« PreviousContinue »
IF I had consulted my competency only, for the station which your choice has conferred upon me, I must without hesitation have declined the honour of being the President of this Society; and although I most cheerfully accept your invitation, with every inclination to affift, as far as my abilities extend, in promoting the laudable views of your association, I must still retain the consciousness of those disqualifications, which you have been pleased to overlook.
It was lately our boast to possess a Prefident, whose name, talents, and character, would have been honourable to any institution ; it is now our misfortune to lament, that Sir William Jones exists, but in the affections of his friends, and in the esteem, veneration, and regret of all.
I cannot, I flatter myself, offer a more grateful tribute to the Society, than by making his character the subject of my first address to you ;
and if in the delineation of it, fondness or affection for the man should appear blended with my reverence for his genius and abilities, in the sympathy of your feelings I shall find my apology.
To define with accuracy the variety, value, and extent of his literary attainments, requires more learning than I pretend to possess, and I am therefore to folicit your indulgence for an imperfect sketch, rather than expect your approbation for a complete description of the talents, and knowledge, of your late and lamented President.,
I shall begin with mentioning his wonderful capacity for the acquisition of languages, which has never been excelled. In Greek and Roman literature, his early proficiency was the subject of admiration and applause; and knowledge, of whatever nature, once obtained by him, was ever afterwards progressive. The more elegant dialects of modern Europe, the French, the Spanish, and the Italian, he spoke and wrote with the greatest Auency and precision ; and the German and Portuguese were familiar to him. At an early period of life his application to Oriental literature commenced; he studied the Hebrew with ease and success, and many of the most learned Afiaticks have the candour to, avow, that his knowledge of Arabick and Perfan was as accurate and extensive as their own:
he was also conversant in the Turkish idiom, and the Chinese had even attracted his notice, so far as to induce him to learn the radical characters of that language, with a view perhaps to farther improvements. It was to be expected, after his arrival in India, that he would eagerly embrace the opportunity of making himself master of the Sanscrit ; and the most enlightened professors of the doctrines of BRAHMA confess with pride, delight, and surprise, that his knowledge of their sacred dialect was most critically correct and profound. The Pandits, who were in the habit of attend ing him, when I saw them after his death, at a public Durbar, could neither suppress their tears for his lofs, nor find terms to express their admiration at the wonderful progress he had made in their sciences.
Before the expiration of his twenty-second year, he had completed his Commentaries on the Poetry of the Afaticks, although a considerable time afterwards elapsed before their publication ; and this work, if no other monument of his labours existed, would at once furnish proofs of his consummate skill in the Oriental dialects, of his proficiency in those of Rome and Greece, of taste and erudition far beyond his years, and of talents and application without example.
But the judgement of Sir William Jones was too discerning to consider language in
any other light than as the key of science, and he would have despised the reputation of a mere linguist. Knowledge and truth, were the object of all his studies, and his ambition was to be useful to mankind; with these views, he extended his researches to all languages, nations, and times.
Such were the motives that induced him to propose to the Government of this country, what he juftly denominated a work of national utility and importance, the compilation of a copious digest of Hindu and Mahommedan Law, from Sanscrit and Arabick originals, with an offer of his services to superintend the compilation, and with a promise to translate it. He had foreseen, previous to his departure from Europe, that without the aid of such a work, the wise and benevolent intentions of the legislature of Great Britain, in leaving, to a certain extent, the natives of thefe provinces in pofseffion of their own laws, could not be completely fulfilled ; and his experience, after a short refidence in India, confirmed what his fagacity had anticipated, that without principles to refer to, in a language familiar to the judges of the courts, adjudications amongst the natives muft too