Jones, (Sir) William (1746-1794) jurist and orientalist. A prodigious student of Harrow, Jones learnt Greek, French and Spanish before matriculation at University College, Oxford (1764). To study the Bible in its original language he then learnt Hebrew. From Hebrew he moved to Arabic and then to Persian. With a Bennett Fellowship at Oxford, Jones began to study oriental languages and culture and resolved finally to devote to oriental studies. To Arabic and Persian Jones was first attracted by one travelling Arab called Mirza (his Arabic private tutor), and then by Count Charles Reviczki, a Hungarian Orientalist. Reviczki's translation of Odes of Hafiz enchanted Jones and converted him to Orientalism to which he remained wedded for the rest of his life. Formally Jones was a law student at Oxford, but in practice he indulged himself more in Orientals than in law. While a law student he published five books on oriental subjects including his celebrated A Grammar of the Persian Language (1771).

According to his own admission, the object of publishing these works was to draw the attention of the east india company leaders who could give him a suitable job in India, the land of Sanskrit and Persian. The job he got in 1783 when he was made a judge of the Calcutta Supreme Court. On Board a ship, Jones drew up a memorandum called 'Objects of Enquiry during my residence in Asia'. The objects' included the laws of the Hindus and Mahamedans; modern politics and geography of Hindustan; best mode of governing Bengal; arithmetic and geometry and mixed sciences of the Asiatics; medicine, chemistry, surgery and anatomy of the Indians; poetry, rhetoric and morality of Asia; music of the eastern nations; trade, manufacture, agriculture, trade and commerce of India; Mogul constitution; Mahratta constitution etc. Jones commented in his memorandum that Europeans living in Bengal must cooperate in matters of scientific and cultural research and exploration so that East and West could understand each other in their real perspectives and to their mutual benefit.

All these projects were not merely fancy reveries on the part of Jones. He began to materialize his projects immediately after he got settled in Calcutta. In 1784, he founded his tallest tower of fame - the Asiatic Society of Bengal, which was envisioned to become in time the Royal Society of Great Britain in Asia. It became so. All throughout nineteenth century the asiatic society of Bengal worked as the greatest learned body to study man and nature of Asia. Jones was president of the Asiatic Society until his death in 1794. To study Sanskrit, Jones engaged scholarly Brahmans and soon he became a great pundit in Sanskrit language and literature. His Sanskrit learning led him to theorize that Sanskrit language had close affinity with Greek and Latin. About his epoch-making deduction he argued in his Third Anniversary Discourse to the Asiatic Society (2 February 1786) thus:

The Sanskrit language, Whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer, could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung form some common source.

Jones further developed his theory later and established the discipline of comparative linguistics in the world by establishing conclusively the kinship between Sanskrit, Persian, Latin, Greek and German philologists, Friedrich Von Schlegel and F Max Muller. Jones's essay entitled 'The Gods of Greece, Italy and India' published in the first volume of Asiatick Researches asserted successfully that it was not only in languages that affinity existed, but also in mythologies. He elaborated on the concepts of the Hindu Triad, the Platonic Triad and the Christian Trinity.

In his translation of Kalidasa's Sakuntala Jones compared Kalidasa with Shakespeare in poetic power and sensitivities. Jones also translated the lyric drama gitagovindam of Jayadeva. Administratively and politically, Jones's monumental contributions were Digest of Hindu Laws (unpublished during his lifetime) and translation of the Ordinances of Manu (1794). In April 1794, Jones published his scientific observations on Indian botanical objects in four essays in the April issue of the Asiatick Researches.

How Jones was estimated in his own times and afterwards will be attested by the fact that in all literary and scientific dictionaries and encyclopedias his name appeared with unparalleled eulogies and appreciation. He spoke and wrote in twenty eight languages. At an age of only forty eight he died in Calcutta (27 April 1794) with a regret that he found no time to learn his own native tongue, Welsh. [Sirajul Islam]

 


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