GILCHRIST, John Borthwick (born John Hay G.). Edinburgh 19.6.1759 — Paris 9.1.1841. British (Scottish) Indologist, a Pioneer of Hindi-Urdu Studies. Son of merchant Walter G. and Henrietta Farquharson, lost his father at the age of one. After school in Edinburgh studies of medicine at George Heriot’s Hospital, Edinburgh. Joined the E.I.C.’s service in 1783 as assistant surgeon, served in Calcutta, 1794 surgeon. Wikipedia has different account: After Edinburgh High School, in 1775, he went to West Indies for 2 or 3 years and learned indigo cultivation there; then in Edinburgh and in 1782-84 apprenticed to surgeon’s mate in Royal Navy and came to Bombay, where he became Assistant Surgeon in 1784. Perry says that George Heriot’s Hospital funded his medical studies at Edinburgh University before he west to West Indies. In India, in 1787/93 he was also involved in indigo cultivation in Benares (or Ghazipur) using highly quesionable methods.
At this time the E.I.C. was content, if its agents achieved a smattering of Persian, but JBG realized the importance of Hindūstānī. In disguise he travelled in Hindī speaking provinces in order to learn good language, also learnt Persian and Sanskrit. In the end his idea was accepted, governor general Wellesley gave his support, and JBG was made the principal of the new Fort William College, also responsible of its Hindustani department. Here he collected Indian literates and let them compose texts in Hindī and Urdū, promoting thus strongly the development of prose literature. Because of an illness he had to return to Britain in 1804. After a while in Edinburgh (1804 LL.D. University of Edinburgh) he was a short time Professor at East India College (then still in Hertford) in Febrary to May 1806. In 1809 retired from the E.I.C.’s service. A bank with James Inglis in Edinburgh remained short-lived (1806-15).
In 1816 (or 1817) JBG came to London and began private language classes for people intending to go to India. In 1818 the Company decided that its people (surgeons in particular) should learn Hindūstānī before leaving for India. Therefore a chair was founded for JBG at Oriental Institution (Leicester Square), but it soon became to quarrel. In public JBG announced to take not the 3 £ fee from his students (and as a compensation he obtained 150 £ in addition to his salary of 200 £), but in the classroom he demanded from every student a receipt for the purchase of his own books by 10-15 £. The impulsive way of his teaching was criticized, too. The course was obligatory only to surgeons, and JBG demanded that it should be obligatory to all. In his opinion, the E.I.C. was cruel, stingy and thankless.
In 1825 the Company had had enough. JBG was allowed to teach until the end of 1826, then he was succeeded by S. Arnot and D. Forbes. After an unsuccesful attempt to return to India he founded a rival school of Oriental languages, but retired soon. Last years from 1831 he spent mainly in Paris. He was irascible, easy to take offence, and expressed himself in strong words. In politics he was radical republican. No wonder that he often had difficulties with people. He was married 1808 Mary Ann Coventry, no children (but several illegitimate in India). As widow she married a Neapoletan general.
Publications: A Dictionary, English and Hindoostanee. 1-2. Calcutta 1787-90.
– A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language. 336 p. Calcutta 1796.
– Oriental Linguist. An an easy and familiar Introduction to the Language of Hindoostan. 160 p. Calcutta 1798, 2nd ed. 1802; The Anti-jargonist or a short introduction to the Hindoostanee language… being partly an abridgement of the Oriental Linguist. 68+295 p. Calcutta 1800; The Stranger’s East Indian Guide to Hindoostanee. 6+150+16 p. Calcutta 1802, 2nd ed. 1808, 3rd enl. ed. 30+427 p. L. 1820; The British Indian Monitor. Edinburgh 1-2. 1806-08 (a compact edition of all three).
– A New Theory and Prospectus of Persian Verbs with their Hindoostanee Synonyms. 19+34+32 p. Calcutta 1801; The Hindee Manual or casket of India … containing the Ukhlaq Hindee, Murseen, etc. 7+7+20+17+60+61+14+34 p. Calcutta 1802.
– (ed.? and) transl. Hidayat ool Islam, compiled by Mouluwa Umanut Oollah, in Arabic and Hindostanee. 1. Calcutta 1804 (vol. 2 never appeared).
– The Hindee Story Teller, or entertaining expositor of the Roman, Persian and Nagree characters. Calcutta 1802, 2nd ed. 48+40+53+63 p. Calcutta 1806..
– A Collection of Dialogues, English and Hindoostanee, on the most familiar and useful subjects. 1804, 2nd ed. 1809, 3rd ed. as Dialogues English and Hindoostanee for illustrating the grammatical principles of the Stranger’s East India Guide. 8+528 p. L. 1820.
– The Hindee moral Preceptor, and Persian Scholar’s shortest road to the Hindoostanee Language, or vice versa. 1803 (Sa‘di’s Pandname in Persian with Urdu translation, English translation and verse paraphrase, comparative grammar of Persian and Urdu), new edition 392 p. L. 1821 (with a new Urdu version).
– Edited: The Oriental Fabulist, or Polyglott translations of Esop’s and other Ancient Fables from the English Language into Hindoostanee, Persian, Arabic &c., in the Roman character, by various hands. 27+316 p. Calcutta 1803/30.
– The Hindee-Roman Orthoepigraphical Ultimatum … exemplified in the story of Sukoontula natuk. 84 p. Calcutta 1804, 2nd ed. 166+56+42 p. L. 1820 (Urdu Śakuntalā by Kazim ‘Ali Jawan).
– The Orienti-Occidental Tuitionary Pioneer to Literary Pursuits by the King’s and Company’s Officers of all ranks … and departments … 14 reports, &c. … A Panglossal Diorama for a Universal language and Character … and a … new Theory of Latin Verbs. c. 100p. in various pagings. L. 1826.
– Published all the time revised new editions of his books; a few unrelated works.
Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; G. Goodwin, D.N.B. 21, 1890, 342-344; J.R. Perry, Encyclop. Iranica (online, 2015); *K. Prior, Oxford D.N.B. 2004, 217-219; *M. A. Siddiqi, Gilkrist aur is kā ‘ahd. 312 p. Aligarh 1960 (in Urdu); Wikipedia with portrait.
*M. A. Siddiqi, Origins of Modern Hindustani Literature. 191 p. Aligarh 1963 (Gilchrist letter edition).
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