WILKINS, Charles. Frome, Somerset bapt. 21.6.1749 (not 1750!) — London 13.5.1833. Sir. British Pioneer of Indology. In India 1770-86. Son of Hugh W. and Mary Wray. Joining the E.I.C.’s service he came to India as a Writer in July 1770 and served in 1770-72 as Assistant in Secretarial Office, in 1772-74 Assistant to Collector at Jehangirpur and from 1774 to Superintendent of the Company’s factories at Maldah. From 1776 also Factor and from 1779 junior Merchant at Maldah. In 1783 on study leave in Benares. Disappointed after the depart of his friend Hastings, he pleaded ill health and returned to England in 1786. He lived in Bath and Hawkhurst translating Sanskrit texts and planning a printing press. In 1796 a fire destroyed his home (but the papers were rescued) and he returned to London. From 1801 again in E.I.C.’s service as its first Librarian (the collection included the manuscripts from Seringapatam), from 1801 Translator of Persian and from 1805 also Examiner and Visitor of Oriental Languages at the new East India College (and from 1810 also at the Military College in Addiscombe), held all these offices until his death, visiting Haileybury twice every year. In 1810 he founded the Company’s printing press, with Oriental types, and in 1817 became the Company’s de facto historiographer. F.R.S. 1788. D.C.L. 1805 Oxford. Knighted 1833. Died in an influenza.
Soon after his return from India Wilkins married Elizabeth Keble. Their daughter Elizabeth (1787–1863) married in 1807 her father’s old friend William Marsden (1754–1836). The correspondance of Wilkins and Marsden shows her as a competent numismatician. As a widow she married in 1838 the numismatician W. M. Leake. Wilkins’ wife died after the birth of their second daughter in 1788 and W. married in 1789 Lucky Shingler. A third daughter was born in 1790.
CW was the first Englishman to learn thoroughly Sanskrit in Bengal and was then known as the “Sanskrit-mad Wilkins”. Prompted by his friend Halhed, he started the study of Sanskrit in 1778 and later introduced Sir William Jones into it. His Gītā, printed by the Company in London on the recommendation of Hastings, was the first Sanskrit work ever translated into English and had great influence (it was admired e.g. by Emerson and Thoreau). The preparation of his large Sanskrit grammar he started already in India, in the early 19th century it was the most popular one in Europe, although too detailed for a beginner. After 1800, his many duties took the major part of his time and thus affected his studies. His unfinished plans included a complete translation of the Mahābhārata.
In 1778 CW founded a printing press with Persian and Bengali types in Hooghly and thus became the pioneer of Bengali printing. The first work printed was Halhed’s Bengali grammar. He was a founder member of the A.S.B. When in India, he became one of the pioneers of Indian epigraphy. His 148 Oriental manuscripts were bequeathed to the Company. Long time he lived at 40 Baker Street. There are two pictures of him: a portrait by Middleton (lost) and a drawing by W. Blake.
Publications: translated: The Bhăgvăt-Gĕĕtā or dialogues of Krĕĕshnă and Ărjŏŏn, in eighteen lectures. 156 p. L. 1785, French 1787, German 1802; The Hĕĕtōpădēs of Vĕĕshnŏŏ-Sărmā, in a series of collected fables interspersed with moral, prudential and political maxims. 20+334 p. L. & Bath 1787, new ed. L. 1885, French 1790.
– “The Story of Dooshwanta and Sakoontala transl. from the Mahábhárata”, Dalrympe, The Oriental Repertory 2, 1794, 413-452 and sep. 1795, French in JA 1, 1828, 337-374; “Translation of the Mahâbhârata Book I Section I–X”, Annals of Oriental Literature 1820, 65-86, 278-296, 450-461.
– epigraphical articles in As. Res. 1, 1788, 8°-reprint 123-130, 131-144, 279-287; 2, 1790, 8°-r. 167-169; JRAS 3, 1836, 377-380.
– “Observations on the Sic’hs and their College”, As. Res. 1, 1788, 8°-reprint 288-294 (on Sikhs).
– “A Catalogue of sanscrita manuscripts presented to the Royal Society by Sir William and Lady Jones”, Phil. Transactions 88, 1798, 582-593, repr. in Jones’ Works. 6. 1807; “A Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts”, Phil. Tr. 89, 1799, 335-344.
– rev. ed. of Richardson’s Persian, Arabic, and English Dictionary. 1806.
– Grammar of the Sanskrita Language. 20+662 p. L. 1808.
– ed. Srî Dhâtumang’arî [by Kāśīnātha). The Radicals of the Sanskrita Language. 8+171 p. 1815.
Sources: C.B[endall], D.N.B. 61, 1900, 259f.; Buckland, Dictionary.; *G. C. Haughton, Asiatic Journal N.S. 20, 1836, 165-170; G. Hendrick, introduction to the facsimile ed. of the Gītā, 1959; *E. H. Johnston, Woolner Comm. Vol. 1940; Lloyd, India Office report 1978, 9-39; *M. Moses & A. Moulik, Dialogue of Civilizations. William Jones and the Orientalists. New Delhi 2009, 375-384. Wikipedia.
A mezzotint engraving by J. Sartain (publ. 1830) from the lost painting by J. G. Middleton often reproduced, e.g. Arberry, British Orientalists. L. 1943.