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Sir William Jones

Sir William Jones

The Tenth Anniversary Discourse,
delivered 28 February, 1793,
by the President,
at the Asiatick Society of Bengal

"On Asiatick History, Civil and Natural"

William Jones, «On Asiatick History, Civil and Natural» (The Tenth Anniversary Discourse, delivered 28 February, 1793, by the President, at the Asiatick Society of Bengal),
URL: <http://www.unifi.it/digilib/eliohs/testi/700/jones/Jones_Discourse_10.html>
Html edition for Eliohs by Guido Abbattista (June 1999)

[Editorial Note]

BEFORE our entrance, gentlemen, into the disquisition, promised at the close of my ninth annual discourse, on the particular advantages, which may be derived from our concurrent researches in Asia, it seems necessary to fix with precision the sense, in which we mean to speak of advantage or utility: now as we have described the five Asiatick regions on their largest scale, and have expanded our conceptions in proportion to the magnitude of that wide field, we should use those words, which comprehend the fruit of all our inquiries, in their most extensive acceptation; including not only the solid conveniences and comforts of social life, but its elegances and innocent pleasures, and even the gratification of a natural and laudable curiosity; for, though labour be clearly the lot of man in [206] this world, yet, in the midst of his most active exertions, he cannot but feel the substantial benefit of every liberal amusement, which may lull his passions to rest, and afford him a sort of repose without the pain of total inaction, and the real usefulness of every pursuit, which may enlarge and diversify his ideas, without interfering with the principal objects of his civil station or economical duties; nor should we wholly exclude even the trivial and worldly sense of utility, which too many consider as merely synonymous with lucre, but should reckon among useful objects those practical, and by no means illiberal, arts, which may eventually conduce both to national and to private emolument. With a view then to advantages thus explained, let us examine every point in the whole circle of arts and sciences, according to the received order of their dependence on the faculties of the mind, their mutual connexion, and the different subjects, with which they are conversant: our inquiries indeed, of which Nature and Man are the primary objects, must of course be chiefly Historical; but, since we propose to investigate the actions of the several Asiatick nations, together with their effective progress in science and art, we may arrange our investigations under the fame three heads, to which our European analysts have ingeniously reduced all the branches [207] of human knowledge; and my present address to the society shall be confined to history, civil and natural, or the observation and remembrance of mere facts independently of ratiocination, which belongs to philosophy, or of imitations and substitutions, which are the province of art.

Were a superior created intelligence to delineate a map of general knowledge (exclusively of that sublime and stupendous theology, which himself could only hope humbly to know by an infinite approximation) he would probably begin by tracing with NEWTON the system of the universe, in which he would assign the true place to our little globe; and, having enumerated its various inhabitants, contents, and productions, would proceed to man in his natural station among animals, exhibiting a detail of all the knowledge attained or attainable by the human race; and thus observing, perhaps, the same order, in which he had before described other beings in other inhabited worlds: but, though BACON seems to have had a similar reason for placing the history of Nature before that of Man, or the whole before one of its parts, yet, consistently with our chief object already mentioned, we may properly begin with the civil history of the five Asiatick nations, which necessarily comprises their Geography, or a description [208] of the places, where they have acted, and their astronomy, which may enable us to fix with some accuracy the time of their actions; we shall thence be led to the history of such other animals, of such minerals, and of such vegetables, as they may be supposed to have found in their several migrations and settlements, and shall end with the uses to which they have applied, or may apply, the rich assemblage of natural substances.

I. IN the first place, we cannot purely deem it an inconsiderable advantage, that all our historical researches have confirmed the Mosaick accounts of the primitive world; and our testimony on that subject ought to have the greater weight, because, if the result of our observations had been totally different, we should nevertheless have published them, not indeed with equal pleasure, but with equal confidence; for Truth is mighty, and, whatever be its consequences, must always prevail: but, independently of our interest in corroborating the multiplied evidences of revealed religion, we could scarce gratify our minds with a more useful and rational entertainment, than the contemplation of those wonderful revolutions in kingdoms and states, which have happened within little more than four thousand years; revolutions, almost as fully demonstrative of an all-ruling Providence, as the [209] structure of the universe and the final causes, which are discernible in its whole extent and even in its minutest parts. Figure to your imaginations a moving picture of that eventful period, or rather a succession of crowded scenes rapidly changed. Three families migrate in different courses from one region, and, in about four centuries, establish very distant governments and various modes of society: Egyptians, Indians, Goths, Phenicians, Celts, Greeks, Latians, Chinese, Peruvians, Mexicans, all sprung from the fine immediate stem, appear to start nearly at one time, and occupy at length those countries, to which they have given, or from which they have derived, their names: in twelve or thirteen hundred years more the Greeks overrun the land of their forefathers, invade India, conquer Egypt, and aim at universal dominion; but the Romans appropriate to themselves the whole empire of Greece, and carry their arms into Britain, of which they speak with haughty contempt: the Goths, in the fulness of time, break to pieces the unwieldy Colossus of Roman power, and seize on the whole of Britain, except its wild mountains; but even those wilds become subject to other invaders of the same Gothick lineage: during all these transactions, the Arabs possess both coasts of the Red Sea, subdue the old seat of their first progenitors, and [210] extend their conquests on one side, through Africk, into Europe itself; on another, beyond the borders of India, part of which they annex to their flourishing empire: in the fame interval the Tartars, widely diffused over the rest of the globe, swarm in the north-east, whence they rush to complete the reduction of CONSTANTINE’S beautiful domains, to subjugate China, to raise in these Indian realms a dynasty splendid and powerful, and to ravage, like the two other families, the devoted regions of Irŕn: by this time the Americans and Peruvians, with many races of adventurers variously intermixed, have peopled the continent and isles of America, which the Spaniards, having restored their old government in Europe, discover and in part overcome: but a colony from Britain, of which CICERO ignorantly declared, that it contained nothing valuable, obtain the possession, and finally the sovereign dominion, of extensive American districts; whilst other British subjects acquire a subordinate empire in the finest provinces of India, which the victorious troops of ALEXANDER were unwilling to attack. This outline of human transactions, as far as it includes the limits of Asia, we can only hope to fill up, to strengthen, and to colours by the help of Asiatick literature; for in history, as in law, we must not follow streams, when we may investigate fountains [211], nor admit any secondary proof, where primary evidence is attainable: I should, nevertheless, make a bad return for your indulgent attention, were I to repeat a dry list of all the Muselman historians, whose works are preserved in Arabick, Persian, and Turkish, or expatiate on the histories and medals of China and Japan which may in time be accessible to members of our Society, and from which alone we can expect information concerning the ancient state of the Tartars; but on the history of India, which we naturally consider as the centre of our enquiries, it may not be superfluous to present you with a few particular observations.

Our knowledge of civil Asiatick history (I always except that of the Hebrews) exhibits a short evening twilight in the venerable introduction to the first book of MOSES, followed by a gloomy night, in which different watches are faintly discernible, and at length we see a dawn succeeded by a sunrise more or less early according to the diversity of regions. That no Hindu nation, but the Cashmirians, have left us regular histories in their ancient language, we must ever lament; but from Sanscrit literature, which our country has the honour of having unveiled, we may still collect some rays of historical truth, though time and a series of revolutions have obscured that light which we might reasonably [212] have expected from so diligent and ingenious a people. The numerous Puránas and Itihásas, or poems mythological and heroick, are completely in our power; and from them we may recover some disfigured, but valuable, pictures of ancient manners and governments; while the popular tales of the Hindus, in prose and in verse, contain fragments of history; and even in their dramas we may find as many real characters and events, as a future age might find in our own plays, if all histories of England were, like those of India, to be irrecoverably lost: for example, a most beautiful poem by So’MADÉVA, comprising a very long chain of instructing and agreeable stories, begins with the famed revolution at Pataliputra by the murder of King NANDA, with his eight sons, and the usurpation of CHANDRAGUPTA; and the same revolution is the subject of a tragedy in Sanscrit, entitled the Coronation of CHANDRA, the abbreviated name of that able and adventurous usurper. From these, once concealed but now accessible, compositions, we are enabled to exhibit a more accurate sketch of old Indian history than the world has yet seen, especially with the aid of well-attested observations on the places of the colures. It is now clearly proved, that the first Purána contains an account of the deluge, between which and the Mohammedan conquests [213] the history of genuine Hindu government must of course be comprehended; but we know from an arrangement of the seasons in the astronomical work of PARÁSARA, that the war of the PÁNDAVAS could not have happened earlier than the close of the twelfth century before CHRIST, and SELEUCUS must, therefore, have reigned about nine centuries after that war; now the age of VICRAMÁDITYA is given; and, if we can fix on an Indian prince, contemporary with SELEUCUS, we shall have three given points in the line of time between RAMA, or the first Indian colony, and CHANDRABÍJA, the last Hindu monarch, who reigned in Behár; so that only eight hundred or a thousand years will remain almost wholly dark; and they must have been employed in raising empires or states, in framing laws, in improving languages and arts, and in observing the apparent motions of the celestial bodies. A Sanscrit history of the celebrated VICRAMÁDITYA was inspected at Banares by a Pandit, who would not have deceived me, and could not himself have been deceived; but the owner of the book is dead and his family dispersed; nor have my friends in that city been able, with all their exertions, to procure a copy of it: as to the Mogul conquests, with which modern Indian history begins, we have ample accounts of them in Persian, from [214] ALI of Yezd and the translations of Turkish books composed even by some of the conquerors, to GHULÁM HUSAIN (1), whom many of us personally know, and whose impartiality deserves the highest applause, though his unrewarded merit will give no encouragement to other contemporary historians, who, to use his own phrase in a letter to myself, may, like him, consider plain truth as the beauty of historical composition. From all there materials, and from there alone, a perfect history of India (if a mere compilation, however elegant, could deserve such a title) might be collected by any studious man, who had a competent knowledge of Sanscrit, Persian, and Arabick; but, even in the work of a writer so qualified, we could only give absolute credence to the general outline; for, while the abstract Sciences are all truth, ant, the fine arts all fiction, we cannot but own, that, in the details of history, truth and fiction are so blended as to be scarce distinguishable.

The practical use of history, in affording particular examples of civil and military wisdom, has been greatly exaggerated; but principles of action may certainly be collected from it; and even the narrative of wars and revolutions may serve as a lesson to nations and an admonition to sovereigns: a desire, indeed, of knowing past events, while the future cannot be known, and [215] a view of the present gives often more pain than delight, seems natural to the human mind; and a happy propensity would it be, if every reader of history would open his eyes to some very important corollaries, which flow from the whole extent of it. He could not but remark the constant effect of despotism in benumbing and debasing all those faculties, which distinguish men from the herd, that grazes; and to that cause he would impute the decided inferiority of most Asiatick nations, ancient and modern, to those in Europe, who are blest with happier governments; he would see the Arabs rising to glory, while they adhered to the free maxims of their bold ancestors, and sinking to misery from the moment, when those maxims were abandoned. On the other hand he would observe with regret, that such republican governments as tend to produce virtue and happiness, cannot in their nature be permanent, but are generally succeeded by Oligarchies, which no good man would wish to be durable. He would then, like the king of Lydia, remember SOLON, the wisest, bravest, and more accomplished of men, who asserts, in four nervous lines, that, "as hail and snow, which mar the labours of husbandmen, proceed from elevated clouds, and, as the destructive thunderbolt follows the brilliant flash, thus is a free state ruined by men [216] exalted in power and splendid in wealth, while the people, from gross ignorance, chuse rather to become the slaves of one tyrant, that they may escape from the domination of many, than to preserve themselves from tyranny of any kind by their union and their virtues". Since, therefore no unmixed form of government could both deserve permanence and enjoy it, and since changes even from the worst to the best, are always attended with much temporary mischief, he would fix on our British constitution (I mean our publick law, not the actual state of things in any given period) as the best form ever established, though we can only make distant approaches to its theoretical perfection. In these Indian territories, which providence has thrown into the arms of Britain for their protection and welfare, the religion, manners, and laws of the natives preclude even the idea of political freedom; but their histories may possibly suggest hints for their prosperity, while our country derives essential benefit from the diligence of a placid and submissive people, who multiply with such increase, even after the ravages of famine, that, in one collectorship out of twenty-four, and that by no means the largest or best cultivated (I mean Crishna-nagar) there have lately been found, by an actual enumeration, a million and three hundred thousand [217] native inhabitants; whence it should seem, that in all India there cannot now be fewer than thirty millions of black British subjects.

Let us proceed to geography and chronology, without which history would be no certain guide, but would resemble a kindled vapour without either a settled place or a steady light. For a reason before intimated I shall not name the various cosmographical books, which are extant in Arabick and Persian, nor give an account of those, which the Turks have beautifully printed in their own improved language, but shall expatiate a little on the geography and astronomy of India; having first observed generally, that all the Asiatick nations must be far better acquainted with their several countries than mere European scholars and travellers; that, consequently, we must learn their geography from their own writings; and that, by collating many copies of the same work, we may correct the blunders of transcribers in tables, names, and descriptions.

Geography, astronomy, and chronology have, in this part of Asia, shared the fate of authentick history, and, like that, have been so masked and bedecked in the fantastick robes of mythology and metaphor, that the real system of Indian philosophers and mathematicians can scarce be distinguished: an accurate knowledge of Sanscrit and a confidential intercourse with learned [218] Bráhmens, are the only means of separating truth from fable; and we may expect the more important discoveries from two of our members; concerning whom it may be safely averted, that, if our society would have produced no other advantage than the invitation given to them for the publick display of their talents, we would have a claim to the thanks of our country and of all Europe. Lieutenant WILFORD (2) has exhibited an interesting specimen of the geographical knowledge deducible from the Puránas, and will in time present you with so complete a treatise on the ancient world known to the Hindus, that the light acquired by the Greeks will appear but a glimmering in comparison of that, which He will diffuse; while Mr. DAVIS (3), who has given us a distinct idea of Indian computations and cycles, and ascertained the place of the colures at a time of great importance in history, will hereafter disclose the systems of Hindu astronomers from NÁRED and PARÁSAR to MEYA, VARÁHAMIHIR, and BHÁSCAR, and will soon, I trust, lay before you a perfect delineation of all the Indian asterisms in both hemispheres, where you will perceive so strong a general resemblance to the constellations of the Greeks, as to prove that the two systems were originally one and the fame, yet with such a diversity in parts, as to show incontestably [219], that neither system was copied from the other; whence it will follow, that they must have had some common source.

The jurisprudence of the Hindus and Arabs being the field, which I have chosen for my peculiar toil, you cannot expect, that I should greatly enlarge your collection of historical knowledge; but I may be able to offer you some occasional tribute, and I cannot help mentioning a discovery, which accident threw in my way; though my proofs must lie reserved for an essay, which I have delineated for the fourth volume of your Transactions. To fix the situation of that Palibothra (for there may have been several of the name), which was visited and described by MEGASTHENES had always appeared a very difficult problem; for, though it could not have been Prayága, where no ancient metropolis ever stood, nor Cányacubja, which has no epithet at all resembling the word used by the Greeks, nor Gaur, otherwife called Lacshmanavati, which all know to be a town comparatively modern, yet we could not confidently decide that it was Pátaliputra, though names and most circumstances nearly correspond, because that renowned capital extended from the confluence of the Sone and the Ganges to the scite of Patna, while Palibothra stood at the junction of the Ganges and Erannoboas, which [220] the accurate M. D’ANVILLE had pronounced to be the Yamunŕ: but this only difficulty was removed, when I found in a classical Sanscrit book, near two thousand years old, that Hiranyabáhu, or golden armed, which the Greeks changed into Erannoboas, or the river with a lovely murmur, was in fact another name for the Sona itself, though MEGASTHENES, from ignorance or inattention, has named them separately. This discovery led to another of greater moment; for CHANDRAGUPTA, who, from a military adventurer, became, like SANDRACOTTUS, the sovereign of upper Hindustŕn, actually fixed the seat of his empire at Pataliputra, where he received ambassadors from foreign princes, and was no other than that very SANDRACOTTUS, who concluded a treaty with SELEUCUS NICATOR; so that we have solved another problem, to which we before alluded, and may in round numbers consider the twelve and three hundredth years before CHRIST as two certain epochs between RÁMA, who conquered Silán a few centuries after the flood, and VICRAMÁDITYA, who died at Ujjayině fiftyseven years before the beginning of our era.

II. SINCE these discussions would lead us too far, I proceed to the history of Nature distinguished, for our present purpose, from that of Man; and divided into that of other animals [221] who inhabit this globe, of the mineral substances, which it contains, and of the vegetables, which so luxuriantly and so beautifully adorn it.

1. Could the figure, instincts, and qualities of birds, beasts, insects, reptiles, and fish be ascertained either on the plan of BUFFON, or on that of LINNĆUS, without giving pain to the objects of our examination, few studies would afford us more solid instruction or more exquisite delight; but I never could learn by what right, nor conceive with what feelings, a naturalist can occasion the misery of an innocent bird and leave its young, perhaps, to perish in a cold nest, because it has gay plumage and has never been accurately delineated, or deprive even a butterfly of its natural enjoyments, because it has the misfortune to be rare or beautiful; nor shall I ever forget the couplet of FIRDAUSI (4), for which SADI, who cites it with applause, pours blessings on his departed Spirit:

Ah! spare yon emmet, rich in hoarded grain

He lives with pleasure, and he dies with pain.

This may be only a confession of weakness, and it certainly is not meant as a boast of peculiar sensibility; but, whatever name may be given to my opinion, it has such an effect on my conduct, that I never would buffer the Cócila, whose wild native woodnotes announce the approach of [222] spring, to be caught in my garden for the sake of comparing it with BUFFON’S description; though I have often examined the domestick and engaging Mayanŕ, which bids us good morrow at our windows, and expects, as its reward, little more than security: even when a fine young Manis or Pangolin was brought me, against my will, from the mountains, I solicited his restoration to his beloved rocks, because I found it impossible to preserve him in comfort at a distance from them. There are several treatises on animals in Arabick, and very particular accounts of them in Chinese with elegant outlines of their external appearance; but I have met with nothing valuable concerning them in Persian, except what may be gleaned from the medical dictionaries; nor have I yet seen a book in Sanscrit, that expressly treats of them: on the whole, though rare animals may be found in all Asia, yet I can only recommend an examination of them with this condition, that they be left, as much as possible, in a state of natural freedom, or made as happy as possible, if it be necessary to keep them confined.

2. The history of minerals, to which no such objection can be made, is extremely simple and easy, if we merely consider their exterior look and configuration, and their visible texture; but the analysis of their internal properties belongs [223] particularly to the sublime researches of Chymistry, on which we may hope to find useful disquisitions in Sanscrit, since the old Hindus unquestionably applied themselves to that enchanting study; and even from their treatises on alchymy we may possibly collect the results of actual experiment, as their ancient astrological works have preserved many valuable facts relating to the Indian sphere and the precession of the equinox: both in Persian and Sanscrit there are books on metals and minerals, particularly on gems, which the Hindu philosophers considered (with an exception of the diamond) as varieties of one crystalline substance either simple or compound: but we must not expect from the chymists of Asia those beautiful examples of analysis which have but lately been displayed in the laboratories of Europe.

3. We now come to Botany, the loveliest and most copious division in the history of nature; and, all disputes on the comparative merit of systems being at length, I hope, condemned to one perpetual night of undisturbed slumber, we cannot employ our leisure more delightfully, than in describing all new Asiatick plants in the Linnœan style and method, or in correcting the descriptions of those already known, but of which dry specimens only, or drawings, can have been seen by most European botanists: in this [224] part of natural history we have an ample field yet unexplored; for, though many plants of Arabia have been made known by GARCIAS, PROSPER ALPINUS, and FORSKOëL, of Persia, by GARCIN, of Tartary, by GMELIN and PALLAS, of China and Japan, by KĆMPFER, OSBECK, and THUNBERG, of India, by RHEEDE and RUMPHIUS, the two BURMANS, and the much lamented KOENIG (5), yet none of those naturalists were deeply versed in the literature of the several countries, from which their vegetable treasures had been procured; and the numerous works in Sanscrit on medical substances, and chiefly on plants, have never been inspected, or never at leafs understood, by any European attached to the study of nature. Until the garden of the India Company shall be fully stored (as it will be, no doubt, in due time) with Arabian, Persian, and Chinese plants, we may well be satisfied with examining the native flowers of our own provinces; but, unless we can discover the Sanscrit names of all celebrated vegetables, we shall neither comprehend the allusions, which Indian poets perpetually make to them, nor (what is far worse) be able to find accounts of their tried virtues in the writings of Indian physicians; and (what is worst of all) we shall miss an opportunity, which never again may present itself; for the Pandits themselves have almost [225] wholly forgotten their ancient appellations of particular plants, and, with all my pains, I have not yet ascertained more than two hundred out of twice that number, which are named in their medical or poetical compositions. It is much to be deplored, that the illustrious VAN RHEEDE had no acquaintance with Sanscrit, which even his three Brahmens, who composed the short preface engraved in that language, appear to have understood very imperfectly, and certainly wrote with disgraceful inaccuracy: in all his twelve volumes I recollect only Punarnavŕ in which the Nágari letters are tolerably right; the Hindu words in Arabian characters are shamefully incorrect; and the Malabar, I am credibly informed, is as bad as the rest. His delineations, indeed, are in general excellent; and, though LINNĆUS himself could not extract from his written descriptions the natural character of every plant in the collection, yet we shall be able, I hope, to describe them all from the life, and to add a considerable number of new species, if not of new genera, which RHEEDE, with all his noble exertions, could never procure. Such of our learned members, as profess medicine, will, no doubt, cheerfully assist in these researches, either by their own observations, when they have leisure to make any, or by communications from other observers among their [226] acquaintance, who may reside in different parts of the country: and the mention of their art leads me to the various uses of natural substances, in the three kingdoms or classes to which they are generally reduced.

III. You cannot but have remarked, that almost all the sciences, as the French call them, which are distinguished by Greek names and arranged under the head of philosophy, belong for the most part to history; such are philology, chymistry, physicks, anatomy, and even metaphysicks, when we barely relate the phenomena of the human mind; for, in all branches of knowledge, we are only historians, when we announce facts, and philosophers, only when we reason on them: the same may be confidently said of law and of medicine, the first of which belongs principally to civil, and the second chiefly to natural, history. Here, therefore, I speak of medicine, as far only as it is grounded on experiment; and, without believing implicitly what Arabs, Persians, Chinese, or Hindus may have written on the virtues of medicinal substances, we may, surely, hope to find in their writings what our own experiments may con firm or disprove, and what might never have occurred to us without such intimations.

Europeans enumerate more than two hundred and fifty mechanical arts, by which the productions [227] of nature may be variously prepared for the convenience and ornament of life; and, though the Silpasástra reduce them to sixty-four, yet ABU’L FAZL (6) had been assured, that the Hindus reckoned three hundred arts and sciences: now, their sciences being comparatively few, we may conclude, that they anciently practised at least as many useful arts as ourselves. Several Pandits have informed me, that the treatises on art, which they call Upavédas and believe to have been inspired, are not so entirely lost, but that considerable fragments of them may be found at Banares; and they certainly posses many popular, but ancient, works on that interesting subject. The manufactures of sugar and indigo have been well known in these provinces for more than two thousand years; and we cannot entertain a doubt, that their Sanscrit books on dying and metallurgy contain very curious facts, which might, indeed, be discovered by accident in a long course of years, but which we may soon bring to light, by the help of Indian literature, for the benefit of manufacturers and artists, and consequently of our nation, who are interested in their prosperity. Discoveries of the same kind might be collected from the writings of other Asiatick nations, especially of the Chinese; but, though Persian, Arabick, Turkish and Sanscrit are languages now so accessible, that [228] in order to obtain a sufficient knowledge of them, little more seems required than a strong inclination to learn them, yet the supposed number and intricacy of the Chinese characters have deterred our most diligent students from attempting to find their way through so vast a labyrinth: it is certain, however, that the difficulty has been magnified beyond the truth; for the perspicuous grammar by M. FOURMONT (7), together with a copious dictionary, which I possess, in Chinese and Latin, would enable any man, who pleased, to compare the original works of CONFUCIUS, which are easily procured, with the literal translation of them by COUPLET (8); and, having made that first step with attention, he would probably find, that he had traversed at least half of his career. But I should be led beyond the limits assigned to me on this occasion, if I were to expatiate farther on the historical division of the knowledge comprised in the literature of Asia; and I must postpone till next year my remarks on Asiatick philosophy and on those arts, which depend on imagination; promising you with confidence, that, in the course of the present year, your inquiries into the civil and natural history of this eastern world will be greatly promoted by the learned labours of many among our associates and correspondents.


Editorial Note

The dissertation On Asiatick History (1793) was first printed in the Asiatick Researches, vol. IV, 1794, pp. 1-17. We have used the text contained in The Works of Sir William Jones. With a Life of the Author, by Lord Teignmouth [John Shore], London, printed for John Stockdale and John Walker, 1807, 13 vols. in-8°, vol. III, pp. 205-228 [copy preserved in the Library of the Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, shelfmark: 138.407-419].
We have retained the original ortographical and typographycal conventions. Page numbers in bold characters in brackets are those of the above cited edition. Annotations is by the Editor.
This edition is part of an initiative tending to produce a large electronic publication of the most important works by the eminent English orientalist and lawyer sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatick Society of Bengal (1784). It springs from the wish to propose some of the outstanding documents of the European reflection on non-European civilisations as impelled by XVIIth-XVIIIth century commercial, colonial and imperial expansion in Asia.
HTML edition by Guido Abbattista for Eliohs (June 1999).

(1) Jones is alluding here respectively to Sharaf-uddin Ali Yezdi and to Ghulam Husain Khan. The first lived at the court of Sultan Ibrahim, son of Shahrukh Mirza, at whose request he wrote Zafarnama, or Tarikh Sahid Quivari, a history of the conqueror Timaur (Tamerlan) achieved in 1425 AD. This work was translated by Pétis de la Croix. Aly Yezdi may be considered the panegyrist of Timaur, while the work of Ahmad-inb Arabshah is a corse satyre on that conqueror. He is the author also of Sharb Burda. Ghulam Husain Khan of Bengal, author of the Persian history called Riyad-al-salatin (chronogramme of 1207 AH/1792-93 AD, date of its achievement) written about the year 1780 AD. Ghulam, a native of Awadh, in the northern part of the Indian peninsula, migrated near to the English factry of New Malda, in Bengal, where he became collector of revenue at the time when George Udney was commercial resident of the East India Company. It was on demand of the latter that Ghulam wrote the above mentioned history of Bengal, whose English translation was published as The Riyaz-al-salatin by Maulan Abdul Salam in Calcutta, 1902-1904. Ghulam, who was also a member of the native court of judicature under the Nawab Ali-Ibrahim Khan, just in the years when Jones was in Bengal, died 1233/1817 (see Henry George Keene, An Oriental Biographical Dictionary, founded on materials collected by the late Thomas William Beale. A New Edition revised and enlarged, London, W. H. Allen, 1894, Kraus Reprint, Millwood, NY, 1980, pp. 379 and 144; on Ghulaim see also Encyclopédie de l’Islam. Nouvelle édition sous la direction de B. Lweis, Ch. Pellat et J. Schacht, Leyde, E. J. Brill, Paris, G.-P. Maisonneuve, 1965, vol. II, p. 1118.

(2) Francis Wilford (1750/51-1822), a Lieutenant in the survey service in India, was member of the Bengal Engineers, worked in the surveyor general's office (1783-88), then participated to the Benares survey (1788-94) and after 1800 was secretary of the Benares Sanskrit College (for the context of his activity see Matthew Edney, Mapping an Empire. The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843, Chicago, Ill., The University of Chicago Press, 1999, pp. 82, 137 and 348). He was author of a long essay "On the Chronology of the Hindus", published in the Asiatick Researches, vol. IV, 1793, pp. 241-295. The problem of Hindu ancient chronology had already attracted William Jones, that had composed an essay thereon, called "On the Chronology of the Hindus", written in 1788, printed in the Asiatick Researches, II, 1790, pp. 111-147 and reprinted in Jones’ Works, IV, pp. 1 ff. (see the same text in The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century, ed. P. J. Marshall, Cambridge, 1970).

(3) Samuel Davis (1760-1819), a district judge in Bengal, was the author of "On the Indian Cycle of Sixty Years", in Asiatick Researches, vol. III, 1792, pp. 209-227.

(4) Firdausi is the great Persian poet, who lived between 931 and 1020. Called also The Homer of Persia, Firdausi is known for his Shahnamah, composed at the request of Sultan Muhammad of Ghazna. Founded on the Bastah Namah, the materials (chronicles, traditions, histories) collected by order of the last Sasanid king of Persia Yezdyard III, it contains the annals of the ancient kings of Persia from the reign of Kaiomur to the death of Yezdyard III (641 AD). The Sadi mentioned a little farther is Sadi Shaikh, a Persian poet born at Shiraz in 1175 AD, died in 1292; he was the author of Ghulistan, that was translated into English by Francis Gladwin, a member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and intimate friend of Jones, at the end of the XVIIIth century.

(5) Jones is making here reference to the works by several naturalists and travellers. Prosper Alpinus was an Italian physician and botanist, born in 1553; student at the university of Padoua, he was a member of the expedition of the Venetian consul in Egypt Georg Ems from 1580 to 1584; physician onboard the Spanish fleet commanded by Gian Andrea Doria, he became professor of botanical sciences in Padoua, where he died in 1617; among his works, De plantiis Ćgyptii, Venetiis, 1592 and, posthumously published, Historia naturalis Ćgyptii Libri IV, Lugduni Batavorum, 1735. Jan (1707-1780) and Nicholas Laurent (1734-1793) Burmann, respectively father and son, were two Dutch botanists who contributed to the knowledge of Asian and American flora. Jan Burmann was the author of Thesaurus Zeylanicus, exhibens plantas in insula Zeylana nascentes, Amsterdam, 1737, in-4° and of Flora Malabarica, sive Index in omnes tomos Horti Malabarici, Amsterdam, 1769, in-fol.; and edited Rumphius Herbarium Amboinense (q. v.); he was director of the botanical garden of Amsterdam and one of the founders of that of Batavia; Nicholas Laurent succeeded his father on the chair of botanical science in Amsterdam and was editor of Flora Indić: accedit series zoophytorum Indicorum, Leyde, 1768, in-4°; he was in relationship with many scientists of his time and it was he who persuaded Thunberg (q. v.) to leave for the Cape of Good Hope and Japan. Peter Forskoël (1736-1763) was a remarkable Swedish naturalist and traveller, friend of Linnćus and member of the Danish expedition of Carsten Niebhur, van Haven and Cramer in Egypt and Arabia; among his works, Flora Ćgyptiaca-Arabica, Copenhaguen,1775, in-4°, and Icones rerum natuiralium quas in itinere orientale depingi curavit, Copenhaguen, 1776, in-4°; Garcin is probably the French naturalist Laurent Garcin (1683-1752 ca.), born in Grenoble, who studied medecine at Reims and served as a calvinist preacher onboard a vessel of the French Compagnie des Indes Orientales, before settling at Neuchâtel as a Huguenot refugee. Botanist, physician and scholar, he travelled in the region of the Cape of Good Hope, India and Malaysia, and was the author of several essays of natural history published in the Journal helvétique, 1735-1748; he contributed also to Savary de Bruslons’ Dictionnaire de Commerce (see Dictionnaire de Biographie française, sous la direction de M. Prevost, Romand d’Amat, H. Tribout de Morembert, Paris, Letouzey, 1982, vol. XV, col. 387). Johan Georg Gmelin (1709-1755) is the German botanist who participated with G. F. Müller and Delisle de la Croyčre to the Russian expedition in Siberia in the years 1733-1743; he was author of Flora Sibirica, sive historia plantarum Sibirić, St. Petersburg, 1747-70, 4 vols. in-4° and of Voyage en Sibérie fait pendant les années 1733-43 [...] traduction de l’allemand par M. de Kéralio, Paris, Desaint, 1767, 2 vols. en 8° (German original, 1747); Engelbert Kćmpfer (1651-1716) was a German traveller, naturalist and physician; after a long journey in northern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, he was in Egypt, Arabia, Persia, India, Dutch Indies and Japan. He wrote important works, such as Herbarii trans-Gangetici specimen, in-fol., Icones selectarum plantarum quas in Japonia collegit et delineavit Eng. Kaempfer (London, 1691), Amoenitarum exoticarum politico-physico-meedicarum fasciculi V (Lemgo, 1712) and most of all The History of Japan (London, 1727, 2 vols. in-fol.). Johan Gerhardt Koenig (1728-1785) was a Danish botanist trained in Sweden at the school of Linnćus. He travelled extensively in the East Indies, especially in India. Peter Osbeck (1722-1805), a Swedish traveller formed as well at the Linnćan school of natural history, was in Asia during the fifties and published a Voyage aux Indes orientales fait dans les années 1750, 51, 52, avec des observations sur l’histoire naturelle, la langue, les moeurs, l’économie domestique des peuples étrangers, Stockholm, 1757, in-8°; as a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences he wrote several dissertations and memoirs of natural history published in the Transactions of the Swedish Academy. Peter Simon Pallas is the traveller and scientist author of Voyage du Professeur Pallas dans plusieurs provinces de l’Empire de Russie et dans l’Asie septentrionale, Paris, 1778-93, 5 vols. in-4° (German original, 1776). Heinrich Adrien Draakenstein van Rheede was a Dutch naturalist active between the second half of the XVIIth and the first years of the XVIIIth century; he was an administrator of the VOC and became governor general of the Dutch possessions in Malabar; his fondness for natural history led him to compose and publish a Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, 1678-1703, 12 vols. in-fol. Georg Rumphius (1626-1693), German botanist, lived for a long time in the Dutch East Indies, in particular in the Sonda isles; he wrote, but did not publish during his lifetime, a civil history of Amboina. He dedicated most of his energies to natural history; he corresponded widely since 1683 onwards with many scientists and authors residing in the Indies and his letters were collected by Michel-Bernard Valentjin in the India litterata; his major work was published only forty years after his death by Jan Burmann as Amboinese Herbal, 1741-55, 7 vols. in fol.; before it had been published his D’Amboinische Rariteitkamer, in Dutch (Amsterdam, 1705). Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828), a Swedish naturalist disciple and then successor to Linnćus as professor of botanical sciences at Upsala, was the author of Travels in Europe, Africa and Asia (in Swedish, 1788-93, 4 vols. in-8°), particularly interesting for a sound portrayal of Japanese culture, that Thunberg experienced personally during a one-year residence in Japan between June 1775 and June 1776; another fruit of this stay was the Flora Japonica (1784) and Icones plantarum Japonicarum (1794-1805, in-fol.). This voyage relation contains also an interesting description of the region of the Cape of Good Hope, whose knowledge from a naturalistic standpoint led to the composition of Flora capensis, Stuttgart, 1823, in-8°). All these notices are drawn from the Biographie universelle, save otherwise stated. Unfortunately we have not been able to identify "Garcias".

(6) Abu’l Fazl, first minister and royal historiographer of the Moghul emperor Akbar, lived in the second half of the XVIth century in India and died in 1013 Heg. (1604 A. D.). He composed by order of Akbar a historical work intitled Akbar-Namah (Book of Akbar), 3 vols. in-fol., including a distinct, independent work, the Ayin-i-Akbari (Institutes of Akbar), containing a geographical, physical, military, administrative and historical description of Hindostan. An English translation of the latter work was made by Francis Gladwin and published in Calcutta (1783-86). Abu-l Fazl was also a translator from Sanscrit into Persian of works like Hitopadesa by Vishnu Sarma.

(7) Etienne Fourmont (1683-1745) was one of the most active French erudite of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Professor of Arabic language at the Collčge Royale since 1719, he studied particularly the Chinese language and literature and published one Grammatica sinica (1742) and five dictionaries, amounting to a total of seventeen volumes in folio. He was author also of Réflexions critiques sur les histoires des anciens peuples (Paris, 1735, 2 vols. in-4°).

(8) Le Pčre Philippe Couplet was a Flemish Jesuit missionary in China at the end of the XVIIth century and author of Tabula chronologica trium familiarum imperialium monarchić sinicć a Hoam Ti primo gentis imperatore, Parisiis, ex Bibliotheca Regia, 1686, a fundamental work for fixing the Jesuit attitude toward the chronological problems posed by ancient Chinese history: with its conclusion, according to which biblical history was indispensable to explain the uncertainties of Chinese history, "la chronologie du P. Couplet devient une sorte de catéchisme ŕ l’usage des futurs missionnaires" (V. Pinot, La Chine et la formation de l’esprit philosophique en France (1640-1740), Genčve, 1971, p. 215). Couplet must be remembered also for his translations – with the cooperation of the RR. PP. Intorcetta and Rougemont – of Confucius’ maxims with the title Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, Parisiis, 1687. Together with the Lettres édifiantes et curieuses and Du Halde’s Description de l’empire de la Chine (Paris, 1735, 4 vols. in-fol.), Couplet’s Confucius is one of the most important products of Jesuit literature on China and one of the works that most influenced the XVIIIth-century European image of China, in particular for the idea that the ancient Chinese believed in a personal God, creator of the world.