JONES, William

JONES, William. Westminster 28.9.1746 — Calcutta 27.4.1794. Sir. British Pioneer of Indology. Judge in Calcutta. Youngest child of the mathematician William Jones (1675–1749) and Maria Nix, educated from 1753 at Harrow, where spent more than ten years. In free hours he learnt Hebrew and Arabic and interested himself in theatre and chess. From 1764 commoner of University College at Oxford. Without means accepted a place as tutor of the seven years old son of Lord Althorp and taught him five years beside his own studies. In 1766 fellow of University College, 1768 B.A., 1773 M.A. From 1772 fellow of Royal Society, 1773 member of Dr. Johnson’s Literary Club. Soon became famous as an Oriental scholar, but could not earn his living this way and started therefore law studies. In 1774 was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, soon became known as skilled lawyer. Now became also interested in politics, in 1780 proposed to become the Oxford University’s candidate for the House of Commons, but gave up, when defeat became imminent. His liberalism (he was against the American war and trade in slaves) seemed suspicious to the voters. In 1780 he also vainly applied for the chair of Arabic at Oxford. Same liberalism also delayed his public career, but in 1783 he at last obtained his long sought, financially secure position as judge of Calcutta High Court. In March (19.3.) he was ennobled and in April married his long-time fiancée Anna Maria Shipley, and left with her to India.

WJ was perhaps the first British scholar to arrive in India and therefore exceptionally well suited for starting Indological research. During his travel to India he already prepared a plan for his future studies and in January 1784 he founded the Asiatick Society of Bengal to be an Asian equivalent to Royal Society. He was also interested in natural science, but as his main task he soon concentrated on Sanskrit studies. His main goal was to make Oriental classics known through translations. Another ambition was to be “Justinian of India”, to codify Indian law. To a great extent the society and its publications were established through his personal efforts.

In 1793 an illness forced Lady Jones to return to Europe, and WJ, though already overworked, gave all his time to work. He had decided to retire, when the fatal illness came and soon killed him. He had achieved a great fame during his lifetime and the early death made it still greater. However, the later Utilitarians detested his open attachment for Oriental cultures.

WJ developed the idea of the still used system of transcription for Sanskrit. In 1786 he proposed the principles of the IE linguistic unity, being also the first to suggest, that the common language perhaps was extinct. In 1792 he published the very first printed text edition in Sanskrit, but the translation of the Śakuntalā is perhaps his most famous work. He laid the foundations of chronology combining Greek Palibothra and Sandrokottos with Pāṭaliputra and Candragupta, but also believed in contacts between ancient Egypt and India. His other interests included Indian music and astronomy, botany, and history of chess. His Persian Grammar was a much used handbook.

Publications: The Life of Nadir Shah, translated from Persian. 1-2. 1770.

Traité sur la Poésie Orientale. 1770 (with translations, e.g. Hafiz); Dissertation sur la littérature Orientale. 1771; Poeseos Asiaticae Commentariorum libri sex. 1774.

Grammar of the Persian Language. 1771, 7th ed. 1809.

Poems, consisting chiefly of translations from the Asiatick Languages. 1772, 2nd ed. 1777.

Speeches of Isaeus in Causes concerning the Law of Succession to Property at Athens, transl. 1778.

An inquiry into the Legal Mode of Suppressing Riots. 1780; On the Law of Bailments. 1781, 2nd ed. 1798.

translated: The Moallakat, or the seven Arabian Poems which were suspended on the Temple at Mecca. 1783.

Annual Discourses at Asiatick Society: “On the Orthography of Asiatick Words”, 1784; “On the Gods of Greece, Italy and India”, 1785; “On the Hindus”, 1786; “On the Arabs”, 1787; “On the Tartars”, 1788; “On the Persians”, 1789; “On the Chinese”, 1790; “On the Borderers, Mountaineers, and Islanders of Asia”, 1791; “On the Origin and Families of Nations”, 1792; “On Asiatick History, Civil and Natural”, 1793; “On the Philosophy of the asiaticks”, 1794 — all publ. in As. Res. 1-4, further articles in As. Res. e.g. “On the Chronology of the Hindus”, As. Res. 2, 178?; “Botanical observations on select Indian Plants”, As. Res. 4, 1795.

edited: Ritusanhara. The seasons. A descriptive poem by Cálidás, in the original Sanskrit. Calcutta 1792.

translated: Sacontala or the Fatal Ring, an Indian Drama by Càlidàs. 1789, 2nd ed. 1790, 3rd 1796, German transl. 1791, Danish 1793, French 1808, Italian 1815.

translated: “Gitagovinda or the songs of Jayadeva”, As. Res. 3, 17??, 185-207 (German 1802); Institutes of Hindu Laws, or the ordinances of Menu, according to the gloss of Cullúca. 16+366 p. Calcutta 1794, 2nd ed. Calc. 1796, German 1797; The Hitopadesa. Publ. in Works 6, 1-176/12, 1807, 1-210.

Mahommedan Law of Succession to Property of Intestates. 17??; Al-Sirájiyyah or Mohammedan Law of Inheritance. 1792.

Works. Edited by Lord Teignmouth and Lady Jones. 1-6. 1799 and Suppl. 1-2. 1801; repr. 1-13. L. 1807.

Sources: A.J. Arberry, Asiatic Jones. 40 p. L. 194?; *R. Arnold, W.J. Ein Orientalist zwischen Kolonialismus und Aufklärung. 150 p. Arbeitsmaterialien zum Orient 11. Würzburg 2001 (cf. R. Rovler, IIJ 46, 2003, 166-168); *Garland Cannon, Oriental Jones. A biography of Sir W.J. (1746–1794). 10+215 p. L. 1964; *Garland Cannon, ed.: A Bibliography of primary and secondary sources. 14+73 p. Amst. Studies 5:7. Amsterdam 1979; Garland Cannon, ed.: *Letters of Sir W.J.; *M. Moses & A. Moulik: Dialogue of Civilizations. William Jones and the Orientalists. New Delhi 2009; *Alexander Murray (ed.), Sir W.J., 1746–1794. A Commemoration. 16+169 p. Oxford 1998; S.N. Mukherjee, Sir W.J. 8+199 p. L. 1968; *Lord Teignmouth, Life of Sir W. J. 1804.

articles by Garland Cannon: *“Sir W.J. and the Sakuntala”, JAOS 73, 1953, 198-202; *“Sir W.J.’s Persian Linguistics”, JAOS 78, 1958, 262-273; *“The Literary Place of Sir William Jones (1746–94)”, JASB 4th S. 2, 1960, 47-61; *“Sir W.J.’s Summary of the Sakuntala”, JAOS 83, 1963, 241-245; *“Sir W.J.’s Indian Studies”, JAOS 91, 1971, 418-425; *“Sir W.J., language and the Asiatic Society”, Indian Horizons 22:2, 1973, 5-21 & 22:4, 1973, 27-45; *“Early Indian Epigraphy and Sir William Jones”, JASB 19:1-2, 1977, 1-13; “Sir W.J.’s founding and directing of the Asiatic Society”, India Office Report 1985-85, 11-18; *with S. Pande, “Sir W.J. revisited: On his translation of the Śakuntalā”, JAOS 96, 1976, 528-535; with Andrew Grant, “British Orientalists’ cooperation: a new letter of Sir W.J.”, BSOAS 55, 1992, 316-318.

*A.J. Arberry, “New light on Sir W.J.”, BSOAS 11:4, 1946, 673-685 (CF. IB. 699-712); *F. Edgerton, “Sir W.J. 1746–1794”, JAOS 66, 1946, 230-239; *A. Master, “The influence of Sir W.J. upon Sanskrit studies”, BSOAS 11:4, 1946, 798-806; *A. Master, “Jones and Pāṇini”, JAOS 76, 1956, 186f.; *S.N. Mukherjee, “Sir W.J. and the British Attitude Towards India”, JRAS 1964, 37-??; Abhijit Mukherji, “European Jones and Asiatic Pandits”, JASB 27:1, 1985, 43-58; *Chittabrata Palit: “Orientalism, W.J. and Oriental Studies”, JASB 36:3, 1994, 131-140; *K. Raj, D.O.L.F. 520-522.

Jones Bicentenary Volume. BDCRI 54-55, 1994-95, 3-80 (contributions by G. Cannon, K.R. Kennedy, S.N. Mukherjee, L. & R. Rocher, and C. Roychaudhuri).

*Buckland, Dictionary; *R.H. Robins, Lex. gramm. 1996, 489f.; H.M.S., D.N.B. 30, 1892, 174-177; Windisch 23-26; *Wikipedia with portrait.


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