HAMILTON, Alexander

HAMILTON, Alexander. 1762 — Liverpool 30.12.1824. British (Scots) Pioneer of Indology. Born in Scotland, parents unknown, brother Walter Hamilton, who also wrote on India, apparently from a wealthy home. After studies of Greek and Latin in an unknown university joined in 1783 Bengal Army as a cadet. The lieutenant and from 1785 ensign in infantry. Became soon interested in Oriental Studies and joined the A.S.B. in the 1880s. From a Pandit he learnt Sanskrit, further Persian, Arabic and Bengali. Retired from the army 6.10.1790 and concentrated on Sanskrit studies. Apparently he was a Secretary to Lord Cornwallis. He seems to have had an Indian wife and a son with her. Between 1797-1800 apparently left India and returned to Scotland. In Edinburgh he joined Fr. Jeffrey’s Whig group and contributed to their Edinburgh Review.

In 1802/03 AH came to Paris to examine Sanskrit MSS there. As the first scholar actually knowing Sanskrit he soon became popular. When the war began in 23.5.1803 he was taken prisoner, but allowed to remain in Paris in a nominal custody. He seems to have had mighty patrons (perhaps Volney). He lived in the house of Fr. Schlegel and taught Sanskrit to a small circle including Schlegel, Hagemann, Volney and Fauriel. Langlès and Chézy were his friends, but did not attend his lectures (Chézy started Sanskrit alone in 1806), while A. W. von Schlegel never actually met him. Free from captivity in 1806 AH returned to England, where he was given, on recommendation of Wilkins, the new chair of “Sanscrit and Hindoo Literature” at East India College in Hertford (soon Haileybury). Taught there also Bengali and probably Marathi, too. In 1814 he had O. Frank as a private student in Sanskrit. In summer 1817 visited France and Germany. Retired in 1818. Member of Royal Society 1808, of Bavarian Academy 1815. In retirement apparently lived in London, where he supported Bopp in 1818. In March 1823 he was among the founders of R.A.S. He was often ill during his last years and died in Liverpool.

As a scholar AH admired Jones and Wilkins, who was also his close friend, and sharply criticized Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo and Wilford. His own interests included ancient geography and Purāṇa literature, but his plan of a dictionary of ancient geography of Asia remained unachieved. He was a cool and sharp critic, who rejected e.g. the then fashionable theories of Egyptian connections of ancient India. On the other hand, he claimed that Buddhism was a Vaiṣṇava sect. He was not much interested in publication, writing only anonymous reviews and text-books for Haileybury. The catalogue of Paris MSS., compiled by AH and edited by Langlès, is the only publication, where his name is mentioned. His (anonymous) school edition of the Hitopadeśa was the first Sanskrit text printed in Europe (although soon criticized by Schlegel and Lassen). In his late years he was apparently disappointed with the meagre interest Sanskrit had roused in Britain. According to Rocher, he had understood the fundamentals and methods of comparative IE linguistics before Bopp.

It must be emphasized that AH had been an infantry officer and never served in the navy (as often has been claimed). His few students are listed above.

Publications: anonymous articles in Asiatic Annual Register: Khonemir’s Persian description of Vijayanagar, transl. and notes in 2, 1801; “Biography … of Hyder Ally Khan”, transl. from Persian with notes, 2, 1801; anonymous reviews in the same and in Edinburgh Review (1802-04, 1806-11, 1814-16, 1820).

with L.-M. Langlès: Catalogue des MSS. sanskrits de la Bibliothèque Impérial, avec des notices… P. 1807.

edited: The Hitopadeśa in the Sanscrita Language. 119 p. 4o. L. 1810 (anonymous, sometimes erroneously ascribed to Wilkins); [Grammatical analysis of the Sanscrita Hitopadeśa, for the first 11 pp. of the printed edition]. 72 p. 4o. Henington 1810.

Terms of Sankrit Grammar. 13 p. 4o. L. 1814.

lost MS. of a Sanskrit–English dictionary. Though so claimed in British Museum Catalogue, A key to the chronology of the Hindus. 1820, is not by AH, but by an anonymous missionary.

Sources: Buckland, Dictionary.; *Biographie nouvelle des contemporains 1823; *Biogr. univ. nouv. ed. 1857; *Nouv. biogr. gén. 1858; *Chambers & Norman, Studies in English Philology. E. Klaeber Vol. Minneapolis 1929, 457-466; K. Raj, D.O.L.F.480 briefly; *R. Rocher, “New data for the Biography of the Orientalist A.H.”, JAOS 90, 1970, 426-448; *R. Rocher, “A.H., and the “Monthly Review””, JAOS 88, 1968, 781f.; Wikipedia.

R. Rocher: Alexander Hamilton (1762–1824). 12+128 p. A.O.S. 51. New Haven 1968.


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