Francis Sumner Dissertation

The opinions of Sir William Jones produced great effects both in the East and in the West.

One result which followed from them I must pass by with notice very unequal to its practical importance.

He seems rather to have sought the key to Eastern knowledge in two spoken and highly-cultivated languages—Arabic and Persian.

But he accepted a Judgeship in a Court of Justice newly established in Bengal, under an Act of Parliament which reserved to native litigants the application of their own laws and usages in all questions of inheritance and contract; and, from a much earlier period, it had been the practice of all the Indian Courts to attach to themselves Moolvies and Pundits—that is, native professors of Mahommedan and Hindu law—for the purpose of advising them on the legal rules, of which these experts represented themselves to be the depositaries.

For Manu, though it contains a good deal of law, is essentially a book of ritual, of priestly duty and religious observance; and to this combination of law with religion the whole family of Hindu writings, to which the book of Manu belongs, owe some remarkable characteristics on which I am desirous of dwelling.

It is not at the same time to be supposed that the combination is peculiar to the Hindus.The book was actually extant, and the translation of it which he gave to the world, with the title ‘Institutes of Hindu Law, or the Ordinances of Menu, according to the Gloss of Cullúca,’ was the first-fruits of his labours on the Digest which he had planned.He seems, in fact, to have regarded it as standing to this projected Digest much in the same relation as the Roman Institutes to the celebrated Digest of the Emperor Justinian.With Arabic he was already familiar, and he therefore required no assistance in his studies of Mahommedan law; but for the purpose of mastering the virtually unknown language in which the Hindu law was contained, he found it necessary to visit during his vacations several of the decaying and decayed seats of learning in which knowledge of it was still professed, and he organised a staff of Hindu scholars to aid him in his Sanscrit studies, and to record their results.The plan for improving the administration of Anglo-Indian justice which finally commended itself to him was one for the preparation of a Digest in English of Hindu and Mahommedan law, which should need no Pundits or Moolvies for its interpretation.The Author continues in these pages the line of investigation which he has followed in former works.He endeavours to connect a portion of existing institutions with a part of the primitive or very ancient usages of mankind, and of the ideas associated with these of the sacred languages of India, which has given to the world the modern science of Philology and the modern theory of Race, began virtually in the study of sacred Indian law.Sir William Jones, who, though he was not absolutely the earliest of Anglo-Indian Sanscritists, was the first to teach the West that there was in the East such a language as Sanscrit, and a literature preserved in it, does not appear during his Oriental studies in England to have suspected the existence of the treasure he was destined to disinter.Much to their honour, the Indian Government of the day, formed of Lord Cornwallis and his Council, accepted his offer to preside over the undertaking, and his staff of native experts, considerably increased, was taken into the Government service.On his monument by Flaxman, in the chapel of University College at Oxford, he sits surrounded by his company of native literates, amid conventional Indian foliage, bareheaded, in the open air.


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