Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

might venture the following note:-Eight languages studied critically, English, Latin, French, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Persian, Sanscrit; eight studied less perfectly, but all intelligible with a dictionary, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Runick, Hebrew, Bengali, Hindû, Turkish ; twelve studied less perfectly, but all attainable, Tibetan, Pâli, Pahlavi, Deri, Russian, Syriac, Ethiopic, Coptic, Welsh, Swedish, Dutch, Chinese. Twenty-eight languages.'

But another great triumph was yet reserved for the industrious student and orientalist. It remained for him to bring to light a curiosity of literature, which had lain hidden from all Europeans for more than eighteen centuries. In the varied and extensive reading of Sir William, he had come across a book, which, from the information it contained on an unknown subject, interested him deeply. This book was entitled, Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses,' written by the Jesuit missionaries sent out to China. It spoke of the existence of a set of books, called Nátaks,' the nature of which was not fully explained. When Sir William Jones reached Bengal, he determined to enquire himself how an access to these books could be obtained, feeling sure that a knowledge of them would repay his search. More than once he was baffled and disappointed. The Europeans could not, and the Brahmins would not, satisfy his curiosity. Still he was not to be daunted. His enquiries elicited very contradictory statements. He had fancied the “Nátaks' were histories; but was told, sometimes, that they were a collection of fables ; sometimes, that they were public conversations in prose and verse, held before ancient Rajas; and it

[ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors]

was

even asserted that they were discourses on dancing and singing. Accident at last, however, made him acquainted with the real nature of the works he so much coveted to see. An old Brahmin, who had mixed with Europeans and observed some of their customs, told Sir William that the ‘Nátaks' were nothing more than compositions, such as were publicly represented in Calcutta during the cold season under the name of plays.' This announcement was more than sufficient to repay him for his previous search, and to make him eagerly follow up the information acquired, by further investigation. It was not long before a MS. copy of one of these dramas fell into his hands; and it was eagerly perused by the enthusiastic orientalist, with as much delight as surprise. He had been assured by the Brahmin, who had been the first to give him certain information on the subject, that the most popular of the Nátaks,' was that called · Sakuntala. It is written by Kálidása, the most celebrated of Indian poets and dramatists; who has been called the Shakespeare of India, and who was cotemporary with Virgil and Horace. Sakuntalá, or the Lost Ring,' is a love tale of the greatest interest, abounding in vivid descriptions of nature, beautiful imagery, and presenting a very interesting picture of the manners and customs of the ancient Hindûs. No wonder, therefore, that when Sir William Jones had once enjoyed this beautiful drama in the original, he was anxious to make it known in Europe to those who could so well appreciate its beauties; he determined, therefore, to make a prose translation of it. This was finished in the autumn of 1789, and was the first work of the kind which

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

had appeared in Europe. Had Sir William not been distinguished, in any way, as a literary man, previous to his publication of Sakuntala,' that work alone would have established his position as an orientalist of no small merit.

A more complete and extended translation of it, in prose and in verse, has, indeed, been recently given to the world by Monier Williams, Esq., which places its beauties within the reach of all; but that gentleman himself admits that the prose translation of Sir William Jones is not without real merit; although he had not the advantage of being able to translate the poem from the old pure version, but 'made it, unfortunately, from modern and corrupt MSS.' At least, to his energy and perseverance may the credit justly be given, of having opened to the world a fresh mine of literary treasure, in the discovery of Indian drama; and, happily for us, there are men of equal energy and perseverance, in the present day, even more able to follow in the path in which he led the way.

And now a severe trial afflicted Sir William. The health of his wife, never very robust, began to fail entirely; she, for whom he had worked and waited so patiently, who, in her turn, had cheerfully shared his exile, and been his constant companion and support, began to droop under the heat of India's burning sun. He knew and saw at once that but one thing could restore her failing strength ; she must return to the pure, fresh breezes of England and home. Bitter would be the separation to both; and Lady Jones long resisted her husband's entreaties that she should leave him. For she knew he could

not accompany her. He had voluntarily undertaken to complete his Digest of Hindû and Mahommedan Law' before quitting India ; and another year's time would be necessary, in order that he might keep his word to the government. Comforted, however, by his assurances that he would follow her in the succeeding year, and only yielding to his very affectionate but earnest entreaties, Lady Jones bade adieu to him—alas ! for ever-and sailed for England in the month of December 1793.

As poor Sir William stood upon the shore, watching the departing vessel until it was but a tiny white speck on the horizon, we can well believe that he would willingly have given all the wealth of learning acquired during the last ten years to have been pacing its deck with her whom he had hastened, in his affectionate solicitude, from his side. Certainly, the shock of separation, although borne with outward resignation, materially affected his health from that moment. In vain did he return with his accustomed energy to his usual avocations ; in vain did he employ every moment to complete the Digest' which had proved so fatal to his happiness, but which was so largely to benefit his fellow-men. She, whose tearful parting glance was ever present to his mind; whose gentle voice had so often encouraged and cheered his labours, or soothed the long hours of pain and sickness, was gone; and his solitude was complete. Still he did not positively complain of ill-health. The mind was more tried than the body. And it was not until the 20th of April 1794, three months after the departure of Lady Jones, that he was taken seriously ill. On the evening of that day

6

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]
« ForrigeFortsæt »