COWELL, Edward Byles. Ipswich 23.1.1826 — Cambridge 9.2.1903. British Indologist. Professor in Cambridge. In 1856-64 in India. Son of Charles C. (a merchant, d. 1842) and Marianne Byles. Educated in Ipswich, as a school boy already attracted to Sir William Jones’ Persian grammar. After the school he followed his late father into business. During a visit to London he met H. H. Wilson. Learnt Sanskrit by himself, prepared and published a translation of the Vikramorvaśī. From 1850 studied at Magdalen Hall, Oxford Sanskrit (under Wilson), classical languages and mathematics, then to India. From 1856 Professor of English History and Political Economy at Presidency College in Calcutta, then from 1858 principal of Calcutta Sanskrit College. Pt. Mahesa Chandra Nyayaratna was his student. In 1864 he came to England on a furlough on health reasons, but never returned to India, and in 1867 became the first Professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge. Also taught Persian, Comparative Grammar, Pāli, and Avesta. Married in 1847, wife, 14 years senior to him, died in 1899. No children. Himself died after long illness.
EBC was among first pioneers in the study of Indian philosophy. During his stay in Calcutta he contributed actively to the Bibliotheca Indica. In Cambridge, he introduced a full curriculum in Oriental languages: the Semitic languages tripos was established in 1878, the Oriental languages tripos in 1895, the Indian languages tripos in 1903, in addition a Board of Oriental studies and a Board of I.C.S. studies were formed. He was, according to his students, an excellent teacher. He taught Persian to Fitzgerald and introduced Umar Khayyam to him. His other students included Bendall, Boyd, Francis, Rouse, and Webster. In addition to Indology and Persian, he was also interested in Hebrew, Spanish and Cymric, and in patristic literature. As a lay botanist he collected a complete flora of Cambridgeshire.
Publications: a great number of articles in Westminster Review, Asiatic Journal, Journal of Philology, Gentleman’s Magazine, JASB, Calcutta Review.
– translated: Vikramorvaśī, an Indian drama. 118 p. Hertford 1851; The Aphorisms of Sandilya with the Commentary of Swapneswara, or the Hindu doctrine of faith. 114 p. B.I. 84. Calcutta 1878 (Bhaktisūtra).
– edited: The Prakrita-Prakasa, or the Prakrit Grammar of Vararuci with the comm. (Manorama) of Bhamaha. 236 p. Hertford 1854, 2nd ed. 187?.
– edited with E. Röer, R. N. Vidyaratna, M. Nyayaratna and S. Samasrami: Taittirīya-Samhitā, with the commentary of Mādhava-Achārya. 1-10. B.I. 26. Calcutta 1854-99 (begun by Roer in 1854, then by Cowell in 1858-64).
– edited and translated: Kausītakibrāhmanopanisad with the Commentary of Sankarānanda. 191 p. B.I. 39. Calcutta 1861-65; Maitrī or Maitrāyanīya Upanisad. With the Commentry of Rāmatīrtha. 291 p. B.I. 42. Calcutta 1862-70; with M. C. Nyayaratna, The Kusumanjali or Hindoo proof of the existence of a supreme being, by Udayana Acharya, with the comm. of Hari Dasa Bhattacharya. 15+65+ 85 p. Calcutta 1864.
– Short Introduction to the ordinary Prakrit of the Sanskrit Dramas. 39 p. L. 1875.
– edited and translated: “The Tattva-Muktâvâlî of Gauḍa-pûrṇânanda-chakra-vartin”, JRAS 15, 1883, 137-173.
– edited with R. A. Neil: Divyāvadāna. A collection of early Buddhist legends. 712 p. Cambridge 1886.
– translated with F. M. Müller & J. Takakusu: Buddhist Mahayana Texts. 207+208 p. S.B.E. 49. Oxford 1894.
– translated with A. E. Gough: Mādhavācārya, Sarvadarśanasangraha or review of the different systems of Hindu philosophy. 293 p. L. 1882.
– ed. and tr.: Buddhakarita. 1-2. 195+?? p. An.Ox. Aryan Ser. 7-8. Oxford 1893-94.
– edited: Jātaka or stories of Buddha’s former births. Translated by various hands. 1-6 in 1-3. Cambridge 1895-1913.
– translated with F. W. Thomas: The Harṣacarita of Bāṇa. 12+284 p. L. 1897.
– translated: Three Episodes from the Old Bengali Poem “Caṇḍī”. 8+46 p. JASB 71, Extra Number 2. Calcutta 1902.
– further publications on Cymric (in Cymmrodor 1-5), folkloristics (Journal of Philology 1868, 1872, 1876), etc.
Sources: Bendall, Athenaeum republ. in JRAS 1903, 419-424; Buckland, Dictionary; *C. M. Ridding, “Professor C. and his pupils”, BSOS 6:2, 1931, 461-468; F. W. T[homas] in D.N.B. Suppl. 1, 1912, 427-430; Wikipedia with portrait.