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Sir William Jones

Sir William Jones

The Third Anniversary Discourse delivered 2 February 1786.
By
the President

[on the Hindus]

William Jones, «The Third Anniversary Discourse» (delivered 2 February, 1786, by the President, at the Asiatick Society of Bengal),
URL http://www.unifi.it/testi/700/jones/Jones_Discourse_3.htmll
Html edition for Eliohs by Guido Abbattista (July 1999)

[Editorial Note]

In the former discourses, which I had the honour of addressing to you, Gentlemen, on the institution and objects of our Society, I confined myself purposely to general topicks; giving in the first a distant prospect of the vast career, on which we were entering, and, in the second, exhibiting a more diffuse, but still superficial, sketch of the various discoveries in History, Science, and Art, which we might justly expect from our inquiries into the literature of Asia. I now propose to fill up that outline so comprehensively as to omit nothing essential, yet so concisely as to avoid being tedious; and, if the state of my health shall suffer me to continue long enough in this climate, it is my design, with your permission, to prepare for our annual meetings a series of short dissertations, unconnected in their titles and subjects, but all tending [25] to a common point of no small importance in the pursuit of interesting truths.

Of all the works, which have been published in our own age, or, perhaps, in any other, on the History of the Ancient World, and the first population of this habitable globe, that of Mr. JACOB BRYANT (1), whom I name with reverence and affection, has the best claim to the praise of deep erudition ingeniously applied, and new theories happily illustrated by an assemblage of numberless converging rays from a most extensive circumference: it falls, nevertheless, as every human work must fall, short of perfection; and the least satisfactory part of it seems to be that, which relates to the derivation of words from Asiatick languages. Etymology has, no doubt, some use in historical researches; but it is a medium of proof so very fallacious, that, where it elucidates one fact, it obscures a thousand, and more frequently borders on the ridiculous, than leads to any solid conclusion: it rarely carries with it any internal power of conviction from a resemblance of sounds or similarity of letters; yet often, where it is wholly unassisted by those advantages, it may be indisputably proved by extrinsick evidence. We know a posteriori, that both fitz and hijo, by the nature of two several dialects, are derived from filius; that Uncle comes from avus, and stranger from extra; that jour [26] is deducible, through the Italian, from dies; and rossignol from luscinia, or the singeri in groves; that sciuro, écureil, and squirrel are compounded of two Greek words descriptive of the animal; which etymologies, though they could not have been demonstrated à priori, might serve to confirm, if any such confirmation were necessary, the proofs of a connection between the members of one great Empire; but, when we derive our hanger, or short pendent sword, from the Persian, because ignorant travellers thus mispell the word khanjar, which in truth means a different weapon, or sandal-wood from the Greek, because we suppose, that sandals were sometimes made of it, we gain no ground in proving the affinity of nations, and only weaken arguments, which might otherwise be firmly supported. That Cu’s then, or, as it certainly is written in one ancient dealer, Cu’t, and in others, probably, Ca’s, enters into the composition of many proper names, we may very reasonably believe; and that Algeziras takes its name from the Arabick word for an island, cannot be doubted; but, when we are told from Europe, that places and provinces in India were clearly denominated from those words, we cannot but observe, in the first instance, that the town, in which we now are assembled, is properly written and pronounced Calicátà; that [27] both Cátá and Cút unquestionably mean places of strength, or, in generals any inclosures; and that Gujaràt is at least as remote from Jezirah in sound, as it is in situation.

Another exception (and a third could hardly be discovered by any candid criticism) to the Analysis of Ancient Mythology, is, that the method of reasoning and arrangement of topicks adopted in that learned work are not quite agreeable to the title, but almost wholly sinthetical; and, though synthesis may be the better mode in pure Science, where the principles are undeniable, yet it seems less calculated to give complete satisfaction in historical disquisitions, where every postulatum will perhaps be refused, and every definition controverted: this may seem a slight objection, but the subject is in itself so interesting, and the full conviction of all reasonable men so desirable, that it may not be lost labour to discuss the same or a similar theory in a method purely analytical, and, after beginning with facts of general notoriety or undisputed evidence, to investigate such truths, as are at first unknown or very imperfectly discerned.

The five principal nations, who have in different ages divided among themselves, as a kind of inheritance, the vast continent of Asia, with the many islands depending on it, are the Indians, the Chinese, the Tartars, the Arabs, and [28] the Persians: who they severally were, whence, and when they came, where they now are settled, and what advantage a more perfect knowledge of them all may bring to our European world, will be shown, I trust, in five distinct essays; the last of which will demonstrate the connexion or diversity between them, and solve the great problem, whether they had any common origin, and whether that origin was the same, which we generally ascribe to them.

I begin with India, not because I find reason to believe it the true centre of population or of knowledge, but, because it is the country, which we now inhabit, and from which we may best survey the regions around us; as, in popular language, we speak of the rising sun, and of his progress through the Zodiack, although it had long ago been imagined, and is now demonstrated, that he is himself the centre of our planetary system. Let me here premise, that, in all these inquiries concerning the history of India, I shall confine my researches downwards to the Mohammedan conquests at the beginning of the eleventh century, but extend them upwards, as high as possible, to the earliest authentick records of the human species.

India then, on its most enlarged scale, in which the ancients appear to have understood it, comprises an area of near forty degrees on each [29] side, including a space almost as large as all Europe; being divided on the west from Persia by the Arachosian mountains, limited on the east by the Chinese part of the farther peninsula, confined on the north by the wilds of Tartary, and extending to the south as far as the isles of Java. This trapezium, therefore, comprehends the stupendous hills of Potyid or Tibet, the beautiful valley of Cashmir, and all the domains of the old Indoscythians, the countries of Nepál and Butánt, Cámrùp or Asàm, together with Siam, Ava, Racan, and the bordering kingdoms, as far as the Chína of the Hindus or Sín of the Arabian Geographers; not to mention the whole western peninsula with the celebrated island of Sinhala, or Lion-like men, at its southern extremity. By India, in short, I mean that whole extent of country, in which the primitive religion and languages of the Hindus prevail at this day with more or less of their ancient purity, and in which the Nágarì letters are still used with more or less deviation from their original form.

The Hindus themselves believe their own country, to which they give the vain epithets of Medhyama or Central, and Punyabhúmi, or the Land of Virtues, to have been the portion of Bharat, one of nine brothers, whose father had the dominion of the whole earth; and they [30] represent the mountains of Himálaya as lying to the north, and, to the west, those of Vindhya, called also Vindian by the Greeks; beyond which the Sindhu runs in several branches to the sea and meets it nearly opposite to the point of Dwáracà, the celebrated seat of their Shepherd God: in the south-east they place the great river Saravatya; by which they probably mean that of Ava, called also Airávati in part of its course, and giving perhaps its ancient name to the gulf of Sabara. This domain of Bharat they consider as the middle of the Jambudwípa, which the Tibetians also call the Land of Zambu; and the appellation is extremely remarkable; for Jambu is the Sanscrit name of a delicate fruit called Jáman by the Muselmans, and by us rose-apple; but the largest and richest sort is named Amrita, or Immortal; and the Mythologists of Tibet apply the same word to a celestial tree bearing ambrosial fruit, and adjoining to four vast rocks, from which as many sacred rivers derive their Several streams.

The inhabitants of this extensive tract are described by Mr. LORD with great exactness, and with a picturesque elegance peculiar to our ancient language: "A people, says he, presented themselves to mine eyes, clothed in linen garments somewhat low descending, of a gesture and garb, as I may say, maidenly and well [31] nigh effeminate, of a countenance shy and somewhat estranged, yet smiling out a glozed and bashful familiarity". Mr. ORME, the historian of India, who unites an exquisite taste for every fine art with an accurate knowledge of Asiatick manners, observes, in his elegant preliminary Dissertation, that this "country has been inhabited from the earlier antiquity by a people, who have no resemblance, either in their figure or manners, with any of the nations contiguous to them, and that, although conquerors have established themselves at different times in different parts of India, yet the original inhabitants have lost very little of their original character". The ancients, in fact, give a description of them, which our early travellers confirmed, and our own personal knowledge of them nearly verifies; as you will perceive from a passage in the Geographical Poem of Dionysius, which the Analyst of Ancient Mythology has translated with great spirit:

" To th’east a lovely country wide extends,

" INDIA, whose borders the wide ocean bounds;

" On this the fun, new rising from the main,

" Smiles pleas’d, and sheds his early orient beam.

" Th’ inhabitants are swart, and in their locks

" Betray the tints of the dark hyacinth.

" Various their functions; some the rock explore,

" And from the mine extract the latent gold;

" Some labour at the woof with cunning skill,

[32]

" And manufacture linen; others shape

" And polish iv’ry with the nicest care:

" Many retire to rivers shoal, and plunge

" To seek the beryl flaming in its bed,

" Or glittering diamond. Oft the jasper’s found

" Green, but diaphanous; the topaz too

" Of ray serene and pleading; last of all

" The lovely amethyst, in which combine

" All the mild shades of purple. The rich foil,

" Wash’d by a thousand rivers, from all sides

" Pours on the natives wealth without control."

Their sources of wealth are still abundant even after so many revolutions and conquests, in their manufactures of cotton they still surpass all the world; and their features have, most probably, remained unaltered since the time of DIONYSIUS; nor can we reasonably doubt, how degenerate and abased so ever the Hindus may now appear, that in some early age they were splendid in arts and arms, happy in government, wise in legislation, and eminent in various knowledge: but, since their civil history beyond the middle of the nineteenth century from the present time, is involved in a cloud of fables, we seem to possess only four general media of satisfying our curiosity concerning it; namely, first, their Languages and Letters; secondly, their Philosophy and Religion; thirdly, the actual remains of their old Sculpture and Architecture; and fourthly, the written memorials of their Sciences and Arts.

[33] I. It is much to be lamented, that neither the Greeks, who attended ALEXANDER into India, nor those who were long connected with it under the Bactrian Princes, have left us any means of knowing with accuracy, what vernacular languages they found on their arrival in this Empire. The Mohammedans, we know, heard the people of proper Hindustan, or India on a limited scale, speaking a Báshá, or living tongue of a very singular construction, the purest dialect of which was current in the districts round Agrà, and chiefly on the poetical ground of Mat’hurà; and this is commonly called the idiom of Vraja. Five words in six, perhaps, of this language were derived from the Sanscrit, in which books of religion and Science were composed, and which appears to have been formed by an exquisite grammatical arrangement, as the name itself implies, from some unpolished idiom; but the basis of the Hindustáni, particularly the inflexions and regimen of verbs, differed as widely from both those tongues, as Arabick differs from Persian, or German from Greek. Now the general effect of conquest is to leave the current language of the conquered people unchanged, or very little altered, in its ground-work, but to blend with it a considerable number of exotick names both for things and for actions; as it happened in every country, that I can [34] recollect, where the conquerors have not preserved their own tongue unmixed with that of the natives, like the Turks in Greece, and the Saxons in Britain; and this analogy might induce us to believe, that the pure Hindì, whether of Tartarian or Chaldean origin, was primeval in Upper India, into which the Sansicrit was introduced by conquerors from other kingdoms in some very remote age; for we cannot doubt that the language of the Vèda’s was used in the great extent of country, which has before been delineated, as long as the religion of Brahma has prevailed in it.

The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists: there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothick and the Celtick, though blended with a very different idiom, had the fame origin with the Sanscrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family, if [35] this were the place for discussing any question concerning the antiquities of Persia.

The characters, in which the languages of India were originally written, are called Nágarí, from Nagara, a city with the word Déva sometimes prefixed, because they are believed to have been taught by the Divinity himself, who prescribed the artificial order of them in a voice from heaven. These letters, with no greater variation in their form by the change of straight lines to curves, or conversely, than the Cufick alphabet has received in its way to India, are still adopted in more than twenty kingdoms and states, from the borders of Cashgar and Khoten, to Ráma’s bridge, and from the Sindhu to the river of Siam; nor can I help believing, although the polished and elegant Dévanágari may not be so ancient as the monumental characters in the caverns of Jarasandha, that the square Chaldaick letters, in which most Hebrew books are copied, were originally the same, or derived from the same prototype, both with the Indian and Arabian characters: that the Phenician, from which the Greek and Roman alphabets were formed by various changes and inversions, had a similar origin, there can be little doubt; and the inscriptions at Canárah, of which you now posses a most-accurate copy, seem to be compounded of Nágarí and Ethiopick [36] letters, which bear a close relation to each other, both in the mode of writing from the left hand, and in the singular manner of connecting the vowels with the consonants. These remarks may favour an opinion entertained by many, that all the symbols of sound, which at first, probably, were only rude outlines of the different organs of speech, had a common origin: the symbols of ideas, now used in China and Japan, and formerly, perhaps, in Egypt and Mexico, are quite of a distinct nature; but it is very remarkable, that the order of sounds in the Chinese grammars corresponds nearly with that observed in Tibet, and hardly differs from that, which the Hindus consider as the invention of their Gods.

II. Of the Indian Religion and Philosophy, I shall here say but little; because a full account of each would require a separate volume: it will be sufficient in this dissertation to assume, what might be proved beyond controversy, that we now live among the adorers of those very deities, who were worshipped under different names in old Greece and Italy, and among the professors of those philosophical tenets, which the Ionick and Attick writers illustrated with all the beauties of their melodious language. On one hand we see the trident of Neptune, the eagle of` Jupiter, the satyrs of Bacchus, the bow of Cupid, [37] and the chariot of the Sun; on another we hear the cymbals of Rhea, the songs of the Muses, and the pastoral tales of Apollo Nomius. In more retired scenes, in groves, and in seminaries of learning, we may perceive the Bráhmans and the Sarmanes, mentioned by Clemens, disputing in the forms of logick, or discoursing on the vanity of human enjoyments, on the immortality of the soul, her emanation from the eternal mind, her debasement, wanderings, and final union with her source. The six philosophical schools, whose principles are explained in the Dersana Sàstra, comprise all the metaphysicks of the old Academy, the Stoa, the Lyceum; nor is it possible to read the Védánta, or the many fine compositions in illustration of it, without believing, that Pythagoras and Plato derived their sublime theories from the same fountain with the sages of India. The Scythian and Hyperborean doctrines and mythology may also be traced in every part of these eastern regions; nor can we doubt, that Wod or Oden, whose religion, as the northern historians admit, was introduced into Scandinavia by a foreign race, was the same with Buddh, whose rites were probably imported into India nearly at the same time, though received much later by the Chinese, who soften his name into Fo’.

TO may be a proper place to ascertain an [38] important point in the Chronology of the Hindus, for the priests of Buddha left in Tibet and China the precise epoch of his appearance, real or imagined, in this Empire; and their information, which had been preserved in writing, was compared by the Christian Missionaries and Scholars with our own era. Couplet, De Guignes, Giorgi, and Bailly, differ a little in their accounts of this epoch, but that of Couplet seems the most correct: on taking, however, the medium of the four several dates, we may fix the time of Buddha, or the ninth great incarnation of Vishnu, in the year one thousand and fourteen before the birth of Christ, or two thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine years ago. Now the Cáshmirians, who boast of his descent in their kingdom, assert that he appeared on earth about two centuries after Crishna the Indian Apollo, who took so decided a part in the war of the Mahábhárat; and, if an etymologist were to suppose, that the Athenians had embellished their poetical history of Pandion’s expulsion and the restoration of Ægeus with the Asiatick tale of the Pándus and Yudhishtir, neither of which words they could have articulated, I should not hastily deride his conjecture: certain it is, that Pándumandel is called by the Greeks the country of Pandion, We have, therefore, determined another interesting [39] epoch, by fixing the age of Crishna near the three thousandth year from the present time; and, as the three first Avatàrs, or descents of Vishnu, relate no less clearly to an Universal Deluge, in which eight persons only were saved, than the fourth and fifth do to the punishment of impiety and the humiliation of the proud, we may for the present assume, that the second, or silver, age of the Hindus was subsequent to the dispersion from Babel; so that we have only a dark interval of about a thousand years, which were employed in the settlement of nations, the foundation of states or empires, and the cultivation of civil society. The great incarnate Gods of this intermediate age are both named Ráma but with different epithets; one of whom bears a wonderful resemblance to the Indian Bacchus, and his wars are the subject of several heroick poems. He is represented as a descendent from Súrya, or the Sun, as the husband of Sítá, and the son of a princess named Caúselyá: it is very remarkable, that the Peruvians, whose Incas boasted of the same descent, styled their greatest festival Ramasitoa; whence we may suppose, that South America was peopled by the same race, who imported into the farthest parts of Asia the rites and fabulous history of Ráma. These rites and this history are extremely curious; and, although I cannot believe [40] with Newton, that ancient mythology was nothing but historical truth in a poetical dress, nor, with Bacon, that it consisted solely of moral and metaphysical allegories, nor with Bryant, that all the heathen divinities are only different attributes and representations of the Sun or of deceased progenitors, but conceive that the whole system of religious fables rose, like the Nile, from several distinct sources, yet I cannot but agree, that one great spring and fountain of all idolatry in the four quarters of the globe was the veneration paid by men to the vast body of fire, which "looks from his sole dominion like the God of this world"; and another, the immoderate respect shown to the memory of powerful or virtuous ancestors, especially the founders of kingdoms, legislators, and warriors, of whom the Sun or the Moon were wildly supposed to be the parents.

III. The remains of architecture and sculpture in India, which I mention here as mere monuments of antiquity, not as specimens of ancient art, seem to prove an early connection between this country and Africa: the pyramids of Egypt, the colossal statues described by Pausanias and others, the sphinx, and the Hermes Cnies, which last bears a great resemblance to the Varáhvatár, or the incarnation of Vishnu in the form of a Boar, indicate the style and mythology of the [41] same indefatigable workmen, who formed the vast excavations of Cánárah, the various temples and images of Buddha, and the idols, which are continually dug up at Gayá, or in its vicinity. The letters on many of those monuments appear, as I have before intimated, partly of Indian, and partly of Abyssinian or Ethiopick, origin; and all these indubitable facts may induce no ill-grounded opinion, that Ethiopia and Hindustàn were peopled or colonized by the same extraordinary race; in confirmation of which, it may be added, that the mountaineers of Bengal and Bahàr can hardly be distinguished in some of their features, particularly their lips and noses, from the modern Abyssinians, whom the Arabs call the children of Cúsh; and the ancient Hindus, according to Strabo, differed in nothing from the Africans, but in the straitness and smoothness of their hair, while that of the others was crisp or woolly; a difference proceeding chiefly, if not entirely, from the respective humidity or dryness of their atmospheres: hence the people who received the first light of the rising sun, according to the limited knowledge of the ancients, are said by Apuleius to be the Arü and Ethiopians, by which he clearly meant certain nations of India; where we frequently see figures of Buddha with [42] curled hair apparently designed for a representation of it in its natural state.

IV. It is unfortunate, that the Silpi Sástra, or collection of treatises on Arts and Manufactures, which must have contained a treasure of useful information on dying, painting, and metallurgy, has been so long neglected, that few, if any, traces of it are to be found; but the labours of the Indian loom and needle have been universally celebrated; and fine linen is not improbably supposed to have been called Sindon, from the name of the river near which it was wrought in the highest perfection: the people of Colchis were also famed for this manufacture, and the Egyptians yet more, as we learn from several passages in scripture, and particularly from a beautiful chapter in Ezekial containing the most authentick delineation of ancient commerce, of which Tyre had been the principal mart. Silk was fabricated immemorially by the Indians, though commonly ascribed to the people of Serica or Tancùt, among whom probably the word Sèr, which the Greeks applied to the silk-worm, signified gold; a sense, which it now bears in Tibet. That the Hindus were in early ages a commercial people, we have many reasons to believe; and in the first of their sacred law-tracts, which they suppose to have been revealed [43] by Menu many millions of years ago, we find a curious passage on the legal interest of money, and the limited rate of it in different cases, with an exception in regard to adventures at sea; an exception, which the sense of mankind approves, and which commerce absolutely requires, though it was not before the reign of Charles I that our own jurisprudence fully admitted it in respect of maritime contracts.

We are told by the Grecian writers, that the Indians were the wisest of nations; and in moral wisdom, they were certainly eminent: their Níti Sástra, or System of Ethicks, is yet preserved and the Fables of Vishnuserman, whom we ridiculously call Pilpay, are the most beautiful, if not the most ancient, collection of apologues in the world: they were first translated from the Sanscrit, in the sixth century, by the order of Buzerchumihr, or Bright as the Sun, the chief physician and afterwards Vézír of the great Anúshíreván, and are extant under various names in most than twenty languages; but their original title is Hitópadésa, or Amicable Instruction; and, as the very existence of Esop, whom the Arabs believe to have been an Abyssinian, appears rather doubtful, I am not disinclined to suppose that the first moral fables, which appeared in Europe, were of Indian or Ethiopian origin.

[44] The Hindus are said to have boasted of three inventions, all of which, indeed, are admirable, the method of instructing by apologues, the decimal scale adopted now by all civilized nations, and the game of Chess, on which they have some curious treatises; but, if their numerous works on Grammar, Logick, Rhetorick, Musick, all which are extant and accessible, were explained in some language generally known, it would be found, that they had yet higher pretensions to the praise of a fertile and inventive genius. Their lighter Poems are lively and elegant; their Epick, magnificent and sublime in the highest degree; their Puránás comprise a series of mythological histories in blank verse from the Creation to the supposed incarnation of Buddha; and their Midas, as far as we can judge from that compendium of them, which is called Upanishat, abound with noble speculations in metaphysicks, and find discourses on the being and attributes of God. Their most ancient medical book, entitled Chereca, is believed to be the work of Siva; for each of the divinities in their Triad has at least one sacred composition ascribed to him; but, as to mere human works on History and Geography, though they are said to be extant in Cashmír, it has not been yet in my power to procure them. What their astronomical and mathematical writings contain, will [45] not, I trust, remain long a secret: they are easily procured, and their importance cannot be doubted. The Philosopher, whose works are said to include a system of the universe founded on the principle of Attraction and the Central position of the sun, is named Yavan Achárya, because he had travelled, we are told, into Ionia. if this be true, he might have been one of those, who conversed with Pythágoras; this at least is undeniable, that a book on astronomy in Sanscrit bears the title of Yavan Iática, which may signify the Ionic Sctl; nor is it improbable, that the names of the planets and Zodiacal stars, which the Arabs borrowed from the Greeks, but which we find in the oldest Indian records, were originally devised by the Paine ingenious and enterprising sace, from whom both Greece and India were peopled; the race, who, as Dionysius describes them,

"first assayed the deep,

And wasted merchandize to coasts,

Those, who digested first the starry choirs,

Their motions mark’d, and call’d them by their names".

Of these cursory observations on the Hindus, which it could require volumes to expand and illustrate, this is the result: that they had an immemorial affinity with the old Persians, Ethiopians, and Egyptians, the Phenicians, Greeks, [46] and Tuscans, the Scythians or Goths, and Celts, the Chinese, Japanese, and Peruvians; whence, as no reason appears for believing, that they were a colony from any one of those nations, or any of those nations from them, we may fairly conclude that they all proceeded from some central country, to investigate which will be the object of my future Discourses; and I have a sanguine hope, that your collections during the present year will bring to light many useful discoveries; although the departure for Europe of a very ingenious member, who first opened the inestimable mine of Sanscrit literature, will often deprive us of accurate and solid information concerning the languages and antiquities of India.

Notes

Editorial Note

This text is taken from: 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. 24-46 [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, use of capitals, italics, accents in transilttered proper names, punctuation and pagination. The edition of this text is part of a project for producing a large electronic publication of the most important works by the eminent English orientalist and lawyer sir William Jones (1746-1794), 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.

(1) On Bryant, see the article in the Dictionary of National Biography:

«Bryant, Jacob 1715-1804, antiquary, was born in 1715 at Plymouth, where his father was an officer in the customs, but before his seventh year was removed to Chatham. The Rev. Samuel Thornton of Luddesdon, near Rochester, was his first schoolmaster, and in 1730 he was at Eton. Elected to King's College, Cambridge, in 1736, he took his degrees, B.A. in 1740, M.A. in 1744, and he became a fellow of his college. He was first private tutor to Sir Thomas Stapylton, and then to the Marquis of Blandford, afterwards duke of Marlborough, and his brother, Lord Charles Spencer. In 1756 he was appointed secretary to the Duke of Marlborough, master-general of ordnance, and went with him to Germany, where the latter died while commander-in-chief. At the same time Bryant held an office in the ordnance department worth 1,400l. a year. Mr. Hetherington made him his executor with a legacy of 3,000l., and the Marlborough family allowed him 1,000l. a year, gave him rooms at Blenheim, and the use of the famous library. He twice refused the mastership of the Charterhouse, although once actually elected. His first work was Observations and Enquiries relating to various parts of Ancient History [...] the Wind Euroclydon, the island Melite, the Shepherd Kings, &c. (Cambridge, 1767, 4to), in which he attacked the opinions of Bochart, Beza, Grotius, and Bentley. He next published the work with which his name is chiefly associated, A New System or an Analysis of Ancient Mythology, with plates, London, 1774, two vols. 4to; second edition, 1775, 4to; and vol. iii. 1776, 4to. His research is remarkable, but he had no knowledge of oriental languages, and his system of etymology was puerile and misleading. The third edition, in six vols. 8vo, was published in 1807. John Wesley published an abbreviation of the first two vols. of the 4to edition. Richardson, assisted by Sir William Jones, was Bryant's chief opponent in the preface to his Persian Dictionary. In an anonymous pamphlet, An Apology, &c., of which only a few copies were printed for literary friends, Bryant sustained his opinions, whereupon Richardson revised the dissertation on languages prefixed to the dictionary, and added a second part: Further Remarks on the New Analysis of Ancient Mythology, &c., Oxford, 1778, 8vo. Bryant also wrote a pamphlet in answer to Wyttenbach, his Amsterdam antagonist, about the same time. His account of the Apamean medal being disputed in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ he defended himself by publishing A Vindication of the Apamæan Medal, and of the Inscription Nam,’ London, 1775, 4to. Eckhel, the great medallist, upheld his views, but Daines Barrington and others strongly opposed him at the Society of Antiquaries (Archæologia, ii.). In 1775, four years after the death of his friend, Mr. Robert Wood, he edited, ‘with his improved thoughts,’ An Essay on the Original Genius and Writings of Homer, with a Comparative View of the Troade, London, 4to. The first edition, of seven copies only, was a superb folio, privately printed in 1769. Bryant published in 1777, without his name, Vindiciæ Flavianæ: a Vindication of the Testimony of Josephus concerning Jesus Christ, London, 8vo; second edition, with author's name, London, 1780, 8vo. This work converted even Dr. Priestley to his opinions. In 1778 he published A Farther Illustration of the Analysis ... ,’ pp. 100, 8vo (no place). He next published An Address to Dr. Priestley ... upon Philosophical Necessity, London, 1780, 8vo, to which Priestley printed a rejoinder the same year. When Tyrwhitt issued his work ‘The Poems supposed to have been written at Bristol by Thomas Rowley and others,’ Bryant, assisted by Dr. Glynn of King's College, Cambridge, followed with his Observations on the Poems of Thomas Rowley in which the Authenticity of those Poems is ascertained, 2 vols., London, 1781, 8vo, a work that did not add to his reputation. In 1783, at the expense of the Duke of Marlborough, the splendid folio work on the Marlborough gems, Gemmarum Antiquarum Delectus, was privately printed, with exquisite engravings by Bartolozzi. The first volume was written in Latin by Bryant, and translated into French by Dr. Maty; the second by Dr. Cole, prebendary of Westminster, and the French by Dr. Dutens. In 1785 a paper ‘On the Zingara or Gypsey Language’ was read by Bryant to the Royal Society, and printed in the seventh volume of Archæologia. He next published, without his name, A Treatise on the Authenticity of the Scriptures, London, 1791, 8vo; second edition, with author's name, Cambridge, 1793, 8vo; third edition, Cambridge, 1810, 8vo. This work was written at the instigation of the Dowager Countess Pembroke, daughter of his patron, and the profits were given to the hospital for smallpox and inoculation. Then followed Observations on a controverted passage in Justyn Martyr; also upon the Worship of Angels, London, 1793, 4to; Observations upon the Plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians, with maps, London, 1794, 8vo, pp. 440. Professor Dalzel's publication in 1794 of M. Chevalier's ‘Description of the Plain of Troy’ elicited Bryant's fearless work, Observations upon a Treatise ...(on) the Plain of Troy, Eton, 1795, 4to, and A Dissertation concerning the War of Troy (?1796), 4to, pp. 196; second edition, corrected, with his name, London, 1799, 4to. Bryant contended that no such war was ever undertaken, and no such city as the Phrygian Troy ever existed; but he won no converts, and was attacked on all sides by such men as Dr. Vincent, Gilbert Wakefield, Falconer, and Morritt. In 1799 he published An Expostulation addressed to the British Critic, Eton, 4to, mistaking his antagonist Vincent for Wakefield, and for the first time losing his temper and using strong and unjustifiable language. His next work, The Sentiments of Philo-Judæus concerning the Logos or Word of God, Cambridge, 1797, 8vo, pp. 290, is full of fanciful speculation which detracted from his fame. In addition to these numerous works he published a treatise against the doctrines of Thomas Paine, and a disquisition ‘On the Land of Goshen,’ written about 1767, was published in Mr. Bowyer's Miscellaneous Tracts, 1785, 4to; and his literary labours closed with Observations upon some Passages in Scripture (relating to Balaam, Joshua, Samson, and Jonah), London, 1803, 4to. It is apparent, however, from the preface to Faber's ‘Mysteries of the Cabiri,’ 1803, 8vo, that Bryant had written a kind of supplement to his Analysis of Ancient Mythology, a work on the Gods of Greece and Rome, which, in a letter to Faber, he said, ‘may possibly be published after his death,’ but his executors have never produced the work. Some of his humorous poems are found in periodicals of his time, but are of little interest except as examples of elegant Latin and Greek verse.
Bryant, who was never married, had resided a long time before his death at Cypenham, in Farnham Royal, near Windsor. There the king and queen often visited him, and the former passed hours alone with him enjoying his conversation. A few months before his end came he said to his nephew, ‘All I have written was with one view to the promulgation of truth, and all I have contended for I myself have believed.’ While reaching a book from a shelf he hurt his leg, mortification set in, and he died 14 Nov. 1804. His remains were interred in his own parish church, beneath the seat he had occupied there, and a monument was erected to his memory near the same.
In person he was a delicately formed man of low stature; late in life he was of sedentary habits, but in his younger days he was very agile and fond of field sports, and once by swimming saved the life of Barnard, afterwards provost of Eton. To the last he was attached to his dogs, and kept thirteen spaniels at a time. He was temperate, courteous, and generous. His conversation was very pleasing and instructive, with a vein of quiet humour. There are many pleasant anecdotes of him in Madame d'Arblay's ‘Diary and Letters.’ In his lifetime his curious collection of Caxtons went to the Marquis of Blandford, and many valuable books were sent from his library to King George III. The classical part of his library was bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge; 2,000l. to the Society for Propagating the Gospel, 1,000l. to superannuated collegers of Eton School, 500l. to the poor of Farnham Royal, &c.
The English portrait prefixed to the octavo edition of his work on ancient mythology is from a drawing by the Rev. J. Bearblock, taken in 1801. All literary authorities, and his monument, give the year of his birth as above, but in the Eton register-book he is entered as ‘12 years old in 1730.’
Sources

Bryant's Works; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 672, iii. 7, 42, 84, 148, 515, iv. 348, 608, 667, v. 231, viii. 112, 129, 216, 249, 427, 508, 531, 540, 552, 614, 685, ix. 198, 290, 577, 714; Nichols's Lit. Illust. ii. 661, iii. 132, 218, 772, vi. 36, 249, 670, vii. 401, 404, 469; Gent. Mag. xlviii. 210, 625; New Monthly Mag. i. 327; Archæologia, iv. 315, 331, 347, vii. 387; Cole's MSS., Brit. Mus. vols. xx. xxiii.; Martin's Privately Printed Books, 85; Mme. d'Arblay's Diary, 1846, iii. 117, 228, 323, 375, 401.
Contributor
J. W.-G.

published 1886»