Studies in William Jones: An Interpreter of Oriental Literature

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Item Code: NAE630
Author: R.K. Kaul
Publisher: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
Language: English
Edition: 1995
ISBN: 8185952213
Pages: 133
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 6.0 inch
Weight 270 gm
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About the Book

William Jones (1746-94) was the first European to discover the great literature of ancient India. He was one of the first to discover that Sanskrit belonged to the great family of the Indo-European languages. Jones’s importance for us lies in the fact that he helped to rediscover our past as Suniti Chatterji said, a view endorsed by Nehru.

Professor Kaul in this book begins with a refutation of Edward said strictures on Jones. He then devotes a chapter each to Jones’s interpretation of Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit poetry, concluding with a discussion of Sakuntala which contributed to the rise of the Romantic Movement in Europe. While Kaul’s approach is these chapters is that of a literary historian and critic, philosophical and theological issues are taken up as an when they arise. Some of his judgments are challenging, even provocative.

About the Author

Born at Lahore in 1928, R.K. Kaul began his higher education at Government College, Lahore. Because of the Partition of 1947 he had to migrate to Delhi where he completed his Master’s degree in English. He obtained his Humors degree from Oxford (1952) and a doctorate from London (1960).

He was Lecturer at Panjab University (1953-62), Reader at Rajasthan University (1962-68) and professor till 1988. He was Senior Fulbright Scholar at Yale University (1970-71) UGC National Lecturer (1983), Emeritus Fellow (1988-90), Visiting Professor, Delhi University (July 1990 to December 1990) and Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study (1991-93).

The special areas of his interest include Dr. Johnson and Henry James. He has published research articles in national and international journals. He has guided research and edited the journal of Rajasthan University. His work on William Jones grew out of his interest in the eighteenth.


The last edition of the works of sir William Jones was published by Lord teignmouth in 1807. Since then there has not been another edition of the complete works. In 1984 Moni Bogchi edited the discourses and Essays of sir William Jones (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House). It is a matter of great pleasure that Satya S. Pachori has recently (1993) brought out sir William Jones: A reader (New Delhi: Oxford University Press).

The one Scholar whose life-long devotion to William Jones had made research on the subject possible is garland cannot. In 1964 he published Oriental Jones: A Biography (London: Asia Publishing House). In 1970volume edition of The Letters of Sir William Jones (Oxford: Claredon Press) and in 1990 the life and Mind of Oriental Jones (Combridge University Press). Incidentally the second of the two books incorporates the material published in various periodicals about Jones by Cannot himself.

S.N. Mukherjee, author of Sir William Jones (Bombay: Longman, 1968), approaches his subject as an unsparing and impartial historian rather than as an apologist. Like cannot he also covers every aspect of Jones’s life and writings chronologically. He considers the foundation of the Asiatic Society to be Jones’s greatest achievement. O.P. Kejariwal has written a comprehensive history of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Discovery of India’s Past (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, (1988) in which Jones, Colebrook, Wilson and Prinsep are all given their due for undertaking the first “discover” of India.

William Jones was a polyhistor of the 18th century whose interests ranged from botany, philology and chronology to such esotieric subjects as theogony and astrology. His contributions to comparative philology have been acknowledged by several scholars. One of the Fellows of the nstitute Dr. D.D. Mahulkar is about to publish a monograph on Jones’s achievement in the science of linguistics.

Nor has appreciation of Jones as an original poet in English been wanting. Critics like Vivian de Sola Pinto, S.N. ray and R.K. Das Gupta have contributed articles to learned periodicals and festschrifts in honors of Jones.

Numerous critical estimates have been published of Jones’s pioneering work as a translator of Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit poetry. A.J. arberry has written a stimulating essay on Jones’s rendering of one ode of Hafiz and Dorothy M. Figueroa has published a full-length book, comparing several 19th centry translations of shakuntala in the major European languages. It combines minute scholarship with acute criticism.

But there is no full-length study of Jones’s literary achievement as a translator from the thee oriental languages; Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. Accordingly Chapters II, III and IV of the present work are an attempt to assess Jones’s literary achievement as a translator, without too much discussion about the accuracy or faithfulness to the originals.

The first chapter of the book makes a departure from this scheme. It sets out to defend Jones against an unfair attack launched by Edward Said who has set an intellectual trend in recent time’s viz. a reaction against the Eurocentric mentality. A rejoinder to Said was called for. It is for the reader to decide whether my refutation is convincing.

In 1952 when I took leave of my tutor at Oxford, the late J.A.W. Bennett, he suggested William Jones as a possible subject of research. In 1988 after my retirement from teaching at Jaipur an old student Vinod Sharma of alwar furnished me with some material o Jones. The discovery of cannon’s edition of the Letters in the Library of Rajasthan University was breath-taking.

It was left for Prof. J.S. Grewal, the Director of I.I.A.S., to provide me with the opportunity to fulfill my ambition of writing a monograph on the subject. While my debt to J.S. Grewal, B.N. Goswamy and other fellows of the Institute is acknowledged in the bibliography there are two “Fellows from whom I learnt much about ancient Sanskrit culture over the dining table: Dr. P Banerjee and Prof. K.K. Thapliyal. Prof. T.N. dhar gave me some valuable tips on documentation. Dr. Tripta Wahi and Dr. Jaidev made some rare books accessible. The latter also corrected the proofs of these books, making numerous stylistic improvements. Mr. sabir Hasan of the library staff helped me with cruxes in Arabic and Persian. Altogether the library staff was extremely helpful. I also owe thanks to Damyanti Kaul, my wife, whose patience with my schedule during these years at Shimla made my work possible.


IOrientalism and William Jones1
IIThe Seven Odes: Jones on Arabic Poetry28
IIIJones on Persian Poetry48
IVUnder Western Eyes: Sakuntala, william Jones and the Orientalists83
VConclusion: A Note on the religious Beliefs of William Jones109
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