are not the last result of mental culture, and intellectual strength; it is discovered, that some of our most general and comprehensive notions are formed at that very early period, when the mind, with little discriminating power, is apt to lump together things which have but few points of resemblance; and that we break down these genera into species more and more minute in proportion as our knowledge becomes more extensive, more particular, and precise. The propensity to abstract speculations is then the natural result of the state of the human mind in a rude and ignorant age.2
The Vedanti doctrine, which has caught the fancyBOOK II. Chap. 9. of some of the admirers of Sanscrit, appears to be delivered viva voce, and solely in that mode. As no passage implying it has been quoted from any Sanscrit work, it might, if it were any refinement, be suspected of being wholly modern. The following is the account of it by Sir William Jones. “The fundamental tenet of the Vedanti school consisted, not in denying the existence of matter, that is, of solidity impenetrability, and extended figure, (to deny which would be lunacy) but in correcting the popular notion of it, and in contending that it has no essence independent of mental perception, that existence and perceptibility are convertible terms, that external appearances and sensations are illusory, and would vanish into nothing, if the divine energy, which alone sustains them, were suspended but for a moment; an opinion which Epicharmus and Plato seem to have adopted, and which has been maintained in the present century with great elegance, but with little public applause; partly because it has been misunderstood and partly because it has been misapplied by the false reasoning of some unpopular writers, who are said to have disbelieved in the moral attributes of God, whose omnipresence, wisdom, and goodness, are the basis of the Indian philosophy. I have not sufficient evidence on the subject to profess a belief in the doctrine of the Vedanta, which human reason alone could, perhaps, neither fully demonstrate, nor fully disprove; but it is manifest, that nothing can be further removed from impiety than a system wholly built on the purest devotion.”1
BOOK II. Chap. 9.“In some of these observations,” Mr. Dugald Stewart very justly observes, “there is a good deal of indistinctness, and even of contradiction.” He also remarks, that Sir William Jones totally misunderstands the doctrine of Berkeley and Hume.1 We may suspect that he not less widely mistakes the doctrine of the Brahmens, and fastens a theory of his own creation upon the vague and unmeaning jargon which they delivered to him. If in all minds the propensity be strong, and in weak minds irresistible, to see only through the medium of a theory; we need not wonder if theory manufactures the ideas of the other senses, of hearing, for example, after the same manner. “If the simplest narrative of the most illiterate observer involves more or less of hypothesis; and a village apothecary or a hackneyed nurse, is seldom able to describe the plainest case, without employing a phraseology of which every word is a theory,”2 we may conclude with certainty that the same intrusion is very difficult to avoid, in making up our own conception of what we hear, and still more in clothing it with our own language. Of the ideas which we profess to report, and which we believe that we merely report, it often happens that many are our own ideas, and never entered the mind of the man to whom we ascribe them.
We have a more distinct account of the same doctrine from Sir James Macintosh, whose mind is more philosophical, and on oriental subjects less prepossessed and less credulous, than that of Sir William Jones. Presenting, in a letter to Mr. Dugald Stewart, an account of a conversation with a young Brahmen, “He told me,” says he, “that besides the myriadsBOOK II. Chap. 9. of gods whom their creed admits, there was one whom they know by the name of Brim, or the great one, without form or limits, whom no created intellect could make any approach towards conceiving; that, in reality, there were no trees, no houses, no land, no sea, but all without was Maia, or illusion, the act of Brim; that whatever we saw or felt was only a dream; or, as he expressed it in his imperfect English, thinking in one’s sleep; and that the reunion of the soul to Brim, from whom it originally sprung, was the awakening from the long sleep of finite existence.”1
It will require few words, in application of the evidence adduced in the chapter on religion, to make it sufficiently appear, that this is a natural part of that language of adulation towards the deity, in which the Hindu theology mainly consists. One of the deities, who is chosen as the chief object of adoration, is first made to excel all the other deities; next to absorb all their powers; next to absorb even themselves; and lastly absorb all things.2 The fancy of “Maia,” is only a part of “the absorption of all things in God.” There is nothing but God. All our supposed perception of things besides God is, therefore, only illusion; illusion created by God. Why, then, does God create such an illusion? This is a very necessary question. If it were put; and why it has not been put, we may a little admire; the Brahmens might very consistently reply, that as for a use, a design, a purpose, in the actions of their God, they never thought of ascribing to them any such quality. He pleases himself by his actions, and that is enough; no matter how fantastic the taste. BOOK II. Chap. 9.It is with great pleasure I quote the following co incidence with my own opinion, expressed in a subsequent passage of the same letter. “I intend to investigate a little the history of these opinions; for I am not altogether without apprehension, that we may all the while be mistaking the hyperbolical effusions of mystical piety, for the technical language of a philosophical system. Nothing is more usual, than for fervent devotion to dwell so long, and so warmly, on the meanness and worthlessness of created things, and on the all-sufficiency of the Supreme Being, that it slides insensibly from comparative to absolute language, and, in the eagerness of its zeal to magnify the Deity, seems to annihilate every thing else. To distinguish between the very different import of the same words in the mouth of a mystic and sceptic, requires more philosophical discrimination than most of our Sanscrit investigators have hitherto shown.”1
Sir James might have passed beyond a suspicion; if from nothing else, from the very words of the conversation he reports. Human life is there not compared to a sleep; it is literally affirmed to be a sleep; and men are not acting, or thinking, but only dreaming. Of what philosophical system does this form a part? We awake, only when we are re-united to the Divine Being; that is, when we actually become a part of the Divine Being, not having a separate existence. Then, of course, we cease to dream; and then, it may be supposed, that Maia ceases. Then will there be any thing to be known? any thing real? Or is it the same thing, whether we are awake or asleep? But my reader might well complain I was only trifling with him, if I pursued this jargon any further. What grieves me is, that between the two passages which I have immediately quoted, Sir JamesBOOK II. Chap. 9. (we must remember that it is in the negligence of private correspondence) has inserted the following words. “All this you have heard and read before as Hindu speculation. What struck me was, that speculations so refined and abstruse should, in a long course of ages, have fallen through so great a space as that which separates the genius of their original inventor from the mind of this weak and unlettered man. The names of these inventors have perished; but their ingenious and beautiful theories, blended with the most monstrous superstitions, have descended to men very little exalted above the most ignorant populace, and are adopted by them as a sort of articles of faith, without a suspicion of their philosophical origin, and without the possibility of comprehending any part of the premises from which they were deduced.” Yet Sir James himself has described the origin from which they were deduced; namely, “the hyperbolical effusions of mystical piety;” and surely the Brahmens of the present day may understand these effusions as well as their still more ignorant predecessors.1
BOOK II. Chap. 9.With respect to morals or duty, it appears not that any theory has ever been constructed by the Hindus. In what regards the preceptive part, their ethics exactly resemble those of all other rude and uninstructed nations; an excellent precept, and a foolish or absurd one, are placed alternately, or mixed in nearly equal proportions, in all their books which treat upon the subject. For specimens of their ethical precepts, it is sufficient to refer to what we have already produced under the head of religion. If all the good precepts were selected from the rest, and exhibited pure by themselves, they would present a tolerably perfect code of the common duties of morality. As we have authors who have attached importance to this, without adverting to the fact that a soundness in detached maxims of morality is common to all men down to the lowest stage of society, it is necessary to give a specimen of the ethical rules of nations confessedly barbarous. We might, perhaps, be satisfied with a reference to the proverbs of Solomon, and other preceptive parts ofBOOK II. Chap. 9. the Jewish writings, which are not equalled by the corresponding parts of the books of the Hindus. We shall, however, produce another instance, which is less exposed to any objection. The Havamaal or sublime discourse of Odin, is a Scandinavian composition of great antiquity. It is a string of moral aphorisms, comprised in 120 stanzas; with which, as a whole, there is nothing in Hindu literature in any degree worthy to be compared. The following is a specimen:
“To the guest who enters your dwelling with frozen knees, give the warmth of your fire: he who hath travelled over the mountains hath need of food and well-dried garments:
A man can carry with him no better provision for his journey than the strength of the understanding. In a foreign country this will be of more use to him than treasures; and will introduce him to the table of strangers:
There is nothing more useless to the sons of the age than to drink too much ale; the more the drunkard swallows the less is his wisdom, till he loses his reason. The bird of oblivion sings before those who inebriate themselves, and steals away their souls:
I have never yet found a man so generous and munificent, as that to receive at his house was not to receive; nor any so free and liberal of his gifts as to reject a present when it was returned to him:
They invite me up and down to feasts, if I have only need of a slight breakfast; my faithful friend is he who will give me one loaf when he has but two:
Where is there to be found a virtuous man without BOOK II. Chap. 9.some failing; or one so wicked as to have no good quality?”1
Among the parts of Hindu learning chosen by its admirers as the peculiar objects of their applause, are the niceties, the numerous and intricate subtleties, of the Hindu grammar. We are informed by an emiment Sanscrit scholar, that the grammatical precepts of one single treatise are no fewer than 3996. The reader will observe, that this number is composed of the digit 3 and its multiples, to which peculiar virtues are ascribed by the Hindus. It is not improbable that the rules may have been made to correspond with the number rather than the number with the rules. Nevertheless, we learn from Mr. Colebrooke, that “those rules are framed with the utmost conciseness, the consequence of very ingenious methods. But it is added that the studied brevity of the Paniniya Sutras renders them in the highest degree obscure; that even with the knowledge of the key to their interpretation, the student finds them ambiguous; that the application of them even when understood, discovers many seeming contradictions; and that, with every exertion of practised memory, the utmost difficulty is experienced in combining rules dispersed in apparent confusion through different portions of Paninis and lectures. The number of commentaries on the books of grammar is exceedingly great, and many of them very voluminous.”2
As these endless conceits answer any purpose rather than that of rendering language a more commodious and accurate instrument of communication, they afford a remarkable specimen of the spirit of a rude and ignorantBOOK II. Chap. 9. age: which is as much delighted with the juggleries of the mind, as it is with those of the body, and is distinguished by the absurdity of its passion for both.1 It could not happen otherwise than that the Hindus should, beyond other nations, abound in those frivolous refinements which are suited to the taste of an uncivilized people. A whole race of men were set apart and exempted from the ordinary cares and labours of life, whom the pain of vacuity forced upon some application of mind, and who were under the necessity of maintaining their influence among the people, by the credit of superior learning, and, if not by real knowledge, which is slowly and with much difficulty attained, by artful contrivances for deceiving the people with the semblance of it. This view of the situation of the Brahmens serves to explain many things which modify and colour Hindu society. In grammatical niceties, however, the Hindus but discover their usual resemblance to other nations in the infancy of knowlege and improvement. We have already seen that the Arabians on this subject carry their complex refinements to a height scarcely inferior to that of the Brahmens themselves.2 Even the Turks, who are not in general a refining race, multiply conceits on this subject.3 During the dark ages the fabrication of grammatical distinctions and subtleties furnished a favorite exercise to the European schoolmen.4
BOOK II. Chap. 9.Not only the grammar; the language itself has been celebrated as the mark of a refined and elegant people. “It is more copious,” we are told, “than the Latin. It has several words to express the same thing. The sun has more than thirty names, the moon more than twenty. A house has twenty; a stone six or seven; a tree ten; a leaf five; an ape ten; a crow nine.”1
That which is a defect and a deformity of language is thus celebrated as a perfection.2 The highest merit of language would consist in having oneBOOK II. Chap. 9. name for every thing which required a name, and no more than one. Redundancy is a defect in language, not less than deficiency. Philosophy, and even common good sense, determine, that every thing which can simplify language, without impairing it in point of precision and completeness, is a first rate advantage. An ignorant and fantastical age deems it a glory to render it in the highest degree perplexing and difficult.
The other perfections which are ascribed to the BOOK II. Chap. 9.Sanscrit are its softness, or agreebleness in point of sound, and its adaptation to poetry. Of its completeness or precision, those who were the fullest of admiration for it, were too little acquainted with it to be able to venture an opinion. Yet completeness and precision would have been undeniable proofs of the mental perfection of the people by whom it was used; while a great multitude of useless words and grammatical rules were the very reverse. Nothing is more probable than that a language which has too many words of one description, has too few of another, and unites in equal degree the vices of superfluity and defect. The adaptation of a language to poetry and the ear, affords no evidence of civilization. Languages, on which equal eulogies are bestowed to any which can be lavished on Sanscrit, are the languages confessedly of ignorant and uncivilized men. Nothing can surpass the admiration which is often expressed of the language of the modern Persians. Molina, the intelligent and philosophical historian of Chili, informs us, that of the language of the Chilians the grammar is as perfect as that of the Greek or Latin; that of no language does the formation and structure display greater ingenuity and felicity.1 The language of the Malays is described as remarkably sweet, and well adapted to poetry.2 Clavigero knows not where to set a limit to his admiration of the Mexican tongue.3
“Many extravagant things have been advanced concerningBOOK II. Chap. 9. the great antiquity and superior excellency of the Anglo-saxon language. According to some writers, it was the most ancient and most excellent in the world, spoken by the first parents of mankind in Paradise; and from it they pretend to derive the names, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and all the antediluvian patriarchs.”1
The same sacred volume which affords the most authentic materials for ascertaining the Hindu modes BOOK II. Chap. 9.of accounting for the phenomena of mind, lends equal assistance in leading us to a knowledge of their modes of accounting for the phenomena of matter. At the close of the night of Brahma, “intellect called into action by his will to create worlds, performed again the work of creation; and thence first emerges the subtle ether, to which philosophers ascribe the quality of conveying sound:”1 Ignorant that air is the great agent in the conveyance of sound, the Hindus had recourse to a fiction; the imagination of a something, of whose existence they had no proof. Equally futile is their account of air. “From ether, effecting a transmutation in form, springs the pure and potent air, a vehicle of all scents; and air is held endued with the quality of touch.”2 The word touch is here ambiguous; it may mean either that air is tangible, or that it has the faculty, the sense of touch. The latter, I suspect, is the meaning of the original; for I can hardly credit that so great a master of language as Sir William Jones, would have explained a passage which only meant that air is tangible, by so exceptionable a term as that it is endued with the quality of touch. I can with less difficulty suppose, from other instances, that he endeavoured to cloak a most absurd idea under an equivocal translation.
With respect to light and heat, we are told in the immediately succeeding passage; “Then from air, operating a change, rises light or fire, making objects visible, spreading bright rays; and it is declared to have the quality of figure.”3 It sufficiently appears from these several passages; that the accounts with which they satisfy themselves, are merely such random guesses as would occur to the most vulgar and untutored minds. From intellect arose ether: from ether, air; from air, fire and light. It appears from thisBOOK II. Chap. 9. passage that they consider light and heat as absolutely the same; yet the moon afforded them an instance of light without heat; and they had instances innumerable of heat without the presence of light. What is the meaning, when it is declared that fire, alias light, has the quality of figure, it is impossible to say. That fire, or, which is the same thing, light, is itself figured, is an affirmation wherein little meaning can be found. That fire, that is, light, is the cause of figure in all figured bodies, is an affirmation which, notwithstanding the absurdity, is in exact harmony with the mode of guessing at the operations of nature, admired as philosophy among the Hindus.
The account of water and earth is a link of the same chain. “From light, a change being effected, comes water with the quality of taste; and from water is deposited earth with the quality of smell.”1 As from ether came air, so from air light, from light water, and from water earth. It is useless to ask what connexion appears between water and light, or earth and water. Connexion, reason, probability, had nothing to do with the case. A theory of successive production struck the fancy of the writer, and all inquiry was out of the question. Here occurs the same difficulty as in the case of air; air was endowed with the quality of touch; water and earth are said to have the qualities of smell and taste. In this we perceive a most fantastic conceit: To water is ascribed the quality of taste; to earth, the quality of smell; to fire, the quality of figure, (I suspect it should be translated sight); to air, the quality of touch; and to ether, the quality (as Sir William Jones translates it) of conveying sound; I suspect it should be translated, the quality of hearing.
BOOK II. Chap. 9.We have thus seen the speculations respecting the origin and qualities of the principal parts of inanimate nature. The same divine volume affords us a specimen of their ideas concerning the origin of at least one great department of animated nature. “From hot moisture are born biting gnats, lice, fleas, and common flies; these, and whatever is of the same class, are produced by heat.”1 If this be an idea natural enough to the mind of an uncultivated observer it is at least not a peculiar proof of learning and civilization.
Of the arbitrary style of deciding without inquiry, the natural and ordinary style of all rude minds, a curious specimen is afforded by the Hindu dogma, that vegetables, as well as animals, “have internal consciousness, and are sensible of pleasure and pain.”2
Mr. Wilford, the industrious explorer of the literature of this ancient people, informs us; “The Hindus were superficial botanists, and gave the same appellation to plants of different classes.”3 To arrange or classify, on this or on any other subject, seems an attempt which has in all ages exceeded the mental culture of the Hindus.
Of all the circumstances, however, connected with the state of Hindu society, nothing has called forth higher expressions of eulogy and admiration than the astronomy of the Brahmens. Mons. Bailly, the celebrated author of the History of Astronomy, may be regarded as beginning the concert of praises, upon this branch of the science of the Hindus. The grounds of his conclusions were certain astronomical tables; from which he inferred, not only advanced progress in the science, but a date so ancient as to be entirely inconsistent with the chronology of the Hebrew Scriptures.BOOK II. Chap. 9. The man who invented a theory of an ancient and highly civilized people, now extinct, formerly existing in the wilds of Tartary, and who maintained it with uncommon zeal, and all the efforts of his ingenuity, is not to be trusted as a guide in the regions of conjecture. Another cause of great distrust attaches to Mons. Bailly. Voltaire, and other excellent writers in France, abhorring the evils which they saw attached to catholicism, laboured to subvert the authority of the books on which it was founded. Under this impulse they embraced, with extreme credulity, and actual enthusiasm, the tales respecting the great antiquity of the Chinese and Hindus, as disproving entirely the Mosaic accounts of the duration of the present race of men. When a case occurred, in which it appeared that this favourite conclusion could be established on the strength of astronomical observations and mathematical reasoning, the grand object seemed to be accomplished. The argument was laboured with the utmost diligence by Mons. Bailly, was received with unbounded applause, and for a time regarded as a demonstration in form of the falsehood of Christianity.
The most eminent of all the mathematical converts, gained by Mons. Bailly, was Mr. Playfair, the professor of mathematics in the University of Edinburgh. A bias was probably created in his mind by the high reputation of Mons. Bailly for his attainments in that science in which Mr. Playfair himself was so great a master; and any feeling of that nature could not fail to be greatly strengthened, by the loud applause, in which his countrymen, both those who were still in India, and those who had returned from it, at that time concurred, of the wonderful learning, wonderful civilization, and wonderful institutions of the Hindus; BOOK II. Chap. 9.applause which imposed implicit belief on minds such as that of his illustrious colleague, the author of the Historical Disquisition concerning the knowledge which the ancients had of India. In a paper published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Mr. Playfair stated, with skill and dexterity, the matter of evidence on which the proposition is founded;1 and in an article lately published in the Edinburgh Review,2 the arguments are controverted by which Mr. Bentley had endeavoured to overthrow his opinion: but a suspension of belief, till further information shall yield more satisfactory proof, is all that in this latter document is contended for.
Such a demand, however, is infinitely too much, and at variance with all the principles of reasoning. When an opinion is obviously contradicted by a grand train of circumstances, and is not entirely supported by the special proof on which it pretends to rest, it is unproved; and whatever is unproved, and out of the known order of nature, is altogether unworthy of belief; deserves simple rejection.
Whoever, in the present improved state of our knowledge, shall take the trouble to contemplate the proofs which we possess of the state of knowledge and civilization among the Hindus, can form no other conclusion, but that every thing (unless astronomy be an exception) bears clear, concurring, and undeniable testimony to the ignorance of the Hindus, and the low state of civilization in which they remain. That such a people are masters of the science of astronomy to a degree which none but nations highly cultivated have elsewhere ever attained, is certainly not to be credited on any chain of proof that is notBOOK II. Chap. 9. entire.1
Of the fitness of the proof to maintain any such conclusions as have been founded upon it, an idea may be formed from this; that Mr. Bentley, who has paid great attention to the books of Hindu astronomy, says they are all of modern date, and their pretensions to antiquity founded only on forgery.2 As his moderate knowledge of mathematics, however, and even the inelegancies of his style, have been sarcastically employed to throw discredit upon his conclusions, it is of importance to add that the two mathematicians whose reputation for profundity seems to exceed that of all their cotemporaries, Laplace, and an eminent ornament of our country, not only reject the inference of the great antiquity and perfection of the Hindu astronomy, but, from the evidence offered, draw a conclusion directly the reverse; viz. that this science is in the very same state of infancy among the Hindus with all the other branches of knowledge. The Surya Sidhanta is the great repository of the astronomical knowledge of the Hindus. It is on the authority of our own countryman I am enabled to declare, that this book is itself the most satisfactory of all proofs of the low state of the science among the Hindus, and the rudeness of the people from whom it proceeds; that its fantastic absurdity is truly Hindu; that all we can learn from it is a few facts, the result BOOK II. Chap. 9.of observations which required no skill; that its vague allegories and fanciful reflections prove nothing, or every thing; that a resolute admirer may build upon them all the astronomical science of modern times; but a man who should divest his mind of the recollection of European discoveries, and ask what a people unacquainted with the science could learn from the Surya Sidhanta, would find it next to nothing.1
BOOK II. Chap. 9.The Hindu astronomy is possessed of very considerable accuracy in regard to the mean motions. In other respects it has no pretensions to correctness or refinement. Astronomy may acquire great accuracy in regard to the mean motions, without the help of any nice or delicate observations; and while the science can hardly be said to exist. If there is every reason to believe, and none whatsoever to disbelieve, that the mean motions of the Hindu astronomy have been gradually corrected in the same manner in which the calendars of ancient nations have been improved, the legitimate conclusion cannot be mistaken.
As far as a conclusion can be drawn respecting the state of astronomy among the Hindus, from the state of their instruments of observation (and an analogy might be expected between those closely connected circumstances), the inference entirely corresponds with what the other circumstances in the condition of the Hindus have a tendency to establish. The observatory at Benares, the great seat of Hindu astronomy and learning, was found to be rude in structure, and the instruments with which it was provided of the coarsest contrivance and construction.
Even Mr. Playfair himself observes that “regular observations began to be made in Chaldea with the era of Nabonassar; the earliest which have merited the attention of succeeding ages.” The observation which he next presents is truly philosophical and BOOK II. Chap. 9.important. “The curiosity of the Greeks,” says he, “was, soon after, directed to the same object; and that ingenious people was the first that endeavoured to explain or connect, by theory, the various phenomena of the heavens.”1 This was an important step; all that preceded was mere observation and empiricism, not even the commencement of science.2 He adds; “The astronomy of India gives no theory, nor even any description of the celestial phenomena, but satisfies itself with the calculation of certain changes in the heavens, particularly of the eclipses of the sun and moon, and with the rules and tables by which these calculations must be performed. The Brahmen, seating himself on the ground, and arranging his shells before him, repeats the enigmatical verses that are to guide his calculation, and from his little tablets and palm leaves, takes out the numbers that are to be employed in it. He obtains his result with wonderful certainty and expedition; but having little knowledge of the principles on which his rules are founded, and no anxiety to be better informed, he is perfectly satisfied, if, as it usually happens, the commencement and duration of the eclipse answer, within a few minutes to his prediction. Beyond this his astronomical inquiries never extend; and his observations, when he makes any, go no farther thanBOOK II. Chap. 9. to determine the meridian line, or the length of the day at the place where he observes.”1
Scarcely can there be drawn a stronger picture than this of the rude and infant state of astronomy. The Brahmen, making his calculation by shells, is an exact resemblance of the rude American performing the same operation by knots on a string; and both of them exhibit a practice which then only prevails; either when the more ingenious and commodious method of ciphering, or accounting by written signs, is unknown; or when the human mind is too rude and too weak to break through the force of an inveterate custom.2
But the rude state of the science of astronomy among the Brahmens of the present day, is supposed to have been preceded by a period in which it was cultivated to a high degree of perfection. It is vain to ask at what date this period had its existence; and where the signs of such ancient knowledge are to be found. To these questions no answer can be returned. Sir William Jones himself admits “it is improbable that the Indian astronomers, in very early times, had made more accurate observations than those of Alexandria, Bagdad, or Maraghah; and still more improbable that they should have relapsed without apparent cause into error.”3 Mr. Davis, BOOK II. Chap. 9.one of the oriental inquirers to whom we are most indebted for our knowledge of Hindu astronomy, says, “I had been inclined to think with many others, that the Brahmens possess no more knowledge in astronomy, than they have derived from their ancestors in tables ready calculated to their hands, and that few traces of the principles of the science could be found among them; but by consulting some Sanscrit books I was induced to alter my opinion. I believe the Hindu science of astronomy will be found as well known now as it ever was among them.”1 In other words, the ignorance of the present age is the same with the ignorance of all former ages.2
BOOK II. Chap. 9.While we are thus unable, from all we have learned of the Hindu astronomy, to infer either its high antiquity, or great excellence, it is a matter of doubt whether even that portion of the science which they possess, they may not to a great degree have derived from other nations more advanced in civilization than themselves. The Hindu astronomy possesses certain features of singularity which tend to prove, and have by various inquirers been held sufficient to prove, its perfect originality. But it may very well be supposed, that in a science which so naturally fixes the attention of even a rude people, the Hindus themselves proceeded to a certain extent; and even if they did borrow the most valuable portion of all that they know, that it was constrained to harmonize with the methods they had already invented, and the discoveries they had previously made. The fact, moreover, is, that if the Hindu astronomy exhibits marks of distinction from other systems, it exhibits, on the supposition of its originality, still more surprising instances of agreement with other systems. “The days of the week” (I use the language of Mr. Playfair) “are dedicated by the Brahmens, as by us, to the seven planets, and, what is truly singular, they are arranged precisely in the same order. The ecliptic is divided, as with us, into twelve signs of thirty degrees each. This division is purely ideal, and is intended merely for the purpose of calculation. The names and emblems by which these signs are expressed, are nearly the same as with us; and as there is nothing in the nature of things to have determined this coincidence, it must, like the arrangement of the days of the week, be the result of some BOOK II. Chap. 9.ancient and unknown communication.”1 From this striking circumstance, Montucla, the celebrated historian of mathematics, inferred, that the Hindu zodiac was borrowed from the Greeks; and from the vicinity of the Greek empire of Bactria, as well as from the communications which took place between the Hindus, the Persians, and Arabians, the facility with which the knowledge of the Grecian astronomy might pass into India is clear. Sir William Jones controverts the position that the Hindu ecliptic was borrowed from the Greeks; he contends that it was derived from the Chaldeans.2 But this is the same in the end.3
BOOK II. Chap. 9.At one time a disposition appeared to set the knowledge of the Hindus in pure mathematics very high.
BOOK II. Chap. 9.A very convenient, and even an ingenious mode of constructing the table of approximate signs, is in use among the Hindu astronomers. “But ignorant totally,” says Professor Leslie, “of the principles of the operation, those humble calculators are content to follow blindly a slavish routine. The Brahmens must, therefore, have derived such information from people further advanced than themselves in science, and of a bolder and more inventive genius. Whatever may be the pretensions of that passive race, their knowledge of trigonometrical computation has no solid claim to any high antiquity. It was probably, before the revival of letters in Europe, carried to the East by the tide of victory. The natives of Hindustan might receive instruction from the Persian astronomers, who were themselves taught by the Greeks of Constantinople, and stimulated to those scientific pursuits by the skill and liberality of their Arabian conquerors.”1
Arithmetic is a branch of mathematics; and amongBOOK II. Chap. 9. other inventions, of which the honour has been claimed for the Hindus, is that of numerical characters. Whether the signs used by the Hindus are so peculiar as to render it probable that they invented them, or whether it is still more probable that they borrowed them, are questions which, for the purpose of ascertaining their progress in civilization, are not worth resolving. “The invention of numerical characters,” says Goguet, “must have been very ancient. BOOK II. Chap. 9.For though flints, pebbles, and grains of corn, &c. might be sufficient for making arithmetical calculations, they were by no means proper for preserving the result of them. It was, however, necessary on many occasions to preserve the result of arithmetical operations, and consequently it was necessary, very early, to invent signs for that purpose.”1 Under these motives, a people, who had communication with another people already acquainted with numerical signs, would borrow them: a people who had no such communication, would be under the necessity of inventing them. But alphabetical signs, far more difficult, were invented at a rude period of society; no certain proof of civilization is therefore gained by the invention of arithmetical characters. The characters of which Europeans themselves make use, and which they have borrowed from the Arabians, are really hieroglyphics; and “from the monuments of the Mexicans,” says Goguet, “which are still remaining, it appears that hieroglyphics were used by that people, both for letters and numerical characters.”2 That diligent and judicious inquirer says, in general, “The origin of cyphers or numerical characters was confounded with that of hieroglyphic writing. To this day, the Arabian cyphers are real hieroglyphics, and do not represent words, but things. For which reason, though the nations which use them speak different languages, yet these characters excite the ideas of the same numbers in the minds of all.”3
Algebraic signs, which were brought into Europe from Arabia, may, it is said, have originated in India. There is an assertion of the Arabian writers, that an Arabian mathematician in 959 travelled to India, inBOOK II. Chap. 9. quest of information. He might, however, travel without finding. On this foundation, it is plain that no sound inference can be established. If, indeed, it were proved that the algebraic notation came from India, an invention, which the Arabians could make, implies not much of civilization wherever it was made. The shape, indeed, in which it was imported from Arabia sets the question at rest. It cannot be described more clearly and shortly than in the words of Mr. Playfair. The characters, as imported from Arabia, “are mere abbreviations of words. Thus the first appearance of algebra is merely that of a system of short-hand writing, or an abbreviation of common language, applied to the solution of arithmetical problems. It was a contrivance merely to save trouble.”1
The books of the Hindus abound with the praise of learning; and the love and admiration of learning is a mark of civilization and refinement. By the panegyrics, however, in the books of the Hindus, the existence is proved of little to which admiration is due. On the pretensions of the Brahmens to BOOK II. Chap. 9.learning, the title to which they reserved exclusively to themselves, a great part of their unbounded influence depended. It was their interest, therefore, to excite an admiration of it, that is, of themselves, by every artifice. When we contemplate, however, the acquirements and performances on which the most lofty of these panegyrics were lavished, we can be at no loss for a judgment on their learning, or the motive from which the praises of it arose. To be able to read the Vedas, was merit of the most exalted nature; to have actually read them, elevated the student to a rank almost superior to that of mortals. “A priest,” says the sacred text of Menu, “who has gone through the whole Veda, is equal to a sovereign of the whole world.1 What is valuable in learning could be little understood, where consequencesBOOK II. Chap. 9. of so much importance were attached to a feat of this description.
BOOK II. Chap. 9.The Hindus have institutions of education; and the Brahmens teach the arts of reading and writing, by tracing the characters with a rod in the sand.1 How extensively this elementary knowledge is diffused, we have received little or no information. This is a satisfactory proof of the want of intelligence and of interest, with which our countrymen in India have looked upon the native population. The magistrates, however, who returned answers to the interrogatories of government in the year 1801, respecting the morals of the people, describe the state of education in general terms, as deplorable in the extreme. Mr. J. Stracey, magistrate of Momensing, says, “The lower sort are extremely ignorant.” Mr. Paterson, magistrate of Dacca Jelalpore, recommends “a total change in the system of education amongst those who have any education at all:” adding, that “the great mass of the lower ranks have literally none.” The judges of the court of appeal and circuit of Moorshedabad say: “The moral character of a nation can be improved byBOOK II. Chap. 9. education only. All instruction is unattainable to the labouring poor, whose own necessities require the assistance of their children as soon as their tender limbs are capable of the smallest labour. With the middle class of tradesmen, artificers, and shopkeepers, education ends at ten years of age, and never reaches further than reading, writing (a scarcely legible hand on the plantain leaf), and the simplest rules of arithmetic.”1 But if the Hindu institutions of education were of a much more perfect kind than they appear to have ever been, they would afford a very inadequate foundation for the inference of a high state of civilization. The truth is, that institutions for education, more elaborate than those of the Hindus, are found in the infancy of civilization. Among the Turks and the Persians there are schools and colleges, rising one above another for the different stages of instruction.2 And scarcely in any nation does the business BOOK II. Chap. 9.of education appear to have been a higher concern of the government than among the Americans of Mexico and Peru.1
As evidence of the fond credulity with which the state of society among the Hindus was for a time regarded, I ought to mention the statement of Sir W. Jones, who gravely, and with an air of belief, informs us, that he had heard of a philosopher “whose works were said to contain a system of the universe, founded on the principle of attraction and the central position of the sun.”1 This reminds the instructed reader of theBOOK II. Chap. 9. disposition which has been manifested by some of the admirers of the Greek and Roman literature, and of these by one at least who had not a weak and credulous mind, to trace the discoveries of modern philosophy to the pages of the classics. Dr. Middleton, in his celebrated life of Cicero, says, that “several of the fundamental principles of the modern philosophy, which pass for the original discoveries of these later times, are the revival rather of ancient notions, maintained by some of the first philosophers, of whom we have any notice in history; as the motion of the earth, the antipodes, a vacuum; and an universal gravitation or attractive quality of matter, which holds the world in its present form and order.”2 It is a well known artifice of the Brahmens, with whose pretensions and interests it would be altogether inconsistent to allow there was any knowledge with which they were not acquainted, or which was not contained in some of their books, to attach to the loose and unmeaning phraseology of some of their own writings, whatever ideas they find to be in esteem; or even to interpolate for that favourite purpose.3 It was thus BOOK II. Chap. 9.extremely natural that Sir William Jones, whose pundits had become acquainted with the ideas of European philosophers respecting the system of the universe, should hear from them that those ideas were contained in their own books: The wonder was that without any proof he should believe them.1
APPENDIX. N° I.
Remarks on the Arguments for the Antiquity of the Hindu Astronomy.
BOOK II. Appendix.THE knowledge of the Europeans concerning the astronomy of India is chiefly derived from different sets of astronomical tables brought to Europe at different times. All these tables are obviously connected with one another: for they are all adapted to one meridian; the mean motions are the same in them all; and their principal epochs are all deduced by calculation from one original epoch. The most ancient of the Indian epochs is fixed in the year 3102 before the Christian æra, at the commencement of the Caliyug. On account of the mutual connection which, it is allowed, subsists between the three remaining epochs, it is only necessary to discuss that one which seems to be the most important: it is comparatively of modern date, and goes back no further than to the year of Christ 1491.
M. Bailly, in his Astronomie Indienne, has endeavoured to prove that the more ancient of the two epochs is fixed by actual observations: a proposition, which, if it were clearly made out, would confer the highest antiquity on the astronomy of India. In a paper in the Edinburgh Transactions, Mr. Playfair, who has adopted the opinion of M. Bailly, has given a clear and forcible summary of all the arguments that have been adduced in favour of the side he supports. M. Laplace, who is the only other author that has noticed the subject of the Indian astronomy since the publication of M. Bailly’s work, does not accede to the opinion of his brother academician.BOOK II. Appendix. In a very short passage in the “Systeme du Monde,” Laplace states it as his own opinion, that the ancient epoch of the Brahmens was adopted with the view of making all the celestial motions begin at the same point of the zodiac: and he very briefly hints the reasons on which his opinion is founded. In drawing up the following remarks the observations of Laplace have been kept in view.
1. If we set out from the epoch of 1491, and compute the places of the sun, moon, and the planets, for the ancient epoch in 3102 A. C. it is found that all the celestial bodies are then in mean conjunction with the sun in the origin of the moveable zodiac. Here then is an astronomical fact, which the Indian tables necessarily suppose to have taken place, and which, it must be allowed, appears to be very fit to bring the authenticity of the ancient epoch to the proof. For, although the tables of the modern astronomy, highly improved as they are, do not enable us to go back more than 2000 years with extreme accuracy, yet they are sufficiently exact to afford the means of judging whether the general conjunction, supposed in the Indian tables, was actually copied from the heavens or not. Now M. Bailly has computed the places of the planets at the time of the ancient epoch of the Indians, or for the commencement of the Cali-yug, from the tables of M. Lalande: and, although all the planets, except Venus, were then nearly in conjunction with the sun, yet they were by no means so near to one another as to render it probable that this epoch was fixed by observation. M. Bailly argues that the conjunction could not be determined by direct observation; because the planets are invisible when immersed in the sun’s light: and he shows that fifteen days after the epoch all the BOOK II. Appendix.planets, except Venus, were contained within seventeen degrees of the zodiac. But this is not satisfactory. Mr. Playfair admits that the Indian tables cannot be entirely vindicated in this respect. Laplace lays all the stress on this argument to which it seems fairly entitled.
The fiction of a general conjunction in the beginning of the moveable zodiac is the more remarkable, because it agrees precisely with the account which M. Bailly gives of the formation of the Indian astronomical systems.
The validity of the observations made by the critic in the Edinburgh Review, as far as they regard the accuracy of the mean motions, and other astronomical elements which do not depend on the epochs, cannot be disputed. There is but one way of determining the mean motions with accuracy; namely, by comparing together real observations of the places of the planets made at a sufficient interval of time. No fictitious, or assumed, epochs can be of the least use for this purpose. Indeed Mr. Bently does not maintain that the Brahmens make any such use of their assumed epochs. The artificial systems of the Indian astronomy necessarily suppose the mean motions, and other elements, to be already determined and known. Mr. Bently seems in some measure to have misconceived the nature of the arguments by which the Europeans endeavour to establish the antiquity of the Hindu astronomy. He seems to have imagined that nothing more was necessary for confuting all their reasoning on this subject, than to make them acquainted with the formation of the artificial systems of the Brahmens.
But considering Mr. Bently as a person acquainted with the astronomy of the East, and as having access to the books in which it is contained, his testimony cannot but be allowed to be of great forceBOOK II. Appendix. in the present argument. He tells us that the Brahmens, when they would form an astronomical system, go back to a remote epoch, and assume as the basis of their system, that all the heavenly bodies are in a line of mean conjunction with the sun in the beginning of Aries: Now the Indian tables actually suppose such a conjunction at the commencement of the Cali-yug; and in this they are at variance with the most exact of the modern astronomical tables. Is it not then in the highest degree probable that the era of the Cali-yug is an assumed, or fictitious epoch in the astronomy of the Hindus?
If the ancient epoch, in 3102 A. C. be fictitious, the force of many of the arguments for the antiquity of the Indian astronomy will be greatly diminished. For that reasoning must needs be a good deal vague and unsatisfactory which rests entirely on the quantity of an astronomical element of an uncertain date affected, as must be the case, by the errors of observation, of the limits of which we have no means of judging.
2. The equation of the sun’s centre, according to the Indian tables, is 2° 10½′; whereas the same quantity, according to modern observations, is only 1° 55½′. It is one consequence of the mutual disturbances of the planets that the excentricity of the solar orbit, on which the equation just mentioned depends, was greater in former ages than it is at the present time. From the quantity which the Hindus assign to this astronomical element, M. Bailly has drawn an argument in favour of the antiquity of the Indian tables, which, it must be confessed, is of great weight, when the difference of the Indian and European determinations is considered as arising from the gradual alteration of the planetary orbits. But Laplace has remarked that the equation, which in the Hindu BOOK II. Appendix.tables amounts to 2° 10½′, is really composed of two parts; namely, the equation of the sun’s centre, and the annual equation of the moon; both of which depend alike on the excentricity of the sun’s orbit, and complete their periods in the same interval of time. The Indians have naturally enough blended these two irregularities together; because, the great object of their astronomy being the calculation of eclipses, the relative places of the sun and moon are effected by the sum of both. The annual equation of the moon is nearly 11′: And, when added to the equation of the sun’s centre, the amount (2° 6½′,) does not differ much from the quantity set down in the Indian tables. The force of M. Bailly’s argument is therefore completely taken off.
But the remark of Laplace not only invalidates the argument for the antiquity, but it furnishes a powerful one on the opposite side. It is indeed in the situation of a perfidious ally, who not only deserts his friends, but marshals his whole force in the ranks of their opponents. The amount of the two irregularities which are blended together by the Indians is 2° 6½′ at the present time: but if we go back to the commencement of the Cali-yug, there must be added about 13½′, on account of the greater magnitude of the sun’s excentricity in that age above what it is in the present century; and thus we ought to have found 2° 20′, in place of 2° 10½′, in the Hindu tables, if their supposed antiquity be granted. It must be admitted that, in this instance at least, the Indian tables, when they are referred to the ancient epoch, are fairly at variance with the state of the heavens.
3. The quantities which the Indian tables assign to two other astronomical elements, viz. the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn, have been found to agree almost exactly, not with what is observed at the present time, but with what the theory of gravityBOOK II. Appendix. shows would have been observed at the beginning of the Cali-yug. This curious coincidence between the Hindu tables and the most abstruse theory of modern Europe, was discovered by Laplace after the publication of the Astronomie Indienne: and it was communicated to M. Bailly in a letter inserted in the Journal des Sçavans. The argument which this circumstance furnishes in favour of the antiquity is not forgotten by Mr. Playfair; and it is also mentioned by the critic in the Edinburgh Review.
But the discovery of Laplace, although it cannot be disputed, is absolutely of no avail in establishing the antiquity of the Indian astronomy: for no inference can be drawn from it respecting the ancient epoch in 3102 A. C. which is not equally conclusive with regard to the modern epoch in 1491 of our era.
The theory of astronomy is indebted to Laplace for many interesting discoveries. Of these, two equations, affecting the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn, are not the least important. These irregularities are periodical, and they both complete their courses in 917¾ years: And while one of them augments the motion of one of the planets, the other diminishes the motion of the other planet. It is a consequence of this discovery of Laplace, that, after an interval of time equal to 917¾ years; or equal to twice, or thrice, or any exact number of times that period; the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn will return, to be precisely of the same quantity that they were at the beginning of the interval of time. Now, if from the epoch 1491, we reckon back a number of years, equal to five times the period of Laplace, we shall arrive at the year 3095 A. C., which is so near the ancient epoch of the Indians, as to entitle us to BOOK II. Appendix.infer, that an observer who lived in 1491, would agree in his determinations of the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn, with an astronomer who had lived forty-six centuries before, at the beginning of the Cali-yug.
No reliance, then, can be placed on this argument, as a proof of the antiquity of the Hindu tables. On the contrary, if we admit, what it must be allowed is extremely probable, that the ancient epoch is a fictitious one, pointed out by superstition, or fixed upon for convenience in calculation, this argument will concur with the last in giving, to the astronomy of India, a modern date, rather than the high antiquity contended for.
4. M. Bailly has shown that the place of the aphelion of Jupiter’s orbit, determined by the Indian tables for the beginning of the Cali-yug, agrees with the modern tables of Lalande, when corrected by the theoretical equations of La Grange. The same thing is true of the quantity which the Hindus assign to the equation of Saturn’s centre. It requires but little scepticism to raise up doubts of the validity of arguments founded on such coincidences. In the first place, we are ignorant of the limits of the errors, that the Indian determinations may be susceptible of. In the second place, the dates of the observations on which the astronomical elements of the Indians depend are unknown and merely conjectural; yet these are necessary data for calculating the corrections that must be applied to the modern tables, to fit them for representing the ancient state of the heavens: In the third place, the theoretical formulas, themselves, by which the corrections are computed, cannot be supposed to enable us to go back with much accuracy, to so remote an epoch as the Cali-yug; a circumstance which is not owing to any imperfection of the theory, but to the want of our knowing with precision theBOOK II. Appendix. relative proportions of the masses of the planets that compose our system. When we reflect on these things, even the very exact coincidence of the Indian elements, with the calculated quantities (which is nearer than there is reasonable ground to expect) is apt to create a suspicion that the whole is owing to a happy combination of balancing errors.
But waving these objections, fairness of reasoning requires that we should lay no more stress on such coincidences, as those just mentioned, in favour of one side of the question, than we are willing to allow to discrepancies in similar circumstances, in support of the other side. M. Bailly allows that not any more of the elements of the planetary motions, contained in the Indian tables, agree so well with the determinations derived from the theory of gravity: and the quantities which are assigned to the equations of the centre, for Jupiter and Mars, are quite irreconcileable with the supposition of so remote an antiquity as the beginning of the Cali-yug. Such a contrariety of results justly invalidates the whole argument.
5. Another argument urged by the favourers of the antiquity of the Indian astronomy, is derived from the obliquity of the ecliptic, which the Indians state at 24°.
Both observation and theory concur in showing that the obliquity of the ecliptic has been diminishing slowly for many ages preceding the present. At the beginning of the Cali-yug, this astronomical element, according to theory, was 23° 51′, which is still short of what the Indians make it. Twelve centuries before the Cali-yug, the actual obliquity of the ecliptic, as derived from theory, would coincide with the Indian quantity within 2′: And, by going back BOOK II. Appendix.still further, the error may, no doubt, be entirely annihilated. Nothing, it must be confessed, can be more vague and unsatisfactory than this sort of reasoning.
Let us grant that the Hindus determined the obliquity of the ecliptic, 4300 years before our era, which supposes that they made an error of 2′ only: How are we to account for the strange circumstance, that a quantity, which they were at one time able to determine with so much accuracy, should remain unaltered for a period of nearly 6000 years; during which time, the error of the first determination has accumulated to half a degree? Are we to suppose that, immediately after this imaginary epoch, the art of astronomical observation disappeared, and was entirely lost? This, we know, could not be the case, because many other astronomical elements necessarily suppose observations of a comparatively modern date: as, for instance, the equation of the sun’s centre.
We shall account for the quantity which the Indians assign to the obliquity much more simply and naturally, if we trust to the authority of Mr. Bently. According to him, the Hindu astronomers (unless in cases where extraordinary accuracy is required) make it a rule, in observing, to take the nearest round numbers, rejecting fractional quantities: so that we have only to suppose that the observer who fixed the obliquity of the ecliptic at 24°, actually found it to be more than 23½°.
6. The length of the tropical year, as deduced from the Hindu tables, is 365d 5h 50′ 35″ which is 1′ 46″ longer than the determination of La Caille. This is certainly not a little accurate, and necessarily supposes some degree of antiquity, and the comparison of observations made at a great interval of time. We shall be the better able to form a judgment of the length of time which such a degree of accuracy may require, if we consider the errors of some of ourBOOK II. Appendix. older tables, published before the art of making astronomical instruments was brought to its present perfect state. In the Alphonsine Tables, published about 1252, the length of the tropical year, is
These quantities are determined by observations distant from one another about 1500 or 1600 years: and the differences between them and the year of La Caille, is about the fourth part of the error of the Indians.
If we suppose that the length of the year found in the Hindu tables was actually determined by observation at the beginning of the Cali-yug, the error, which has been stated at 1′ 46″, may be reduced to 1′ 5″. The reason of this is that the year has been decreasing in duration, for all the intervening time, and the quantity, computed by theory, which must be added to the length of the year as observed in the present age, to have its length forty-nine centuries ago, is 40½″. Arguments of this kind carry but little force with them. For the time when the observations from which the length of the Indian year was deduced is totally unknown: and it seems highly probable, that the beginning of the Cali-yug is not an epoch settled by observation. Besides, the error of observation (which cannot be reduced under 1′ 5″) must be allowed to be, in this instance, nearly double of the correction applied: and there is nothing to prove that it may not amount to much more.
It is to be remarked that the Indian tables contain the siderial motion of the sun, and not his motion in respect of the moveable equinox as our tables do. If BOOK II. Appendix.we draw our comparison from the length of the siderial, instead of the tropical year, the result will not be so favourable to the accuracy of the Hindu astronomy. The siderial revolution of the sun, according to the Indians, is 365d6h 12′ 30″; according to modern observation it is 365d 6h 9′ 11″; and the error is 3′ 19″ nearly double the former error. The difference of those errors arises from the quantity which they assign to the precession of the equinoxes, which is 54″ instead of 50½″.
7. Of all the arguments in support of the antiquity of the Hindu astronomy, the strongest and most direct is that which is derived from an ancient zodiac brought from India by M. le Gentil. This argument therefore deserves to be particularly considered.
It must be observed, that the force of an argument such as this, which turns on the magnitude of an astronomical quantity that accumulates slowly, and is perceptible only after a long lapse of time, will entirely depend on the authenticity of the observations, or facts, from which the argument is drawn, and on the precision and accuracy with which they are recorded. Any thing uncertain, or arbitrary, or hypothetical, respecting these fundamental points, will greatly weaken the strength of the argument. We are told by Mr. Playfair, that the star Aldebaran has the longitude of 3° 20′ in the zodiac of M. le Gentil: and it is on the authenticity and precision of this fact, that the validity of his reasoning hinges. Now, if we turn to the passage of the Astronomie Indienne, which is cited by Mr. Playfair, it will appear that this position of Aldebaran is rather a conjecture, or hypothesis, of M. Bailly, than an authentic observation recorded with precision.
The Indian zodiac moves westward, at the same rate as the fixed stars, and it is divided into twenty-seven constellations, each of 13° 20′. The vernalBOOK II. Appendix. equinox was 54° to the east of the beginning of the zodiac at the commencement of the Cali-yug; and it was therefore in the fifth constellation, being 40′ more advanced than the fourth. The Indians mark the fourth constellation, which they call Rhonini, by five stars, of which the most easterly, or the most advanced in the zodiac, is the very brilliant star Aldebaran. These things being premised, M. Bailly thus proceeds: “Il est naturel que cette belle etoile ait marque la fin ou le commencement d’une constellation. Je suppose qu’elle marque en effet la fin de Rhonini, la quatrieme des constellations Indiennes, et le commencement de la cinquième; il resulte de cette supposition que l’etoile Aldebaran etoit placée dans le zodiaque Indien à 1s23° 20′ de l’origin du zodiaque.” It appears then that the whole of the argument, which is stated so strongly by Mr. Playfair, and by the critic in the Edinburgh Review, rests on the conjecture of M. Bailly; that Aldebaran was exactly placed at the end of the fourth, and the beginning of the fifth constellation in the Indian zodiac. For this, no sort of proof is offered, except the conspicuousness of the star, which is certainly one of the most brilliant in the heavens. Are we to suppose, for the sake of this argument, that the position of the Indian zodiac was entirely regulated by the star Aldebaran? For it must be admitted that when the beginning of one constellation is fixed, all the rest are thereby determined. Or, are we to suppose, what is still more improbable, that the beginning of the fifth constellation fell, by a lucky chance, exactly in the place of this conspicuous star?
But the Indians themselves afford us the means of correcting the supposition of M. Bailly. Mr. Bently tells us that Bromhu Gupta makes the longitude of BOOK II. Appendix.the star, Spica Virginis, in the moveable zodiac of the Hindus, 6s3°: According to De la Caille, the longitude of the same star in 1750, was
which subtracted from 6s 3°, leaves 1s 18° 56′ 29″ for the longitude of Aldebaran in the Indian zodiac, instead of 1s 23° 20′ which it is according to the hypothesis of M. Bailly. The error amounts to 4° 23′ 31″: a quantity which is nowise inconsistent with the configuration of the constellation Rhonini, while it is sufficient to show that the Indians may have fixed the origin of their zodiac at the beginning of the Caliyug by calculating back from a modern epoch.
And indeed the Brahmens point out a modern epoch, a noted one in their astronomy, which is connected with the era of the Cali-yug by their precession, in the same manner that the modern epoch 1491 is connected with it by the mean motions. Mr. Bently tells us that, according to Varaha, the year 3601 of the Cali-yug (A. D. 499) began precisely at the vernal equinox: which implies that the origin of the Indian zodiac did then coincide with the equinoxial point. Now if we deduct 1s 24°, the Indian precession for 3600 years, from 12s, we shall have 10s 6° for the origin of the zodiac, reckoned eastward from the vernal equinox according to the practice of our astronomy: precisely as it comes out by the Indian tables.
The epoch 3601 of the Cali-yug is involved in all the Indian tables, insomuch that M. Bailly was led to discover it by calculation: And in fact, there is no authority for fixing the origin of the Indian zodiac in 10s6° at the era of the Cali-yug, except by reckoningBOOK II. Appendix. back from this epoch, according to the Hindu rule for the precession.
It appears then that the argument drawn from the zodiac of M. le Gentil, when closely considered, not only affords no evidence for the antiquity of the Indian astronomy, but rather favours the opinion that the beginning of the Cali-yug, is a fictitious epoch fixed by calculation. For it has been shown that the place of the origin of the Indian zodiac, at the era of the Cali-yug, is connected by the precession contained in the Hindu tables with the epoch 3601 of that age: and indeed all the epochs of the Brahmens, ancient as well as modern, are connected with the same fundamental epoch, in what regards the precession. The pretended position of the star Aldebaran is merely a conjecture of M. Bailly: and it is at variance with the place which Bromha Gupta, and other Indian astronomers, assign to the star “Spica Virginis.”
8. In the preceding observations, all the arguments that have been adduced in favour of the antiquity of the Indian astronomy, as far as the question is purely astronomical, have been considered, excepting those drawn from the places of the sun and moon, at the beginning of the Cali-yug, (at midnight between the 17th and 18th of February, of the year 3102 A. C.) With regard to the first of these, there is a difficulty which weighed so much with Mr. Playfair, as to induce him to set aside the argument entirely, and to lay no stress upon it. It is remarkable that the critic in the Edinburgh Review has brought forward this argument, without noticing the difficulty which, in Mr. Playfair’s opinion, rendered it inconclusive. After what has been urged to invalidate the opinion of M. Bailly, that the ancient epoch of the Indian tables was settled by observation, we shall be spared BOOK II. Appendix.the task of examining the remaining argument drawn from the place of the moon: allowing to this argument all the force which the most sanguine supporters of the antiquity can demand, it can have but little weight in opposition to the many strong and concurring indications of a contrary nature.1
10. If the author of the “Astronomie Indienne” has succeeded in establishing any of his positions, it is in proving that the astronomy of the Brahmens is original, or at least that it has not been borrowed from any of the astronomical systems that we are acquainted with. This was a preliminary point which his favourite system required him to examine: for if the astronomy of the Brahmens had turned out to have an obvious affinity to the astronomical systems of Arabia or Greece, it would have been in vain to bring proofs of its antiquity. But how does this prove the antiquity of the Indian astronomy? It only proves that the inhabitants of the eastern world, separated from the rest of mankind, have made the same progress to a certain extent, which, in the western world, has been carried to a far greater pitch of perfection.
APPENDIX. N° II.
Colebrooke on Sanscrit Algebra.
Since the pages relating to the science of theBOOK II. Appendix. Hindus were sent to the press, has appeared a work entitled, “Algebra, with Arithmetic and Mensuration, from the Sanscrit of Brahmegupta and Bhascara; translated by Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Esq.” No person who takes an interest in the history of the human mind, can fail to recognize that Mr. Colebrooke has added largely to the former obligations he had conferred upon us, not only by laying open to European readers the most approved production on Algebra, in the Sanscrit language, but by the research and ability with which, in a preliminary dissertation, he has brought together the materials for forming an opinion, both respecting the origin of that science among the Hindus, and their merit in the prosecution of it.
On mathematics I must speak superficially, because my knowledge does not permit me to speak profoundly. Enough, I think, however, appears on the face of this subject, to enable me to resolve the only question, in the solution of which I am interested.
Mr. Colebrooke thinks it possible, nay probable, that the Hindus derived their first knowledge of algebra from the Greeks; that they were made acquainted with the writings of Diophantus, before they had of their own accord made any attempts in the science; and that it is in the accessions which Algebra received in their hands, that their title, if any, to our respect, must, in this particular, look BOOK II. Appendix.for its foundation.1 That the Hindus cultivated astronomy, and the branches of the art of calculation subservient to astronomy, solely for the purposes of astrology, is not disputed by any body, and least of all by Mr. Colebrooke. That candid and careful inquirer has brought to light a very important fact, that even on the subject of astrology, on which they might have been supposed original, the Hindus have been borrowers, and borrowers from the Greeks.2 “Joining, “ he says, “this indication, to that of the divisionBOOK II. Appendix. of the zodiac into twelve signs, represented by the same figures of animals, and named by words of the same import, with the zodiacal signs of the Greeks; and taking into consideration the analogy, though not identity, of the Ptolemaic system, and the Indian one of excentric deferents and epicycles, no doubt can be entertained that the Hindus received hints from the astronomical schools of the Greeks.”1
To draw, then, from the tracts which Mr. Colebrooke has translated, an inference to any high state of civilization among the Hindus, the three following propositions must, first, be established;
If all these propositions are not fully and entirely made out; if any weakness appears in the evidence of any one of them, the inference falls to the ground. BOOK II. Appendix.Upon inquiry, it seems to come out, that for not one of them is the evidence sufficient, or trustworthy.
1. That the Hindus received from the Greeks all that the latter knew, is admitted by Mr. Colebrooke. It is also admitted by Mr. Colebrooke, that “Diophantus was acquainted with the direct resolution of affected quadratic equations, and of indeterminate problems of the first degree; that he displays infinite sagacity and ingenuity in particular solutions; and that a certain routine is discernible in them.”1 It is unfortunately from Diophantus alone, that we derive any knowledge of the attainments of the Greeks in this branch of mathematics. It is no less unfortunate, that out of thirteen books which he wrote upon this subject, only six, or possibly seven, have been preserved. How does Mr. Colebrooke know, that these other books of Diophantus did not ascend to more difficult points of the science?2 He says, you have no right to infer that. True; but neither has he any right to infer the contrary. There is, however, another possibility and a still more important one, which Mr. Colebrooke has altogether overlooked. Supposing that nothing more of Algebra was known to the Greeks, at the time of Diophantus, than is found inBOOK II. Appendix. seven out of thirteen books of one author, which is a pretty handsome allowance; is it certain or is it probable, that when the Greeks had made so considerable a progress, they remained stationary? and, though the most ingenious and inventive people in the world, peculiarly at that time turned to mathematical and abstruse investigations, they made no addition, through several generations, to what was taught them by Diophantus? This argument appears to be conclusive.
2. Mr. Colebrooke has a very elaborate, complex, and in some parts obscure train of argument to prove the antiquity of certain points of algebraic knowledge among the Hindus. That it is not conclusive may be made to appear very certainly; it is only to be regretted that so many words are required.
The point is, to prove the antiquity of certain treatises which Mr. Colebrooke possesses; part under the name of Bhascara, one mathematician; part under that of Brahmegupta, another. He begins with Bhascara.
There are two treatises of astronomy, which bear the name of Bhascara, and which themselves affirm, that they were written at a particular time, corresponding to the middle of the twelfth century of the Christian era: Therefore the Treatise on Algebra, possessed by Mr. Colebrooke, was produced about the middle of the twelfth century. For this degree of antiquity, this is the whole of the evidence. Let us see what it is worth.
In the first place, the dates refer only to the astronomical treatises; not to the algebraic. The algebraic is indeed prefixed to the astronomic; but it is alleged by one of the commentators, and believed by Mr. Colebrooke, that it “may have been added subsequently.” BOOK II. Appendix.And then at what date subsequently, or by what hand, are questions to which we shall presently see that there is no answer.
In the next place, an important observation applies to the affirmations, with respect to their own age, found in the treatises on astronomy. From the known, the extravagant disposition of the Hindus to falsify with regard to dates, and make almost every thing with respect to their own transactions and attainments more ancient than it is, such asseverations, found in books, or transcripts of books, are no proof of what is affirmed; and only deserve a moment’s regard when fully corroborated by other circumstances. Not one circumstance is adduced to corroborate them by Mr. Colebrooke.
We come down, all at once, from the date of the work, to the date of the commentaries upon it. For none of them does Mr. Colebrooke claim a degree of antiquity beyond 200 or 300 years. Supposing this date to be correct, what reason has Mr. Colebrooke to infer that the work on which they comment, was, at the time of that commentary, 400 years old? None, whatsoever. In nine instances out of ten, the commentator would be sure to speak of it as old, whether it was so or not. But further, what reason have we to believe that the date which he ascribes to these commentaries is the real one? Again the answer is, None: none that will bear examination. The date of the oldest is assumed upon the strength of an astronomical example, describing a particular state of the heavens: But this may be perfectly accidental; and, besides, the Hindus have the power of calculating backwards. Of the next two, the date is assumed upon the strength of their own assertion: This we have shown is of no value. Of the next two the date is assumed upon the assertion of other books. This, if possible, is of less value.BOOK II. Appendix. There are three others to which no date is assigned: And there are two commentaries upon the astronomical treatises, the date of which too rests upon their own assertion.
Neither to the treatise, therefore, in the hands of Mr. Colebrooke, nor to the Commentaries upon it, has any thing appeared, in what we have yet mentioned, which enables us to assign, with any degree of certainty, any one date in preference to any other. We may, if we please, assume that all of them in a body are less than a century old.
Beside the Sanscrit commentaries, there is a Persian translation, of each of the two treatises of Bhascara. In general, what is testified by Persian is far more trustworthy, than what rests upon Sanscrit authority; because there was more publicity in the Persian writings; whereas the Sanscrit, being wholly secret, and confined to a small number of Brahmens, accustomed and prone to forgery, there is security for nothing which they had any interest, real or imaginary, to change. If there was any evidence, therefore, to fix the dates of the Persian translations, we could not reasonably dispute a degree of antiquity corresponding to them. I suspect that there is no evidence to fix the dates of these translations. Mr. Colebrooke says, the one was made by order of the emperor Acber, the other in the reign of Shah Jehan. But he subjoins no reason for this affirmation. The cause probably is, that he had none; and that he took the conjecture from some date written somewhere in the book, nobody knows at what time, nobody knows by whom.
Such is the whole of the evidence which is adduced by Mr. Colebrooke to prove the antiquity of Bhascara. “The age of his predecessors,” he adds, “cannot BOOK II. Appendix.be determined with equal precision:” that is to say, the evidence which can be adduced for the antiquity of the other treatise, that of Brahmegupta, is still less conclusive and less satisfactory. As we have seen that the better evidence proves nothing, I shall spare the reader a criticism to show, what he will easily infer, that the worse evidence proves as little; evidence, which, as it is tedious and intricate, it would require a criticism of some length to unfold.
3. We come to the third of the propositions; that if the Hindus had discovered as much of algebra, as they know beyond what appears in the fragment of Diophantus, they must have been placed in a high state of civilization. That this proposition cannot be maintained, I expect to find universally acknowledged. I transcribe the passage from Mr. Colebrooke, in which he sums up the claims and pretensions of the Hindus. “They possessed well the arithmetic of surd roots; they were aware of the infinite quotient resulting from the division of finite quantity by cipher; they knew the general resolution of equations of the second degree, and had touched upon those of higher denomination, resolving them in the simplest cases, and in those in which the solution happens to be practicable by the method which serves for quadratics; they had attained a general solution of indeterminate problems of the first degree; they had arrived at a method for deriving a multitude of solutions of answers to problems of the second degree from a single answer found tentatively.”1
In all this it appears, that the only point in which there can be a pretence for their having gone beyond what we have in the fragment of Diophantus, is the general solution of indeterminate problems of the first degree. But, to quote Dr. Hutton once more, “DiophantusBOOK II. Appendix. was the first writer on indeterminate problems. His book is wholly on this subject; whence it has happened that such kind of questions have been called by the name of Diophantine problems.” Now, take the point at which the solution of indeterminate problems appears in the fragment of Diophantus, and the point at which it appears in the Sanscrit treatise, of whatever age, in the hands of Mr. Colebrooke; the interval between the two points is so very small, and the step is so easily made, that most assuredly far more difficult steps in the progress of mathematical science have been made in ages of which the civilization has been as low as that of the Hindus. Thales lived at a period when Greece was still uncultivated, and but just emerging from barbarism; yet he excelled the Egyptians in mathematical knowledge, and astonished them by computing the height of the pyramids from the shadow. Pythagoras lived in the same age; and was a great inventor both in arithmetic and geometry: In astronomy he made great discoveries, and maintained, we are told, the true system of the universe; that the sun is in the centre, and makes all the planets revolve about him. Regiomontanus was born in 1456, when the human mind was still to a great degree immersed in the darkness of the middle ages: Yet of him, Mr. Playfair says, “Trigonometry, which had never been known to the Greeks as a separate science, and which took that form in Arabia, advanced, in the hands of Regiomontanus, to a great degree of perfection; and approached very near to the condition which it has attained at the present day: He also introduced the use of decimal fractions into arithmetic, and thereby gave to that scale its full extent, and to numerical computation the utmost degree BOOK II. Appendix.of simplicity and enlargement, which it seems capable of attaining.”1 Cardan was born in 1501, when assuredly much had not yet been gained of what deserves the name of civilization. “Before his time,” says the same accomplished mathematician, “little advance had been made in the solution of any equations higher than the second degree. In 1545 was published the rule which still bears the name of Cardan; and which, at this day, marks a point in the progress of algebraic investigation, which all the efforts of succeeding analysts have hardly been able to go beyond.”2 Even Vieta, with all his discoveries, appeared at an early and ill-instructed age.
In looking at the pursuits of any nation, with a view to draw from them indications of the state of civilization, no mark is so important, as the nature of the End to which they are directed.
Exactly in proportion as Utility is the object of every pursuit, may we regard a nation as civilized. Exactly in proportion as its ingenuity is wasted on contemptible or mischievous objects, though it may be, in itself, an ingenuity of no ordinary kind, the nation may safely be denominated barbarous.
According to this rule, the astronomical and mathematical sciences afford conclusive evidence against the Hindus. They have been cultivated exclusively for the purposes of astrology; one of the most irrational of all imaginable pursuits; one of those which most infallibly denote a nation barbarous; and one of those which it is the most sure to renounce, in proportion as knowledge and civilization are attained.
“It was long before mankind knew the art of writing; but they very early invented several methods to supply, in a good measure, that want. The method most commonly used was, to compose their histories in verse, and sing them. Legislators made use of this expedient to consign and hand down to posterity their regulations. The first laws of all nations were composed in verse, and sung. Apollo, according to a very ancient tradition, was one of the first legislators. The same tradition says, that he published his laws to the sound of his lyre, that is to say, that he had set them to music. We have certain proof that the first laws of Greece were a kind of songs. The laws of the ancient inhubitants of Spain were verses which they sung. Tuiston was regarded by the Germans as their first lawgiver. They said he put his laws into verses and songs. This ancient custom was long kept up by several nations.” Goguet’s Origin of Laws, i. 28. See the various authorities there quoted. The laws of the Druids were in verse. Henry, Hist. of Great Britain, i. 315.
“Le Dictionnaire Amarasinha est ecrit en vers Sanscrit, comme tous les anciens livres, et n’est pas divisé par chapitres comme les notres, mais par classes de noms....ainsi....classe Svarggavargga, c’est à dire classe des noms qui appartiennent au ciel; Manouchavargga, de ceux qui appartiennent à l’homme,” &c. Voyage aux Indes Orientales, par le P. Paulini, ii. 228. “Presque tous les livres Indiens sont ecrits en vers. L’astronomie, la medicine, l’histoire, tout se chante.” Ibid. p. 369. The same was the case with the ancient Germans; “Celebrant carminibus antiquis, quod unum apud illos memoriæ et annalium genus est, Tuistonem,” &c. Tacit. de Mor. Germ. cap. x.
Even Mr. Maurice, whose appetite for Hindu miracles is not easily overcome, could not digest the beauties of their historic muse. After an exhibition of some of these specimens in his history, he says, “I know not whether some of my readers may not be so insensible to the charms of the Indian historic muse as to rejoice that the Ramayan (only passages of it were then in an English dress) has not been translated; for certainly inflated accounts of the combats of giants, hurling rocks, and darting serpents at one another, and of monsters whose blood, spouting forth in torrents, is formed into considerable rivers, are not very consistent with the sober and dignified page of history.” Maurice, Hist. of Hindustan, ii. 100. “To the above list of absurdities we may add monsters with ten heads and a hundred hands, which continue to fight after all their heads are cut off, and mow down whole battalions.” Ibid. p. 248. “The minute accounts of incantations and combats of giants, that fill the Indian legends, however they may astonish the oriental literati, have no charm for the polished scholar of western climes, and are justly consigned to puerile reading.” Ibid. p. 251. Yet Sir William Jones could say, “The first poet of the Hindus was the great Valmic; and his Ramayan is an epic poem on the story of Rama (or rather of the three Ramas,) which in unity of action, magnificence of imagery, and elegance of style, far surpasses the learned and elaborate work of Nonnus.” See Asiat. Res. i. 258. We strongly suspect that Sir William Jones never read the poem; or more of it than scraps.
Of the Song of Solomon Voltaire, notwithstanding all his prejudices against the Jews, confesses “Après tout, ce cantique est un morceau precieux de l’antiquité. C’est le seul livre d’amour qui nous soit resté des Hebreux. Il y est souvent parlé de jouissance. C’est une eglogue Juive. Le style est comme celui de tous les ouvrages d’eloquence des Hebreux, sans haison, sans suite, plein de repetitions, confus, ridiculement metaphorique; mais il y a des endroits qui respirent la naïveté et l’amour. Voltaire, Diction. Philos. Mot Solomon. The criticism would in most respects exactly suit Sacontala.
Preface to Sir William Jones’s Translation of Sacontala.
The conformities in their religious system have already been remarked. All their doctrines, their narratives, and even the laws of which they were the promulgators, were delivered in verse. “They had made considerable progress,” says Dr. Henry, “in several branches of learning. We shall be confirmed in this,” he adds, “by observing the respectful terms in which the best Greek and Roman writers speak of their learning. Diogenes Laertius places them in the same rank, in point of ‘earning and philosophy, with the Chaldeans of Assyria, the Magi of Persia, and the gymnosophists and Brachmans of India. Both Cæsar and Mela observe, that they had formed very large systems of astronomy and natural philosophy; and that these systems, together with their observations on other parts of learning, were so voluminous, that their scholars spent no less than twenty years in making themselves masters of them, and in getting by heart that infinite multitude of verses in which they were contained.” Henry’s Hist. of Great Britain, ii. 5, and i. 153.
Preface to Sacontala.
“Wretched dramas,” Lord Macartney calls them. Barrow’s Life of Lord Macartney, ii. 286.
“The poets of the north” (to use the words of Dr. Henry) “were particularly famous in this period, and greatly caressed by our Angle-Saxon kings. ‘It would be endless,’ (says an excellent antiquary) ‘to name all the poets of the north who flourished in the courts of the kings of England, or to relate the distinguished honours and magnificent presents that were heaped upon them.’ The same writer hath preserved the names of no fewer than eight of those Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic poets, who flourished in the Court of Canute the Great.—The poems of those ancient bards of the north are said to have produced the most amazing effects on those who heard them, and to have roused or soothed the most impetuous passions of the human mind. Revenga, it is well known, rages with the greatest violence in the hearts of warlike, fierce barbarians, and is of all their passions the most furious and ungovernable; and yet it is said to have been subdued by the enchauting power of poetry. Egil-Skallagrim, a famous poet of those times, had quarrelled with Eric Blodox, King of Norway; and in the course of that quarrel had killed the King’s son and several of his friends; which raised the rage of Eric against him to the greatest height. Egil was taken prisoner, and sent to the King, who was then in Northumberland. No sooner was he brought into the presence of the enraged Monarch, who had in his own mind doomed him to the most cruel tortures, than he began to sing a poem which he had composed in praise of his royal virtues, and conveyed his flattery in such sweet and soothing strains, that they procured him not only the forgiveness of all his crimes, but even the favour of his prince. The power of poetry is thus described in one of their most ancient odes: ‘I know a song by which I soften and enchant the arms of my enemies, and render their weapons of none effect. I know a song which I need only to sing when men have loaded me with bonds; for the moment I sing it my chains fall in pieces, and I walk forth at liberty. I know a song useful to all mankind; for as soon as hatred inflames the sons of men, the moment I sing it, they are appeased. I know a song of such virtue, that, were I caught in a storm, I can hush the winds, and render the air perfectly calm.’—Those ancient bards, who had acquired so great an ascendaut over the minds of their ferocious countrymen, must certainly have been possessed of an uncommon portion of that poetic fire, which is the gift of nature, and cannot be acquired by art.”—Henry’s Hist. of Great Britain, book ii. chap. v.
Mallet, Introd. Hist. Denmark, i. 13. The following is a very soft but correct delineation of the rude features of Hindu poetry. “The poetical expression of the Hindus perhaps offends by too great loftiness and emphasis. One may understand their books and conversation in prose; but it is impossible to comprehend those in verse, until diligent study has rendered them familiar. Quaint phrases, perpetual allegories, the poetical terminations of the words, contracted expressions and the like, render the poetical style obscure and difficult to be understood, excepting to those who are inured to it. One of the principal defects of the Hindu poets is that their descriptions are commonly too long and minute. For example, if they are describing a beautiful woman, they are never contented with drawing her likeness with a single stroke.........Such a mode of expression would not be strong enough for the gross comprehension of a Hindu. The poet must particularize the beauty of her eyes, her forehead, her nose, her cheeks, and must expatiate on the colour of her skin, and the manner in which she adorns every part of her body. He will describe the turn and proportion of her arms, legs, thighs, shoulders, chest, and in a word of all parts visible or invisible; with an accurate recital of the shape and form which best indicate their beauty and symmetry. He will never desist from his colouring till he has represented in detail every feature and part in the most laboured and tedious style, but at the same time with the closest resemblance. The epithets, in their poetical style, are frequent, and almost always figurative.—The brevity and conciseness of many modes of expression in the Hindu idioms does not hinder their style, upon the whole, from being extremely diffuse.—To give an exact idea of the different species of Hindu poesy would not be much relished by the greater number of readers, so different in their manner from ours. All their little pieces that I have seen are in general very flat.” Description, &c. of the People of India, by the Abbé Dubois, p. 267.
Mallet, ut supra. In the very subjects of their poems, as well as the style of them, the Scandinavian bards bore a great resemblance to the Hindu. Of the poetry of the Scalds, Mallet says, Ibid. ii. 183, “The same taste and mode of composition prevails every where: we have constantly allegories and combats; giants contending with the gods; Loke perpetually deceiving them; Thor interposing in their defence, &c.” The Scandinavians had not only striking poems, but treatises on the art of poetry. Id. Introduction to the Edda, p. xix. Clavigero says of the Mexicans, “The language of their poetry was brilliant, pure, and agreeable, figurative, and embellished with frequent comparisons to the most pleasing objects in nature, such as flowers, trees, rivers, &c.” Hist. of Mex. book vii. sect. 42.
The words of Sir William Jones are: Nobilissimum interea, et longissimum (voluminis enim permagni, prope dimidiam partem constituit) est sine ulla dubitatione vere epicum, et profecto nullum est ab Europeis scriptum poema, quod ad Homeri dignitatem, et quasi cœlestem ardorem propius accedat.” Works, ii. 502.
Tour to Sheeraz, by Ed. Scott Waring, pp. 158, 159, 160, 198.
Ibid. p. 150. The author adds, “I shall give one instance from an immense number, of the forced images of Persian historians; it would be disgusting to the reader to produce others:"—a style of which more than one instance would disgust must be a bad style indeed.—"Nous savons assez,” says Voltaire, “que le bon gout n’a jamais été connu dans l’Orient.—Otez aux Arabes, aux Persans, aux Juifs, le soleil et la lune, les montagnes et les vallées, les dragons et les basilics, il ne leur reste presque plus de poesie.” Voltaire, Essai sur les Mœurs et l’Esprit de Nations, tom. i. ch. v.
Tour to Sheeraz, ut supra, p. 235. To the imagination of the eastern poets, and above all, of the Hindus, may be aptly applied, in many of its particulars, the description of the Demoness, Imagination, in the enchanted castle of Hermaphrodix:
La Pucelle d’Orleans, Chant 17 me.
Wilford, on Egypt and the Nile, Asiat. Res. iii. 296.
Rennel’s Memoir, Introd. p. xl.
“That no Hindu nation, but the Cashmirians, have left us regular histories,” says Sir W. Jones, “in their ancient language, we must ever lament.” Asiat. Res. iv. xvii. What he meant by excepting the Cashmirians, we know not. No history of them has ever been seen. “Although we have had recourse,” says Dr. Tennant, “to the Sanscrit records at Benares for several years, no history of the country has been found, which is the composition of a native.” Ind. Rec. i. 10. “Their poets,” says Mr. W. Chambers, “seem to have been their only historians as well as divines; and whatever they relate is wrapped up in this burlesque garb, set off, by way of ornament, with circumstances highly incredible and absurd, and all this without any date, and in no order or method, than such as the poet’s fancy suggested and found most convenient. Asiat. Res. i. 157. Such is the character of the Puranas, from which Mr. Wilford has exerted himself with such a waste of labour and credulity to extract some scattered fragments of history; or rather something, it is difficult to say what, on which some few historical inferences might be founded. “The department of ancient history in the East is so deformed by fable and anachronism, that it may be considered an absolute blank in Indian literature.” Wilks’s Mysore, Pref. p. xv. Mr. Dow’s prejudices went far: “We must not,” says he, (Preface to his Hist. of Hindostan) “with Ferishta, consider the Hindoos as destitute of genuine domestic annals, or that those voluminous records they possess are mere legends framed by the Bramins.” Yet it has been found that all which Ferishta said was true, and all that Col. Dow believed was false.—"Seriously speaking, the turn and bent of the imagination of the people of India are such, that they can in no wise be excited but by what is monstrous. Ordinary occurrences make no impression upon them at all. Their attention cannot be gained without the introduction of giants and pygmies. The Brahmans, therefore, having studied this propensity, availed themselves of it to invent a religious worship, which they artfully interwove with their own private interests.—This passion of the Hindus for the extraordinary and the wonderful must have been remarked by every one who has ever so little studied their character. It continually leads to the observation I have so frequently repeated, that as often as it was necessary to move their gross imagination, some circumstance, altogether extravagant, but coloured with the hue of truth, was required to be added to the simplicity of narrative or fact. To give them any idea of the marvellous, something must be invented that will overturn, or at least alter the whole order of nature. The miracles of the Christian religion, however extraordinary they must appear to a common understanding, are by no means so to the Hindus. Upon them they have no effect. The exploits of Joshua and his army, and the prodigies they effected by the interposition of God, in the conquest of the land of Canaan, seem to them unworthy of notice, when compared with the achievements of their own Rama, and the miracles which attended his progress when he subjected Ceylon to his yoke. The mighty strength of Samson dwindles into nothing, when opposed to the overwhelming energy of Bali, of Ravana, and the giants. The resurrection of Lazarus itself is, in their eyes, an ordinary event, of which they see frequent examples, in the Vishnu ceremonies of the Paheahdam.—I particularize these examples, because they have been actually opposed to me more than once by Brahmans, in my disputations with them on religion.” Abbé Dubois, p. 421.
Such is the opinion of some of the best Sanscrit scholars; for example, of Mr Wilkins. The same idea is encouraged by Sir William Jones, Asiat. Res. ii. 135. The good sense of Major Rennel rejected at an early period the notion of their historical truth. “The Mahabarat....supposed to contain a large portion of interesting historical matter: but if the father of Grecian poetry made so total a change in the story of Helen, in order to give a full scope to his imagination; what security have we that another poet may not mislead us in matters of fact.” Memoir, p. xlii. A mind of greater compass and force had previously said, “It were absurd to quote the fable of the Iliad or the Odyssey, the legends of Hercules, Theseus, or Œdipus, as authorities in matter of fact relating to the history of mankind; but they may, with great justice, be cited to ascertain what were the conceptions and sentiments of the age in which they were composed, or to characterize the genius of that people, with whose imaginations they were blended, and by whom they were fondly rehearsed and admired.” Ferguson, Essay on the Hist. of Civil Society, part ii. sect. 1.
Hist. of Persia, i. 273. Yet the Jewish scriptures tell us, that the deeds of the kings of Persia were written in chronicles of that kingdom; and Ctesias, who was at the court of Artaxerxes Mnemon, says he had access to volumes contained in the royal archives. The Persians had no historians before the æra of Mohammed; Kinneir’s Geog. Mem. of the Persian Empire, p. 49.—In Persia, there is now, as there has long been, a royal historiographer, whose business it is to record the glories of the reigning prince. Ibid.
Tour to Sheeraz, p. 152.
Richardson’s Dissertations, p. 47.
Richardson’s Dissertations, p. 47 to 60. He gives us the following as the account, by the Persian historians, of the conquest of Alexander. Bahman, the King, had married his own daughter. When he died, leaving her pregnant, he appointed her his successor, if she had no son; and regent, if she had one. The lady wished to reign; and being delivered of a son, concealed his birth. He was exposed, but found, and brought up by a dyer. When grown to manhood he joined the Queen’s army, which was marching against the Greeks, and performed prodigies of valour. The Queen sent for him; he was recognized, and the Queen resigned. He became King Darab. He marched against Philip of Macedou, and forced him to take refuge in a forest. Peace was granted, on Philip’s giving his daughter to Darab, and paying annually a thousand eggs of gold. Philip’s daughter ceased to please, and Darab sent ber back after she was pregnant. The child she brought forth was the famous Alexander. The son of Darab, who succeeded him, proved so bad a king, that the nobles of Persia advised Alexander to assert his right to the throne. Alexander refused the annual tribute. Darab, the younger, marched against him, and was conquered. After the battle he was assassinated in his tent by his attendants. But Alexander protested his ignorance of the crime, and Darab named him his successor, requesting him to govern Persia by Persian nobles, which he did. Ibid. In another passage (Ibid. p. 326) he acknowledges that no account is found in the Persian historians of the expedition of Cyrus the younger. The story of Alexander, as told by Sir John Malcolm, in his late history of Persia, is similar, though not the same. Mr. Gibbon says well, “The art and genius of history have ever been unknown to the Asiatics. ......And perhaps the Arabs might not find in a single historian, so clear and comprehensive a narrative of their own exploits as will be deduced in the ensuing sheets.” Gibbon, chap. li. Chardin, speaking of the ignorance of the Persians, in regard to geography and history, says, “On ne croiroit jamais que cette ignorance fut aussi outrée qu’elle l’est, et je ne l’auroit pu croire moimême, si je ne m’en etois convaincu par un long usage. .....Pour ce qui est de l’historie du pays, les livres qui en traitent ne sont clairs et sῦrs, et ne se suivent, que depuis la naissance de la religion Mahometane; de maniere qu’on ne se peut fier à rien de ce qui est rapporteé de siecles precedens, surtout en matière de chronologie, ou ces gens committent les plus grossieres erreurs, confondant les siecles, et mettant tout pêle-mèle sans se soucier du tems.—Toutes ces histoires, jusqu’au tems de Muhammed, sont des pieces ou fabuleuses ou Romanesques, remplies de mille contes ou il n’y a rien de vraisemblable.” Voyage en Perse, iii. 256. And Gibbon says, (Hist. of Decl. and Fail, ch. x. p. 442.) “So little has been preserved of Eastern history before Mahomet, that the modern Persians are totally ignorant of the victory of Sapor, an event so glorious to their nation."—"When the Romans had supplanted the Greeks, and extended their dominion over all Europe, they also engaged in endless wars with the Persian kings of the Ashkanian and Sassanian dynasties, for these Asiatic provinces. The events of these early periods are not well described in our histories, as we have no authentic records prior to the time of Mohammed: But the Greeks, who have histories which extend back 2000 years, have minutely described all the circumstances of these wars.” Travels of Mirza Abu Taleb Khan, translated by Charles Stewart, Esq. M. A. S. Professor of Oriental Languages, in the Hon. East India Company’s College, Herts. iii. 23.
See Wilford on Egypt and the Nile, Asiat. Res. iii. 295; and on the Chronology of the Hindus, Ibid. v. 241.
Hist. of Great Britain, ii. 4.
Strabo, lib. iv. p. 197.
Ammian. Marcell. lib. xv. cap. ix.
The high civilization, refined literature, beautiful language, profound philosophy, polished manners, and amiable morals of the Arabians, are celebrated in the highest strains, by M. de Boulainvilliers, Vie de Mahomet, p. 38; Ed. of Amsterdam, 1781. Pythagoras, after having studied the sciences of the Egyptians, travelled into Arabia to learn the philosophy of the Arabians. Porphyr. de Vit. Pythag.
Volney’s Travels in Egypt and Syria, ii. 434. “In two recent voyages into Egypt,” says Gibbon, (Hist. of Dec. and Fall, &c. ix. 448.) “we are amused by Savary, and instructed by Volney. I wish the latter could travel over the globe.” “The last and most judicious,” he calls him, “of our Syrian travellers.” Ibid. p. 224.
Volney, ut supra, p. 443.
Observations on the Religion, Laws, Government, and Manners of the Turks, p. 39. Most, if not all, the Arabian versions of the Greek authors, were done by the Christian subjects of the caliphs. See Gibbon, ch. iii. The same is probably the origin of the Turkish versions. What use, if any, they make of them, does not appear. Mr. Scott Waring says, “The science of the Persians is, I believe, extremely confined. They have translations of Euchd, Ptolemy, the works of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and some other of the Grecian philosophers, which few of them read, and fewer understand.” Tour to Sheeraz, p. 254.
Hist. of Decline and Fall, &c. ch. i. Mr. Forster mentions a Mussulman fellow-traveller, a disputant, who, says he, “unhappily for himself and his neighbours, had conned over some of those books of ingenious devices and quaint syllogisms, which are held in high note among the modern Mahometans, and have fixed among them a false distorted taste.” Travels in India, p. 106.
“There is generally a want of ardour in pursuit of knowledge among the Asiatics, which is partaken by the Afghauns; excepting, however, in the sciences of dialectics and metaphysics, in which they take much interest, and have made no contemptible progress.” Elphinstone’s Account of Caubul, p. 189.
The clearest account I have seen of this important fact, which Mr. Dugald Stewart (Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, ii. 231,) appears not to have known that any body had noticed but M. Turgot, is in the following passage of Condillac. “Mais il faut observer, qu’une fois qu’un enfant commence à generaliser, il rend une idée aussi etendue qu’elle peut l’être, c’est-à-dire qu’il se hâte de donner le même nom à tous les objets qui se resemblant grossièrement, et il les comprend tous dans une seule classe. Les resemblances sont les premieres choses qui le frappent, parce qu’il ne sait pas encore assez analyser pour distinguer les objets par les qualités qui leur sont propres. Il n’imaginera donc des classes moins générales, que lorsqu’il aura appris à observer par ou les choses different. Le mot homme, par example, est d’abord pour lui une denomination commune, sous laquelle il comprend indistinctment tous les hommes. Mais lorsque dans la suite il aura occasion de connoitre les differentes conditions, il fera aussitôt les classes subordonnées et moins generales de militaires, de magistrats, de bourgeois, d’artisans, de laboureurs, &c.; tel est donc l’ordre de la generation des idées. On passe tout à coup de l’individu au genre, peur descendre ensuite aux differentes especes qu’on multiplie d’autant plus qu’on acquiert plus de discerniment; c’est-a-dire, qu’on apprend mieux à faire l’analyse des choses.” Cours d’Etude, i. 49, 50. Ed. à Parme, 1776. Vide note A. at the end of the volume.
Works of Sir Wm. Jones, i. 165. It may be remarked, that Sir William Jones, after all these praises, allows that the Vedanti doctrines are wild and erroneous. Asiat. Res. iv. 164, 165.
Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. ii. note B.
The words in which this important observation is expressed, are borrowed from a happy application of it by Mr. Stewart, in the same volume, p. 443.
The passage is transcribed by Mr. Stewart, in the note quoted above.
Vide supra, vol. i. p. 315.
Stewart’s Elem. ut supra.
Another circumstance is always to be remembered. If the Brahmens are once informed of the European doctrine, they will take abundant care to make their own conform to it. “With respect to the real tenets of the Hindus, on subjects of theology, they are to be taken from their ancient books, rather than from the oral declarations of the most learned Brahmens of modern times, who have discovered that the opinions of Christians, concerning the nature of God, are far more rational than those currently entertained among them, and that the gross idolatry of the Hindus is contemned by the more intelligent natives of the western world. Bernier seems to have found occasion for the same remark in his time; for, after relating a conference between him and some learned pandits, in which the latter endeavoured to refine away the grossness of their image worship; ‘Voila (says he) sans ajouter ni diminuer la solution qu’ils me donnerent; mais, à vous dire le vrai, cela me sembloit un peu trôp bien concerté a la Chretienne, aux prix de ce que j’en avois appris de plusieurs autres pandits.’” (Grant’s Observations on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain, p. 73. Papers on India, ordered to be printed by the House of Commons, 15th June, 1813.) This supposed refinement, such as it is, Mr. Elphinstone found among the rude and uncivilized Afghauns. “Another sect in Caubul is that of the Soofees, who ought, perhaps, to be considered as a class of philosophers, rather than of religionists. As far as I can understand their mysterious doctrine, their leading tenet seems to be, that the whole of the animated and inanimate creation is an illusion; and that nothing exists except the Supreme Being, which presents itself under an infinity of shapes to the soul of man, itself a portion of the Divine essence. The contemplation of this doctrine raises the Soofees to the utmost pitch of enthusiasm. They admire God in every thing; and, by frequent meditation on his attributes, and by tracing him through all his forms, they imagine that they attain to an ineffable love for the Deity, and even to an entire union with his substance.” (An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, by the Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone, p. 207.) See, for an account of a similar sect in Persia, Malcolm’s Hist. of Persia, ii. 385.—How different is all this from the curious result of the refined and ingenious reasonings of Berkeley! And how shallow the heads that confound them!
See Mallet, Introd. Hist. Denmark, vol. ii. For additional illustrations we may refer to the maxims of Confucius and Zoroaster.
Colebrooke on the Sanscrit and Pracrit Languages, Asiat. Res. vol. vii.
Mr. Colebrooke still farther remarks, that the Hindus delight in scholastic disputation; and that their controversial commentaries on grammar exhibit copious specimens of it. Ibid.
Vide supra, p. 67–69.
Tout ce que le mauvais goῦt peut inventer pour fatiguer l’esprit, fait leur delices, et ravit leur admiration. Memoires du Baron de Tott sur les Turcs et les Tartares, i. 8.
The following remarkable passage in the celebrated letter of our countryman, and (but for one exception) admirable countryman, Sir Thomas More, to Martin Dorpius, affords at once a proof of the fact, and a judgment on the practice: “At nunc absurda quædam portenta, ad certam bonarum artium nata perniciem, et luculenter ab antiquis distincta, commiscuerunt; et veterum purissimas traditiones suis adjectis sordibus infecerunt omnia. Nam in Grammatica (ut omittam Alexandrum, atque id genus ahos; qui quamquam imperite, tamen grammaticam utcunque docuerant) Albertus quidam, grammaticam se traditurum professus, logicam nobis quandam, aut metaphysicam, immo neutram, sed mera somnia, mera deliria grammaticæ loco substituit: et tamen hæ nugacissimæ nugæ in publicas academias non tantum receptæ sunt, sed etiam plerisque tam impense placuerunt, ut is propemodum solus aliquid in grammatica valere censeatur, quisquis fuerit Albertistæ nomen assequutus. Tantum auctoritatis habet, ad pervertenda bonorum quoque ingeniorum judicia, semel ab ineptis tradita, magistris, dein tempore corroborata persuasio. Quo fit ut minus mirer, ad eundem modum in dialecticæ locum nugas plus quam sophisticas irrepsisse quæ cultoribus suis argutiarum nomine tam vehementer, arrident.” Caramuel says of the subtle doctor, Scotus, Vix ahibi subtilius scripsit quam cum de grammaticis modis significandi. Mr. Horne Tooke, however, on this remarks, that his De modis significandi should be entitled, An Exemplar of the subtle art of saving appearances, and of discoursing deeply andlearnedly on a subject with which we are perfectly unacquainted. Quid enim subtilus vel magis tenue quam quod nihil est? (Diversions of Purley, Introd. p. 12.)
Le Pere Paulini (Bartolomeo) Voyage aux Indes, ii. 201.
Mr. Gibbon quaintly says, “In Arabia as well as in Greece, the perfection of language outstripped the refinement of manners; and her speech could diversify the fourscore names of honey, the two hundred of a serpent, the five hundred of a lion, the thousand of a sword, at a time when this copious dictionary was entrusted to the memory of an illiterate people.” Hist. of Dec. and Fall, &c. ix. 240. The German professor Forster, who writes notes on the Voyage du Pere Paulini, says not ineptly on the passage quoted in the text, (Paulini, Voy. aux Indes, iii. 399.) “Ce n’est pas de cette manière la qu’on doit juger de la richesse d’une langue. On a coutume de dire que la langue Arabe est riche, parceque elle a je ne sais quel nombre de synonimes pour exprimer le mot epée. Un de ces synonimes, par example, signifie le meurtrier des hommes. Ce n’est la, dans la realité, qu’une expression metaphorique et figurée, telle qu’on en pent former dans toutes les langues tant soit pen cultivees. On pouvait de même trouver plus de trente noms pour exprimer le soleil dans les poetes Grecs; mais il n’est venu dans l’esprit de personne, de faire valoir cela pour prouver la richesse de la langue Grecque.” Our own sagacions, and in many respects highly philosophical Wilkins judges better when he names “significancy, perspicuity, brevity, and consequently facility,” among the perfections of a language; and says that the multitude of rules in the Latin “argues the imperfection of that language, that it should stand in need of such and so many rules as have no foundation in the philosophy of speech...............If these rules be not necessary to language, and according to nature, but that words may signify sufficiently, and in some respects better without them, then there is greater judgment showed in laying them aside, or framing a language without them.” Essay towards a Real Character, &c. p. 448. Another writer, who speaks with as much boldness, as he thinks with force on the subject of language says, “Persons too dull or too idle to understand the subject cannot, or will not, perceive how great an evil many words is; and boast of their copiæ verhorum, as if a person diseased with gout or dropsy boasted of his great joints, or big belly.” And again, “It cannot be too often repeated that superfluous variety end copiu, are faults, not excellencies. Simplicity may be considered poverty by perverted understandings, but it is always of great utility; and to true judges it always possesses beauty and dignity.” Philosophic etymology, or Rational Grammar, by James Gilchrist, p. 110, 170. If the Sanscrit is to be admired for its amplicated grammar, the Ethiopic should be admired for its 202 letters; Wilkins’ Essay towards a Real Character, p. 14.
Gl’indigeni Chilesi formano una sola nazione divisa in varie tribu, et tutti hanno la medesima fisconomia, e la medesima lingua chiamata da loro Chiledugu, che vuol dire lingua Chilese. Questa lingua è dolce, armoniosa, expressiva, regolare, e copiosissima di termini atti ad enunciare non solo le cose fische generali, o particulari, ma anche le cose morali, e astratte. Saggio Sulla Storia Naturale del Chili Del Signor Abate Giovanni Ignazio Molina, lib. iv. p. 334.
Marsden’s Hist. of Sumatra, p. 197, ed. 3d.
“It is so copious, polished, and expressive, that it has been esteemed by many superior to the Latin, and even to the Greek. It abounds,” says he, “more than the Tuscan, in diminutives and augmentatives; and more than the English, or any other language we know, in verbal and abstract terms: for there is hardly a verb from which there are not many verbals formed, and scarcely a substantive or adjective from which there are not some abstracts formed. It is not less copious in verbs than in nouns; as from every single verb others are derived of different significations. Chihua “is to do,” Chichihua “to do with diligence or often,” Chihuilia “to do to another,” Chihualtia “to cause to be done,” Chihuatiuh “to go to do,” Chiuaco “to come to do,” Chiuhtiuh “to be doing,” &c. Having mentioned the extraordinary variety with which the Mexicans express different degrees of respect, by adding adverbs and other particles to the names employed, Clavigero adds, “This variety, which gives so much civilization to the language, does not, however, make it difficult to be spoken; because it is subjected to rules which are fixed and easy; nor do we know any language that is more regular and methodical. The Mexicans, like the Greeks and other nations, have the advantage of making compounds of two, three, or four simple words; but they do it with more economy than the Greeks did; for the Greeks made use of the entire words in composition, whereas the Mexicans cut off syllables, or at least some letters from them. Tlazotti signifies valued, or beloved; Mahuitzic, honoured or revered; Tespixqui, priest; Tatli, father. To unite these five words in one, they take eight consonants and four vowels, and say, for instance, Notlazomahuitzteopixcatalzin, that is, my very worthy father, or revered priest, prefixing the No which corresponds to the pronoun my, and adding tzin, which is a particle expressive of reverence. There are some compounds of so many terms as to have fifteen or sixteen syllables.......In short all those who have learned this language, and can judge of its copiousness, regularity, and beautiful modes of speech, are of opinion, that such a language cannot have been spoken by a barbarous people.” Clavigero, Hist. of Mexico, book vii. sect. 41.
Henry’s Hist. of Great Britain, iv. 365.—"I know not a language spoken in Europe that hath words of more sweetness and greatness than theirs:” Penn’s Letter on the American Indians, in Clarkson’s Life of Penn, i. 385.
Laws of Menu, ch. i. 75.
Laws of Menu, ch. i. 78.
Laws of Menu, ch. i. 45.
Ibid. 49. See also Ib. xi. 143 to 146.
Wilford on Egypt and the Nile, Asiat. Res. iii. 310.
Transactions of the Royal Society of Edin. vol. ii.
Of which he has over all Europe been recognized as the author: Vide infra, p. 93, note 3.
Mr. Playfair has himself given us a criterion for determining on his notions of the Hindu astronomy, which is perfectly sufficient. He says, in the conclusion of his discourse (Edin. Trans. ii. 192), “These conclusions are without doubt extraordinary; and have no other claim to our belief, except that their being false were much more wonderful than their being true.” On this principle, the question is decided; for the wonder is little that they should be false, but mighty indeed were they true.
Asiat. Res. vi. 577.
Dr. Smith, with his usual sagacity, says, “There are various causes which render astronomy the very first of the sciences which is cultivated by a rude people; though from the distance of the objects, and the consequent mysteriousness of their nature and motions, this would seem not to be the case. Of all the phenomena of nature, the celestial appearances are, by their greatness and beauty, the most strikingly addressed to the curiosity of mankind. But it is not only their greatness and beauty by which they become the first objects of a speculative curiosity. The species of objects in the heavens are few in number; the sun, the moon, the planets, and the fixed stars. All the changes too which are ever observed in these bodies, evidently arise from some difference in the velocity and direction of their several motions. All this formed a very simple object of consideration. The objects, however, which the inferior parts of nature presented to view, the earth and the bodies which immediately surround it, though they were much more familiar to the mind, were more apt to embarrass and purplex it, by the variety of their species and by the intricacy and seeming irregularity of the laws or orders of their succession. The variety of meteors in the air, of clouds, rainbows, thunder, lightning, winds, rain, hail, snow, is vast, and the order of their succession seems to be most irregular and inconstant. The species of fossils, minerals, plants, animals, which are found in the waters and near the surface of the earth, are still more intricately diversified; and if we regard the different manners of their production, their mutual influence in altering, destroying, supporting one another, the orders of their succession seem to admit of an almost infinite variety. If the imagination, therefore, when it considered the appearances in the heavens, was often perplexed and driven out of its natural career, it would be much more exposed to the same embarrassment, when it directed its attention to the objects which the earth presented to it, and when it endeavoured to trace their progress and successive revolutions.” Essays by Dr. Adam Smith, p. 97, 98. Of the Persians, Mr. Scott Waring says, “Their perverse predilection for judicial astrology excites them to the study of astronomy, merely that they may foretell the conjunction of the planets; and when they are able to do this with any degree of accuracy, they are accounted men of considerable science. They have two descriptions of Ephemeris; the first containing the conjunction and opposition of the luminaries; and the second the eclipses, the longitude and latitude of the stars,” &c. Tour to Sheeraz, p. 254. The pages of the historian being little adapted to mathematical and astronomical discussion, I have inserted, by way of Appendix, an examination of the arguments for the antiquity and excellence of the Hindu astronomy; with which the friendship of the great mathematician to whom I have alluded has enabled me to elucidate the subject. See Append. No. 1. at the end of the chapter.
Playfair, on the Astronomy of the Brahmens, Trans. Roy. Soc. Edin. ii. 135.
Dr. Smith says, “Nature, according to common observation, appears a chaos of jarring and discordant appearances, into which philosophy endeavours to introduce order by representing the invisible chains which bind together all these disjointed objects. It thus soothes the imagination, and renders the theatre of nature a more coherent, and therefore a more magnificent spectacle, than otherwise it would appear to be. Mankind in the first ages of society have little curiosity to find out those hidden chains of events which bind together the seemingly disjointed appearances of nature. A savage has no inclination to amuse himself with searching out what seems to serve no other purpose than to render the theatre of nature a more connected spectacle to his imagination.” Essays, Hist. of Astron. p. 20, 21, 23.
Playfair, on the Astron of the Brahm. Trans. R. S. E. ii. 138, 139.
Goguet having mentioned the quipos of the Peruvians, says, “It is the same with the negroes on the coast of Juida. They know nothing of the art of writing, and yet they can calculate the largest sums with great facility by means of cords and knots, which have their own signification.” Hist. Gen. de Voyage, iv. 283, 373, and 393.” Origin of Laws, i. 224. We are informed by Herodotus, that the Egyptians, like the Brahmens, counted by shells; and at one time at least, the Greeks; but in an inverse order, the Greeks passing from left to right, the Egyptians from right to left. Herodot lib. ii. cap. 36.
Asiat. Res. ii. 115. The following is valuable from the pen of M. Delambre. M. La Place, qui avoit quelque intéret a soutenir la grande ancienneté de l’astronomie Indienne, et qui avoit d’abord parle des mouvemens moyens et des époques des Hindous de la maniere la plus avantaguese, a fini pourtant par croire et imprimer que leurs tables ne remontent pas au dela du 13me siècle. Mr. Playfair, en repondant à l’objection de M. de la Place, ne la detruit pas. Peu importe que Bailly ait affirmé plus ou moins directement et positivement la conjonction generale des plauètes, qui a determiné l’epoque; Ce qu’il falloit eclaircir est un fait. Les tables indiquent-elles en effet cette conjonction, l’epoque alors est fictive, et l’astronomie Indienne est beaucoup plus moderne. Les tables n’indiquent-elles pas cette conjonction, alors l’objection de M. de la Place tombe d’elle-mème. C’est ce que ne dit pas Mr. Playfair, et c’est ce que je n’ai pas le tems de vérifier. Mais quand même l’objection seroit sans force, il resteroit bien d’autres difficultés. Ce ne sont pas quelques rencoutres heureuses parmi une foule de calculs erronés ou incoherens, qui suffiroient pour prouver l’antiquité de l’Astronomie Indienne. La forme mysterieuse de leurs tables et de leurs méthodes suffiroit pour donner des soupçons sur leur veracité. C’est une question qui probablement ne sera jamais decidée, et qui ne pourroit l’etre que par de nouvelles decouvertes dans les ecrits des Hindoos.” Letter from M. Delambre, dated Paris July 21, 1814, published, Appendix, note D. of “Researches concerning the Laws, &c. of India, by Q. Craufurd, Esq.”
Asiat. Res. ii. 226–228.
Of that ignorance take the following specimens:—"The Bhagavat,” (says Mr. Davis, Asiat. Res. iii. 225) “when treating of the system of the universe, places the moon above the sun, and the planets above the fixed stars."—” The prince of serpents continually sustains the weight of this earth.” Sacontala, beginning of act v.—"Some of them” [the Brahmens of the present day] “are capable,” says Mr. Orme, Hist. of Indost. i. 3, “of calculating an eclipse, which seems to be the utmost stretch of their mathematical knowledge.”
Playfair, on the Astronomy of the Brahmens, Trans. R. S. E. ii. 140, 141. See to the same purpose, Colebrooke on the Indian and Arabian Divisions of the Zodiac, Asiat. Res. ix. 323, 376.
Asiast. Res. ii. 289.
The division of the zodiac among the Birmans as well as the Brahmens, resembles ours, the original Chaldean. “My friend Sangermano,” (says Dr. Buchanan, Asiat. Res. vi. 204,) “gave Captain Symes a silver bason on which the twelve signs were embossed. He conceived, and I think justly, that this zodiac had been communicated to the Burmans from Chaldea by the intervention of the Brahmens. And I find that in this conjecture he is supported by Sir W. Jones, (As. Res. ii. 306). Both, however, I am afraid, will excite the indignation of the Brahmens, who, as the learned judge in another place alleges, have always been too proud to borrow science from any nation ignorant of the Vedas. Of their being so proud as not to acknowledge their obligations I make no doubt; but that they have borrowed from the Chaldeans who were ignorant of the Vedas, Sir W. Jones himself has proved. Why then should he have opposed the sarcastic smiles of perplexed Pandits to the reasoning of M. Montucla, (As. Res. ii. 303, 289,) when that learned man alledged that the Brahmens have derived astronomical knowledge from the Greeks and Arabs. The expression of the Brahmens quoted by him as a proof, namely, ‘that no base creature can be lower than a Yavan or Greek,’ only exposes their miserable ignorance and disgusting illiberality."—On this pride, too great to learn (a sure sign of barbarity), it is also to be remarked, that a matrimonial connexion (among the Hindus the most sacred of all connexions) took place between Seleucus and Sandracottos. “On this difficulty,” says Mr. Wilford, “I consulted the pundits of Benares, and they all gave me the same answer; namely, that in the time of Chandragupta, the Yavanas were much respected, and were even considered as a sort of Hindus.” Asiat. Res. v. 286. What was to hinder the Brahmens from learning astronomy from the Greeks at that period? Mr. Wilford indeed says that a great intercourse formerly subsisted between the Hindus and the nations of the West. Ibid. iii. 297, 298. Sir William seems to have known but little of the intercourse which subsisted between the Hindus and the people of the West. Suetonius (in vit. Octav.) informs us, that the Indians sent ambassadors to Augustus. An embassy met him when in Syria, from king Porus, as he is called, with letters written in the Greek character, containing, as usual, an hyperbolical description of the grandeur of the monarch. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 663. A Brahmen was among those ambassadors, who followed Augustus to Athens, and there burnt himself to death. Strabo, Ibid. and Dio. Cass. lib. liii. p. 527. Another splendid embassy was sent from the same quarter to Constantine. Cedreni Annal. p. 242, Ed. Basil. 1566; Maurice, Hist. iii. 125. “I have long harboured a suspicion,” says Gibbon, “that all the Scythian, and some, perhaps much, of the Indian science, was derived from the Greeks of Bactriana.” Gibbon, vii. 294. A confirmation of this idea, by no means trifling, was found in China, by Lord Macartney and his suite, who discovered the mathematical instruments deposited in the cities of Pekin, and Nankeen, not constructed for the latitude of those places, but for the 37th parallel, the position of Balk or Bactria: Barrow’s China, p. 289. The certainty of the fact of a Christian church being planted in India at a time not distant from that of the apostles, is a proof that the Hindus had the means of learning from the Greeks.—We learn the following very important fact from Dr. Buchanan. The greater part of Bengal manuscripts, owing to the badness of the paper, require to be copied at least once in ten years, as they will, in that climate, preserve no longer; and every copyist, it is to be suspected, adds to old books whatever discoveries he makes, relinquishing his immediate reputation for learning, in order to promote the grand and profitable employment of his sect, the delusion of the multitude. As. Res. vi. 174, note. Anquetil Duperron, who had at an early period asserted the communication of Grecian science to the Hindus, (See Recherches Historiques et Philosophiques sur l’Inde) supported this conclusion at the end of his long life. “N’est il pas avoué,” says he in his notes to the French translation of Paulini’s Travels, iii. 442; “que, de tout terms, sans conquête, avec conquête, par terre comme par mer, l’Asie, l’Inde, et l’Europe, ont eu des relations plus ou moins actives; que les savans, les sages de ces contrées se sont visités, ont pu se faire part de leurs decouvertes; et qu’il n’est pas hors de vraisemblance que quelques uns auront fait usage dans leurs livres, même sans en avertir, des nouvelles lumières qu’ils avaient reçues de l’etranger? De nos jours, le Rajah d’Amber, dans ses ouvrages astronomiques, parle des tables de la Hire. Le Rajah Djessingue, aura profité des leçons du P. Boudier, qu’il avait appolé auprès de lui. Si l’astronome Brahme, avec lequel M. le Gentil a travaillé à Pondicherri, ecrit sur l’astronomie, sans abandonner le fond de ses principes, du systême Indien, il adoptera des pratiques qu’il aura remarquées dans son disciple, calculera, quoique Indou, à la Française, et donnera comme de lui, du pays, des resultats réellement tirés de ses rapports avec l’astronomie Française. Nier ces probabilités, c’est ne pas connâitre les hommes."—"Il y a differentes epoques dans les sciences Indiennes, dans la mythologie, les opinions religieuses de cette contrée. Les Indiens ont reçu ou imprunté diverses connaissances des Arabes, des Perses, en tel temps; des Grecs dans tel autre.” Ib. p. 451.
Elements of Geometry, &c. By John Leslie, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, note xxxiv. All that can be said in favour of the mathematical science of the Hindus is very skilfully summed up in the following passage, by a mathematician of first-rate eminence, William Wallace, Esq. the Professor of Mathematics in the University of Edinburgh. “The researches of the learned have brought to light astronomical tables in India, which must have been constructed by the principles of geometry; but the period at which they have been formed has by no means been completely ascertained. Some are of opinion, that they have been framed from observations made at a very remote period, not less than 3,000 years before the Christian era; and if this opinion be well founded, the science of geometry must have been cultivated in India to a considerable extent, long before the period assigned to its origin in the West; so that many of the elementary propositions may have been brought from India to Greece. The Hindus have a treatise called the Surya Sidhanta, which professes to be a revelation from heaven, communicated to Meya, a man of great sanctity, about four millions of years ago; but setting aside this fabulous origin, it has been supposed to be of great antiquity, and to have been written at least two thousand years before the Christian era. Interwoven with many absurdities, this book contains a rational system of trigonometry, which differs entirely from that first known in Greece or Arabia. In fact, it is founded on a geometrical theorem, which was not known to the geometricians of Europe, before the time of Vieta, about two hundred years ago. And it employs the sines of arcs, a thing unknown to the Greeks, who used the chords of the double arcs. The invention of sines has been attributed to the Arabs, but it is possible that they may have received this improvement in trigonometry, as well as the numeral characters, from India.” Edinburgh Encyclopedia, Article Geometry, p. 191. The only fact here asserted which bears upon the question of the civilization of the Hindus, is that of their using the sines of arcs instead of the chords of the double arcs. Suppose that they invented this method. It proves nothing beyond what all men believe; that the Hindus made a few of the first steps in civilization at an early period; and that they engaged in those abstract speculations, metaphysical and mathematical, to which a semi-barbarous people are strongly inclined. The Arabians were never more than semi-barbarous. The Greeks were no better, at the early age when they were acquainted with the elementary propositions of geometry. If the Greeks or Arabians invented, in the semi-barbarous state, the mode of computation by the chords; what was to hinder the Hindus from inventing, while semi-barbarous, the mode of computing by the sines of arcs? This is upon the supposition that the mode of computing by sines, and the elementary propositions on which it depends, really are original among the Hindus. But this seems not to rest upon very satisfactory proof, when it is barely inferred from the use of chords by the Greeks; and the possibility alone is asserted of the Arabians having derived the knowledge from the Hindus.
Origin of Laws, i. 221.
Ibid. i. 224.
Ibid. Mr. Gilchrist renders it highly probable, that not only the digits, but the letters of the alphabet are hieroglyphics. Philosophic Etymology, p. 23.
Second Dissertation, Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica, p. 12. It is a comcidence well worth remarking, that Diophantus, a Greek mathematician of Alexandria, about 150 years after Christ, employed a like expedient. “The questions he resolves,” says Mr. Playfair, “are of considerable difficulty. The expression is that of common language abbreviated, and assisted by a few symbols.” (Ib. p. 13.) In a Ms. of Diophantus, which Bombelli says he saw in the Vatican library, the Indian authors, he says, are often quoted. Nothing of this appears in the work of Diophantus, which was published about three years after the time when Bombelh wrote. Nor has any other work of Diophantus been produced. It is, besides, to be remembered, that the Greeks used the word Indian with great latitude. They applied it not merely to the people beyond the Indus; they applied it also to a people on the Euxine Sea; to a people in Ethiopia; in a general way, to all the people of the East. It is by no means clear that Diophantus would not apply it to the Arabians themselves. (See Appendix, No. II. at the end of the chapter.)
Laws of Menu, ch. ix. 245. “Since the era of Halhed and Sir William Jones,” says Mr. Scott Waring, “the existence of the precious manuscripts of Sanscrit learning has, like the chorus to a popular song, been echoed from author to author, who, though entirely ignorant of Sanscrit, have stamped with credibility a seemingly vague supposition; for what production have we yet seen to justify those extravagant praises.” Tour to Sheeraz, by Ed. Scott Waring, p. 5. Mr. Wilford, better acquainted with the Puranas than any other European, speaks of them with little respect. He talks of “the ignorant compilers of the Puranas, who have arranged this heterogeneous mass without method and still less judgment.” As. Res. vi. 471. M. Bernier, than whom no European had better opportunities of observing the actual and present attainments of the Brahmens, who observed with a penetrating and judicious spirit, and wrote before the birth of theory on the subject, says, “A pres le Purane quelque uns se jettent dans la philosophie ou certainement ils reussissent bien peu;—je l’ai deja dit, ils sont d’une humeur lente et paresseuse, et ne sont point animez dans l’esperance de parvenir a quelque chose par leur etude.” Suite des Memoires sur l’Empire du Grand Mogol, i. 184. “Leurs plus fameux Pendets,” says he, “me semblent tres ignorans.” (Ibid. p. 185.) Mentioning their accounts of the origin of the world, he says, “Il y en a aussi qui veulent que la lumiere et les tenebres soient les premiers principes, et disent la-dessus mille choses a vue de pays sans ordre ni suite, et apportent de longues raisons qui ne sentent nullement la philosophie, mais souvent la façon ordinaire de parler du peuple.” (Ibid. p. 187.) Though the Hindus abstain religiously from anatomy, they pretend to know most confidently anatomical facts. “Ils ne laissent pas d’assurer qu’il y a cinq mille veines dans l’homme, ny plus ny moins, comme s’ils les avoient bien contées.” (Ibid. p. 190.) After a review of their whole knowledge, which would be reckoned no incorrect outline, by the best informed of the present day, he adds, “Toutes ces grandes impertinences que je viens de vous racontor m’ont souvent fait dire en moi-meme que si ce sont la les fameuses sciences de ces anciens Bragmanes des Indes, il faut qu’il y ait eu bien du monde trompé dans les grandes idées qu’on en a conçues.” (Ibid. p. 193.)—"For some time a very unjust and unhappy impression appeared to have been made on the public mind, by the encomiums passed on the Hindoo writings. In the first place, they were thus elevated in their antiquity beyond the Christian Scriptures, the writings of Moses having been called the productions of yesterday, compared with those of the bramhŭns. The contents of these books, also, were treated with the greatest reverence; the primitive religion of the Hindoos, it was said, revealed the most sublime doctrines, and inculcated a pure morality. We were taught to make the greatest distinction between the ancient and modern religion of the Hindoos; for the apologists of Hindooism did not approve of its being judged of by present appearances. Some persons endeavoured to persuade us, that the Hindoos were not idolaters, because they maintained the unity of God; though they worshipped the work of their own hands as God, and though the number of their gods was 330,000,000. It is very probable, that the unity of God has been a sentiment amongst the philosophers of every age; and that they wished it to be understood, that they worshipped the One God, whether they bowed before the image of Moloch, Jupiter, or Kalēē; yet mankind have generally concluded that he who worships an image is an idolater; and I suppose they will continue to think so, unless in this age of reason common sense should be turned out of doors.—Now, however, the world has had some opportunity of deciding upon the claims of the Hindoo writings, both as it respects their antiquity and the value of their contents. Mr. Colebrooke’s essay on the védŭs, and his other important translations; the Bhŭgŭvŭt Gēēta, by Mr. Wilkins; the translation of the Ramayŭnŭ, several volumes of which have been printed; some valuable papers in the Asiatic Researches; with other translations by different Sŭngskritŭ scholars; have thrown a great body of light on this subject;—and this light is daily increasing.—Many an object appears beautiful when seen at a distance, and through a mist; but when the fog has dispersed, and the person has approached it, he smiles at the deception. Such is the exact case with these books, and this system of idolatry. Because the public, for want of being more familiar with the subject, could not ascertain the point of time when the Hindoo Shastrŭs were written, they therefore at once believed the assertions of the bramhŭns and their friends, that their antiquity was unfathomable.” (Ward on the Hindoos, Introd. p. xcix.) “There is scarcely any thing in Hindooism when truly known, in which a learned man can delight, or of which a benevolent man can approve; and I am fully persuaded, that there will soon be but one opinion on the subject, and that this opinion will be, that the Hindoo system is less ancient than the Egyptian, and that it is the most puerile, impure, and bloody of any system of idolatry that was ever established on earth.” (Ib. citi.)
Anquetil Duperron, who lodged a night at the house of a school-master, at a Mahratta village, a little north of Poona, gives a ludicrous picture of the teaching scene. “Les ecohers, sur deux files, accroupis sur leur talons, traçoient avec le doigt les lettres, ou les mots, sur une planche noire couverte de sable blanc; d’autres repetoient les noms des lettres en forme de mots. Car les Indiens, au lieu de dire comme nous, a, b, c, prononcent ainsi—awam, banam, kanam. Le maitre ne me parut occupe pendant une demi heure que la classe dura encore, qu’a frapper avec un long rotin le dos nud de ces pauvres enfans: en Asie c’est la partie qui paye; la passion malheureusement trop commune dans ces contrées, veille à la sureté de celle que nos maitres sacrifient a leur vengeance. J’aurois été bien aise de m’entretenir avec Monsieur le Pedagogue Marate, ou de moins d’avoir un alphabet de sa main; mais sa morgue ne lui permit pas de repondre a mes politesses.” (Zendavesta, Disc. Prelim. p. ccxxx.)
Papers on India Affairs, No. iii. ordered to be printed by the House of Commons, 30th April 1813.
There were in these times [the times of Aliverdi, nabob of Bengal] at Azimabad,” says the author of the Seer Mutakhareen, “numbers of persons who loved sciences and learning, and employed themselves in teaching and in being taught; and I remember to have seen in that city and its environs alone, nine or ten professors of repute, and three or four hundred students and disciples; from whence may be conjectured the number of those that must have been in the great towns, and in the retired districts.” Seer Mutakhareen, i. 705, 4to. Calcutta, 1789. N. B. This with regard to the Mussulmans of Bengal. The translator says, in a note, “The reader must rate properly all these students, and all these expressions: their only object was the Coran and its commentaries; that is the Mahometan religion, and the Mahometan law.” Ibid. A hint very different from those we are wont to receive from our guides in Hindu literature.—"In vain do some persons talk to us of colleges, of places of education, and books: these words in Turkey convey not the same ideas as with us.” Volney’s Travels in Syria and Egypt, ii. 443.—Chardin, who formed as high an opinion of the Persians as Sir William Jones of the Hindus, tells us, (Voyage en Perse, iii. 130,) “Le genie des Persans est porté aux sciences, plus qu’ à toute autre profession; et l’on peut dire que les Persans y reussissent si bien que ce sont, après les Chretiens Européens, les plus sçavans peuples du monde...... Ils envoyent les enfans aux colleges, et les elevent aux lettres autant que leurs moyens le peuvent permettre.” And at pages 137, 138, he adds, that schools are distributed in great numbers in Persia, and colleges very numerous.
“Inca Roca was reputed the first who established schools in Cozco, where the Amautas were the masters, and taught such sciences as were fit to improve the minds of Incas, who were princes, and of the chief nobility, not that they did instruct them by way of letters, for as yet they had not attained to that knowledge, but only in a practical manner, and by daily discourses: their other lectures were of religion, and of those reasons and wisdom on which their laws were established, and of the number and true exposition of them; for by these means they attained to the art of government and military discipline; they distinguished the times and seasons of the year, and by reading in their knots they learned history and the actions of past ages; they improved themselves also in the elegance and ornament of speaking, and took rules and measures for the management of their domestic affairs. These Amautas, who were philosophers, and in high esteem amongst them, taught something also of poetry, music, philosophy, and astrology,” &c. Garcilasso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries, book iv. ch. xix. This same Inca exhibited one stroke at least which will be reckoned high wisdom by some amongst us: “He enacted that the children of the common people should not be educated in the liberal arts and sciences, for that were to make them proud, conceited, and ungovernable; but that the nobility were those only to whom such literature did appertain, to render them more honourable, and capable of offices in the commonwealth.” Ibid. “There is nothing,” (says Acosta, book vi. ch. 27) “that gives me more cause to admire, nor that I find more worthy of commendation and memory, than the order and care the Mexicans had to nourish their youth.” He tells us they had schools in their temples, and masters to instruct the young “in all commendable exercises, to be of good behaviour,” &c.
Asiat. Res. i. 430, and iv. 169.
Middleton’s Life of Cicero, sect. 12. Considerable currency was obtained by a very learned work of a clergyman of the Church of England, Mr. Dutens, who undertook to prove that all the discoveries which the moderns have made in the arts and sciences, may be found distinctly broached in the writings of the ancients.
Anquetil Duperron gives us a remarkable instance of the disposition of the Brahmens to accommodate, by falsification, even their sacred records, to the ideas of Europeans. “Si je n’avois pas sçu que le commencement de l’Amerkosh contenoit la description du lingam, peut-etre m’eut il été impossible de decouvrir que mes Brahmes, qui ne vouloient pas devoiler le fond de leurs mysteres, paraphrasoient et pallioient plutot qu’ils ne traduisoient.” Zendav. Disc. Prelim. i. ccclxix. Dr. Buchunan found the propensity general, to deceive him in their accounts both of their religion and history. See Journey through Mysore, &c. ii. 76, 79, 80. “The Brahmens,” he says, “when asked for dates, or authority, say that they must consult their books, which may be readily done; but when I send my interpreter, who is also a Brahmen, to copy the dates, they pretend that their books are lost.” Ibid. i. 335. All information, he says, from the Brahmens, usually differs most essentially as derived from different individuals. Ibid. ii. 306. See an account of the imposition practised by his pundits upon Captain Wilford, by Lord Teignmouth, in the Introduction to his Life of Sir William Jones; also an account by Mr. Wilford himself, Essay on the Sacred Isles in the West, Asiat. Res. viii. 253.—In a letter to a friend Sir W. Jones said, “I can no longer bear to be at the mercy of our pundits, who deal out the Hindu law as they please, and make it at reasonable rates, where they cannot find it ready made.” Life of Sir W. Jones, by Lord Teignmouth, 4to. Ed. p. 307.—Colonel Wilkes accuses the Hindu author of the Digest of Hindu Law, translated by Mr. Colebrooke, of substituting a false principle of law for a true one, out of “a courtesy and consideration, for opinions established by authority, which is peculiar to the natives of India.” Histor. Sketches, p. 116.
He might have got proofs, equal to those with which they presented him, of Plato’s having been acquainted with the circulation of the blood; viz. because when speaking of that fluid he uses the word περιμγεσθαι, which signifies to be carried round.—It is worthy of remark, that the philosopher, of whom Sir William heard, and whose works contained such important discoveries, was called Yavan Acharya, that is Gentile or Greek. By the argument of Sir William, we might believe that the Greeks anticipated Newton. When Copernicus, dissatisfied with the received account of the heavenly motions, addressed himself to discover a new arrangement, we are told that “he examined all the obscure traditions delivered down to us, concerning every other hypothesis which the ancients had invented. He found in Plutarch, that some old Pythagoreans had represented the earth as revolving in the centre of the universe, like a wheel round its own axis; and that others of the same sect, had removed it from the centre, and represented it as revolving in the ecliptic, like a star round the central fire. By this central fire he supposed they meant the sun,” &c. Dr. Ad. Smith, Essay on Hist Astron. p. 51. We might prove that Parmenides had a just conception of the figure of the globe. Plato informs us that, according to that inquirer, Το ολον ιτι
Laplace has remarked, that the mean motions of the lunar orbit are quicker in the Indian tables, than in those of Ptolemy: which indicates that the former tables were constructed posterior to those of the Greek astronomer. This argument is at least as strong as any of those by which the antiquity is supported.
“If it be insisted, that a hint or suggestion, the seed of their knowledge, may have reached the Hindu mathematicians immediately from the Greeks of Alexandria, or mediately through those of Bactria, it must at the same time be confessed that a slender germ grew and fructified rapidly, and soon attained an approved state of maturity in Indian soil. More will not be here contended for: Since it is not impossible, that the hint of the one analysis may have been actually received by the mathematicans of the other nation: nor unlikely; considering the arguments which may be brought for a probable communication on the subject of astrology.” (Dissertation, p. xxii.) This is an important admission which Mr. Colebrooke was too well informed to overlook, and too honest to conceal. His partialities, however, lead him to a very useless effort of extenuation. Why call the knowledge which the Hindus derived of the Diophantine methods, a hint? What should confine it to a hint? Why make use of the word hint? when it is perfectly clear that if they had the means of receiving a hint, they had the means of receiving the whole. The communication was full and complete between the Hindus and the Greeks, both of Bactria and of Egypt; and the Hindus had the means of receiving from the Greeks all those parts of their knowledge, which the state of civilization among the Hindus enabled them to imbibe. Of the exaggerating language of Mr. Colebrooke, on the other side, about the growing and fructifying of the germ, and its attaining a state of approved maturity in Indian soil, we shall speak by and bye.
He had stated long ago, “That astronomy was originally cultivated among the Hindus, solely for the purposes of astrology: That one branch, if not the whole of their astrological science, was borrowed from the Arabians: And that their astronomical knowledge must, by consequence, have been derived from the same quarter.” (Asiat. Res. ix. 376.) And on the present occasion he says; “The position that astrology is partly of foreign growth in India; that is, that the Hindus have borrowed, and largely too, from the astrology of a more western region, is grounded, as the similar inference concerning a different branch of divination, on the resemblance of certain terms employed in both. The mode of divination, called Tájaca, implies by its very name its Arabian origin: Astrological prediction, by configuration of planets, in like manner, indicates even by its Indian name a Grecian source. It is denominated Hórá, the second of three branches which compose a complete course of astronomy and astrology: and the word occurs in this sense in the writings of early Hindu astrologers. ....The same term hórá occurs again in the writings of the Hindu astrologers, with an acceptation—that of hour—which more exactly conforms to the Grecian etymon. The resemblance of a single term would not suffice to ground an inference of common origin, since it might be purely accidental. But other words are also remarked in Hindu astrology.” &c. (Algebra, &c. from the Sanscrit, Dissert. Notes and Illust. p. lxxx.)
Ibid. p. xxiv.
Algebra, &c. from the Sanscrit, Dissert. Notes and Illust. pp. x. and xvi.
Dr. Hutton says, that Diophantus “knew the composition of the cube of a binomial. ....In some parts of book vi. it appears that he was acquainted with the composition of the fourth power of the binomial root, as he sets down all the terms of it; and from his great skill in such matters, it seems probable that he was acquainted with the composition of other higher powers, and with other parts of Algebra, besides what are here treated of ....Upon the whole, this work is treated in a very able and masterly manner, manifesting the utmost address and knowledge in the solutions, and forcing a persuasion that the author was deeply skilled in the science of Algebra, to some of the most abstruse parts of which these questions or exercises relate. However, as he contrives his assumptions and notations, so as to reduce all his conditions to a simple equation, or at least a simple quadratic, it does not appear what his knowledge was, in the resolution of compound or affected quadratics.” Mathematical Dictionary, Art. Diophantus.
“Algebra;” &c. ut supra, Dissert. p. xiv.
Suppl Encycl. Brit. Dissert Second, p. 4.
Ib. p. 14
He might have got proofs, equal to those with which they presented him, of Plato’s having been acquainted with the circulation of the blood; viz. because when speaking of that fluid he uses the word περιμγεσθαι, which signifies to be carried round.—It is worthy of remark, that the philosopher, of whom Sir William heard, and whose works contained such important discoveries, was called Yavan Acharya, that is Gentile or Greek. By the argument of Sir William, we might believe that the Greeks anticipated Newton. When Copernicus, dissatisfied with the received account of the heavenly motions, addressed himself to discover a new arrangement, we are told that “he examined all the obscure traditions delivered down to us, concerning every other hypothesis which the ancients had invented. He found in Plutarch, that some old Pythagoreans had represented the earth as revolving in the centre of the universe, like a wheel round its own axis; and that others of the same sect, had removed it from the centre, and represented it as revolving in the ecliptic, like a star round the central fire. By this central fire he supposed they meant the sun,” &c. Dr. Ad. Smith, Essay on Hist Astron. p. 51. We might prove that Parmenides had a just conception of the figure of the globe. Plato informs us that, according to that inquirer, Το ολον ιτι