JONES, William. Westminster 28.9.1746 — Calcutta 27.4.1794. Sir. British Pioneer of Indology. Judge in Calcutta. He was the youngest child of the mathematician William Jones (1675–1749), originally a Welshman from Anglesey, and Maria Nix. Educated from 1753 at Harrow, where he spent more than ten years. In free hours he learned 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, visited with him Germany, France and Italy. 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 he became famous as an Oriental scholar, but could not earn his living this way and started therefore law studies. In 1774 he was called to the bar at the Middle Temple and soon became known as skilled lawyer. In 1775-83 he worked as lawyer in Carmarthen in Wales defending the rights of Welsh tenants against Anglicized squirearchy. Now he 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 a radical whig, 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. The same liberalism also delayed his public career, but in 1783 he at last obtained his long-sought, financially secure position as a judge of Calcutta High Court. In March (19.3.) he was knighted, in April married his long-time (from 1766) fiancée Anna Maria Shipley, and left with her to India.
Jones was perhaps the first British scholar to arrive in India and therefore exceptionally well suited for introducing 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 (later Asiatic Society of Bengal) to be an Asian equivalent to Royal Society and was its first President until his death. He knew Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish and was also interested in natural science, but as his main task in India he soon concentrated on Sanskrit studies. His Sanskrit teacher was Pandit Ramlochan, a vaidya from Nadia. 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 Jones, 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.
Jones 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 – but he never developed this idea further. In 1792 he published the very first printed text edition in Sanskrit (Ṛtusaṁhāra in Bengali letters), but the translation of the Śakuntalā (1789) is perhaps his most famous work. Translating Hitopadeśa he found out the origin of the Western Kalīla wa Dimna tradition. He laid the foundations of chronology combining Greek Palibothra and Sandrokottos with Pāṭaliputra and Candragupta (1793), but also believed in close contacts between ancient Egypt and India, even in the descendance of Indians from Noah’s son Ham (see Trautmann on this). His other interests included Indian music and astronomy, botany, and history of chess. The main task of his last years was the English edition of the Digest of Hindu law, collected by Pandits under his supervision and completed after his death by Colebrooke. Naturally, many of his ideas are now antiquated, but usually they were remarkable in his times. The worst was perhaps his deeming Avesta as modern forgery (1771). His Persian Grammar was for a long time a much used handbook.
Publications: The Life of Nadir Shah. Translated from Persian of Mahdi Khān in 1770, publ. first in 2 vols. L. 1772 in French (Histoire de Nader Chah), then in English L. 1773, also a German tr. Greifswald 1773.
– Traité sur la Poésie Orientale. L. 1770 (with translations, e.g. Hafiz); Dissertation sur la littérature Orientale. 50 p. 1771; Poeseos Asiaticae Commentariorum libri sex. 31+543 p. L. 1774.
– Grammar of the Persian Language. 24+153 p. L. 1771, 7th ed. 1809, 9th 1828, also French transl. 1772.
– Lettre à Monsieur A*** du P***, dans laquelle est compris l’Examen de sa Traduction des Livres attribués à Zoroastre. 52 p. L. 1771 (on Anquetil-Duperron’s Avesta).
– Poems, consisting chiefly of translations from the Asiatick Languages. 8+217 p. Oxford 1772, 2nd ed. L. 1777.
– Translated: Speeches of Isaeus in Causes concerning the Law of Succession to Property at Athens. 7+39+205 p. L. 1779.
– An inquiry into the Legal Mode of Suppressing Riots. 75 p. L. 1780; On the Law of Bailments. 131 p. L. 1781, 2nd ed. 1798, many further editions.
– Translated: The Moallakat, or the seven Arabian Poems which were suspended on the Temple at Mecca. 2+163 p. L. 1783 (with text).
– Lailí Majnún, a Persian Poem of Hátifí. 136 p. Calcutta 1788 (Persian text with English preface).
– Annual Discourses at Asiatick Society: “On the Orthography of Asiatick Words in Roman Letters”, 1784 (As. Res. 1, 1789, repr. L. 1806, 1-56, 7 pl.; “On the Gods of Greece, Italy and India”, 1785 (Ibid. 221-275, 7 pl.; “On the Hindus”, 1786 (Ibid. 403-431; “On the Arabs”, 1787 (As. Res. 2, 1790, repr. 1799, 1-17); “On the Tartars”, 1788 (Ibid. 19-41); “On the Persians”, 1789 (Ibid. 43-66); “On the Chinese”, 1790 (Ibid. 365-381); “On the Borderers, Mountaineers, and Islanders of Asia”, 1791 (As. Res. 3, 1792, 1-16); “On the Origin and Families of Nations”, 1792 (Ibid. 479-492); “On Asiatick History, Civil and Natural”, 1793; “On the Philosophy of the Asiaticks”, 1794 (As. Res. 4, 1795, repr. 1799, xi-xxxi).
– Further articles in As. Res. e.g. “On the Chronology of the Hindus”, As. Res. 2, 1790, 111-147; “On the Antiquity of Indian Zodiac”, Ibid. 289-306, 2 pl.; “On the musical modes of the Hindus”, AS, Res. 3, 1793, 55-87; “Botanical observations on select Indian Plants”, As. Res. 4, 1795, 8° repr. 1798, 238-323 (preceded by a list of Sanskrit and Lain plant names, 234-238).
– Edited: Ritusanhara. The seasons. A descriptive poem by Cálidás, in the original Sanskrit. 62 p. Calcutta 1792.
– Translated: Sacontala, or, the Fatal Ring, an Indian Drama by Càlidàs. 12+183 p. Calcutta 1789, L. 1790, 3rd ed. 1796, German transl. by G. Forster. Mainz & Lp. 1791, Danish 1793, French 1808, Italian 1815.
– Translated: “Gitagovinda or the songs of Jayadeva”, As. Res. 3, 1792, 185-207 (German by F. Maier 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 by J. C. Huttner. Weimar 1797; The Hitopadesa. Publ. in Works 6, 1-176/12, 1807, 1-210.
– Mahommedan Law of Succession to Property of Intestates. L. 1782 (Arabic and English); Al-Sirájiyyah or Mohammedan Law of Inheritance. 105 p. Calcutta 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. 1946 and British Orientalists. 1941, 29f. (both with Reynold’s portrait); *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; *G. Cannon, ed.: A Bibliography of primary and secondary sources. 14+73 p. Amst. Studies 5:7. Amsterdam 1979; *G. Cannon, The life and mind of Oriental Jones. 20+409 p. Cambridge 1990; *G. Cannon & K.R. Brine (eds.), Objects of Enquiry. The Life, Contribution, and Influences of Sir W.J. (1746–1794). 10+185 p. 16 pl. N.Y. 1995; *M.J. Franklin, Sir W.J. 137 p. Writers of Wales. Cardiff 1995; *M.J. Franklin, Orientalist Jones. Sir W.J., poet, lawyer, and linguist, 1746–1794. Oxford 2011; *Br. Lincoln, Theorizing Myth. Narrative, Ideology and Scholarship. Chicago 1999; *M. Moses & A. Moulik: Dialogue of Civilizations. W.J. 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. A Study in 18th century British Attitudes to India. 8+199 p. L. 1968 (hard criticism by Cannon in Language 45, 1969, 135-138); *Lord Teignmouth, Life of Sir W.J. 1804 (distorted), also as vols. 1-2 of Works 2007.
– 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; “Sir W.J., language families, and Indo-European”, Word 43, 1992, 49-59.
– *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 (republ. in Sebeok 1966:1, 1-18); M.J. Franklin, Encyclop. Iranica 15:1, 2009, 5-11 (online 2012); *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; *R. Rocher, “Weaving knowledge: Sir WJ and Indian pundits”, Cannon & Brine 1995 (above), 51-79; *A. D. Waley, “Anquetil Duperron and Sir W. J.”, History Today 2, 1952, 23-33.
– Sir W.J. Bicentenary of his birth commemoration Vol. Calcutta 1948 (the eloquent paper of S.K. Chatterji, 81-96, again publ. in Sebeok 1966, 18-36; 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; Fück 1955, 129-135; *R.H. Robins, Lex. gramm. 1996, 489f.; Sengupta 1996, 12-28; H.M.S[tephens], D.N.B. 30, 1892, 174-177; Windisch 23-26; Trautmann 1997, 28-61 and later on; *Wikipedia with portrait.
– The painting of Joshua Reynolds is often reproduced, also in Chatterjee & Burn 1943 and Mukherjee 1968, another by A.W. Devis in Mukerjee 1968, drawing by the same in BSOAS 11:4, 1946. Memorial statue by John Bacon in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London (four pictures in Trautmann 2997, 76-79).
– G. Cannon (ed).: Letters of Sir William Jones. 1-2. 49+977 p. Oxford 1970; G. Cannon & A. Grout, “British Orientalists’ cooperation: a new letter of Sir WJ”, BSOAS 55, 1992, 316-318.
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