HALHED, Nathaniel Brassey

HALHED, Nathaniel Brassey. Westminster 25.5.1751 — London 18.2.1830. British Precursor of Indology. Son of William H., a bank director, educated at Harrow. From 1768 studies at Christ Church, Oxford, where —> William Jones prompted him to study Arabic. After a brush-off accepted a post of Writer and left for India in 1772. In Bengal he was noted by W. Hastings, who gave him the task of translating the Persian text of the legal compilation (the Vivādārṇavasetu, extant in manuscripts) made by 11 Pandits from Sanskrit sources and translated by one of them into Persian. There was also a Bengali version made by a Bengali clerk from oral instructions given in Bengali. He also founded the first printing press of Bengal in Calcutta, together with his friend Wilkins, who prepared the Bengali types. Halhed left India in 1778, arriving in the U.K. in 1779. He lived in London and made his best to support his friend in the Hastings trial. In 1784-85 another short visit to India.

In 1790 Halhed was elected as M.P. for Lymington (Hampshire). In 1795 he met the millennarian prophet Richard Brothers, and took his prophecies in serious. He propagated them in the House of Commons, obviously with little success, and resigned. Although the prophecies did not come true, he continued long time his connection with the Brothers sect. His public and literary work had now ended, relatives even tried to have him under guardianship. After years of solitary life his means were exhausted, and in 1809 friends arranged for him a post of secretary at East India House. Now he also started again to work on Oriental literature. In India he had married around 1775 Louisa Ribaut, the stepdaughter of Dutch colonial officer, no children.

Halhed knew well Persian and Bengali, but returned too early from India to be able to learn Sanskrit. He brought a number of Persian manuscripts, including translations of Sanskrit works. In 1800-16 he translated a major part of the Persian translation of the Mahābhārata. His posthumous papers were deposited in British Museum.

Publications: Translated from Greek with R. B. Sheridan: The Love Epistles of Aristaenetus. 16+174 p. L. 1771, 2nd ed. 1854.

A Code of Gentoo Laws or ordinations of the Pundits. Translated with introd. 74+61+522 p. 1776, 2nd ed. 120+285 p. L. 1777, 3rd 1781, French by J. B. R. Robinet 1778, German by R. E. Raspe. Hamburg 1778.

A Grammar of the Bengal Language. 29+216 p. Hoogly 1778.

A Narrative of the Events … in Bombay and Bengal relative to the Mahratta Empire since July 1777. 1779.

Pamphlets on behalf of Hastings with the name “Detector”: A Letter to Governor Johnstone on Indian Affairs. 1783; The Letters of Detector on the Seventh and Eighth Reports of the Libel Committee. 1783.

Imitations of Some of the Epigrams of Martial. Latin & English. 43 p. L. 1793 (anonymous).

Nine pamphlets on behalf of Brothers sect, all publ. in 1795.

Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; *J.D.M. Derrett, “N.B.H.: Mystic or Maniac? His Association with Joanna Southcott”, ABORI 60, 1979, 229-233; A.G[ordon], D.N.B. 24, 1890, 41f.; *M. Moses & A. Moulik: Dialogue of Civilizations. William Jones and the Orientalists. New Delhi 2009, 356-374; *R. Rocher, ABORI Diamond Jub. Vol. 1977-78, 279ff.; *R. Rocher, “N. B. H. on the Upaniṣads (1787)”, ABORI 58-59, 1977-78, 279-289; *R. Rocher, “N. B. H., Sir William Jones, and Comparative IE Linguistics”, Hommages à M. Leroy 1980, 173-180; R. Rocher, Orientalism, Poetry, and the Millennium: The Checkered Life of Nathaniel Brassey Halhed 1751–1830. 11+354 p. Delhi 1983 (with three portraits); *R. Rocher, “Alien and Emphatic: the Indian Poems of N.B.H.”, B. B. King & M. N. Pearson (ed.), The Age of Partnership. Europeans in Asia before Dominion. Honolulu 1979, 215-235; R. Rocher, personal e-mail 24.12.2017; *Charu Sheel Singh, “Holwell, Dow and Halhed: A note on their contribution to Indology in the 18th century”, JOIB 33:3-4, 1984, 291-297; *Wikipedia.

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