The History of British India, Vol. II, by James Mill

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

Re: The History of British India, vol. II, by James Mill

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CHAP. VIII. The Arts.

We come now to the arts, necessary or ornamental, known to the Hindus. As the pleasures, to which the arts are subservient, form one of the grounds of preference between the rude and civilized condition of man, the improvement of the arts may be taken as one of the surest indications of the progress of society.

Of the Hindus, it may, first of all, be observed, that they little courted the pleasures derived from the arts, whatever skill they had attained in them. The houses, even of the great, were mean, and almost destitute of furniture;1 their food was simple and common; and their dress had no distinction (which concerns the present purpose) beyond certain degrees of fineness in the texture.

If we desire to ascertain the arts which man would first practise, in his progress upwards from the lowest barbarism, we must inquire what are the most urgent of his wants. Unless the spontaneous productions of the soil supplied him with food, the means of ensnaring, or killing the animals fit for his use, by clubs or stones, and afterwards by his bow and arrows, would first engage his attention. How to shelter himself from the inclemency of the weather would be his second consideration; and where cavities of the earth or hollow trees supplied not his wants, the rude construction of a hut would be one of his earliest operations. A covering for his person would probably be the next of the accommodations which his feelings prompt him to provide. At first he contents himself with the skin of an animal; but it is surprising at how early a period he becomes acquainted with the means of fabricating cloth.2 Weaving, therefore, and architecture, are among the first of the complicated arts which are practised among barbarians; and experience proves that they may be carried, at a very early period of society, to a high state of perfection. It has been remarked, too, that one of the earliest propensities which springs up in the breast of a savage is a love of ornaments, of glittering trinkets, of bits of shining metals, or coloured stones, with which to decorate his person. The art, accordingly, of fetching out the brilliancy of the precious stones and metals, and fashioning them into ornaments for the person; the art, in fine, of jewellery, appears at an early period in the progress of a rude people.

These three, architecture, weaving, and jewellery, are the only arts for which the Hindus have been celebrated; and even these, with the exception of weaving, remained in a low state of improvement.

In a few places in Hindustan are found the remains of ancient buildings, which have attracted the attention of Europeans; and have, where there existed a predisposition to wonder and admire, been regarded as proofs of a high civilization. “The entry,” says Dr. Robertson, “to the Pagoda of Chillambrum, is by a stately gate under a pyramid 122 feet in height, built with large stones above forty feet long, and more than five feet square, and all covered with plates of copper, adorned with an immense variety of figures neatly executed. The whole structure extends 1332 feet in one direction, and 936 in another. Some of the ornamental parts are finished with an elegance entitled to the admiration of the most ingenious artists.”3 The only article of precise information which we obtain from this passage is the great size of the building. As for the vague terms of general eulogy, bestowed upon the ornaments, they are almost entirely without significance—the loose and exaggerated expressions, at second hand, of the surprise of the early travellers at meeting with an object, which they were not prepared to expect. Another structure still more remarkable than that of Chillambrum, the Pagoda of Seringham, situated in an island of the river Cavery, is thus described by Mr. Orme. “It is composed of seven square inclosures, one within the other, the walls of which are twenty-five feet high, and four thick. These inclosures are 350 feet distant from one another, and each has four large gates with a high tower; which are placed, one in the middle of each side of the inclosure, and opposite to the four cardinal points. The outward wall is near four miles in circumference, and its gateway to the south is ornamented with pillars, several of which are single stones thirty-three feet long, and nearly five in diameter; and those which form the roof are still larger; in the inmost inclosures are the chapels.”4 In this nothing is described as worthy of regard except the magnitude of the dimensions.

The cave of Elephanta, not far from Bombay, is another work which, from its magnitude, has given birth to the supposition of high civilization among the Hindus. It is a cavity in the side of a mountain, about half way between its base and summit, of the space of nearly 120 feet square. Pieces of the rock, as is usual in mining, have been left at certain distances supporting the superincumbent matter; and the sight of the whole upon the entrance, is grand and striking. It had been applied at an early period to religious purposes, when the pillars were probably fashioned into the sort of regular form they now present, and the figures, with which great part of the inside is covered, were sculptured on the stone.5

Antecedently to the dawn of taste, it is by magnitude alone that, in building, nations can exhibit magnificence, and it is almost uniformly in honour of the gods, that this species of grandeur is first attempted. Experience alone could have made us comprehend, at how low a stage in the progress of the arts, surprising structures can be erected. The Mexicans were even ignorant of iron. They were unacquainted with the use of scaffolds and cranes. They had no beasts of burden. They were without sledges and carts. They were under the necessity of breaking their stones with flints, and polished them by rubbing one against another. Yet they accomplished works, which, in magnitude and symmetry, vie with any thing of which Hindustan has to boast. “The great temple,” says Clavigero, “occupied the centre of the city. Within the enclosure of the wall, which encompassed it in a square form, the conqueror Cortez affirms that a town of 500 houses might have stood. The wall, built of stone and lime, was very thick, eight feet high, crowned with battlements, in the form of niches, and ornamented with many stone figures in the shape of serpents. It had four gates to the four cardinal points. Over each of the four gates was an arsenal, filled with a vast quantity of offensive and defensive weapons, where the troops went, when it was necessary, to be supplied with arms. The space within the walls was curiously paved with such smooth and polished stones that the horses of the Spaniards could not move upon them without slipping and tumbling down. In the middle was raised an immense solid building of greater length than breadth, covered with square equal pieces of pavement. The building consisted of five bodies, nearly equal in height, but different in length and breadth; the highest being narrowest. The first body, or basis of the building, was more than fifty perches long from east to west, and about forty-three in breadth from north to south. The second body was about a perch less in length and breadth than the first; and the rest in proportion. The stairs, which were upon the south side, were made of large well-formed stones, and consisted of 114 steps, each a foot high. Upon the fifth body (the top) was a plain, which we shall call the upper area, which was about forty-three perches long, and thirty-four broad, and was as well paved as the great area below. At the eastern extremity of this plain were raised two towers to the height of fifty-six feet. These were properly the sanctuaries, where, upon an altar of stone five feet high, were placed the tutelary idols.”6 The Tlascalans, as a rampart against the Mexican troops, erected a wall, “six miles in length, between two mountains; eight feet in height, besides the breast-work; and eighteen feet in thickness.”7

Garcilasso de la Vega informs us, that “the Incas, who were kings of Peru, erected many wonderful and stately edifices; their castles, temples, and royal palaces,” says he, “their gardens, store-houses, and other fabrics, were buildings of great magnificence, as is apparent by the ruins of them. The work of greatest ostentation, and which evidences most the power and majesty of the Incas, was the fortress of Cozco, whose greatness is incredible to any who have not seen it, and such as have viewed it with great attention cannot but admire it, and believe that such a work was raised by enchantment, or the help of spirits, being that which surpasses the art and power of man. For the stones are so many and so great which are laid in the three first rounds, being rather rocks than stones, as passes all understanding, how, and in what manner, they were hewn from the quarry, or brought from thence, for they had no instruments of iron or steel, wherewith to cut or fashion them: nor less wonderful is it to think, how they could be carried to the building; for they had neither carts nor oxen to draw them with; and if they had, the weight was so vast as no cart could bear, or oxen draw; then to think that they drew them with great ropes, over hills and dales, and difficult ways, by the mere force of men’s arms, is alike incredible; for many of them were brought ten, twelve, and fifteen leagues off.—But to proceed further in our imagination of this matter, and consider how it was possible for the people to fit and join such vast machines of stones together, and cement them so close, that the point of a knife can scarce pass between them, is a thing above all admiration, and some of them are so artificially joined, that the crevices are scarce discernible between them: Then to consider that to square and fit these stones one to the other, they were to be raised and lifted up and removed often, until they were brought to their just size and proportion; but how this was done by men who had no use of the rule and square, nor knew how to make cranes or pulleys, and cramps, and other engines, to raise and lower them as they had occasion, is beyond imagination.”8

Whatever allowance any preconceptions of the reader may lead him to make for exaggeration, which we may believe to be considerable, in the above descriptions, enough undoubtedly appears to prove, that no high attainments, in civilization and the arts, are implied in the accomplishment of very arduous and surprising works in architecture; and it will be allowed that such comparisons between the attainments of different nations, are the only means of forming a precise judgment of the indications of civilization which they present. The Gothic cathedrals reared in modern Europe, which remain among the most stupendous monuments of architecture in that quarter of the globe, were constructed, many of them at least, at comparatively a very low stage of civilization and science. To allude to Nineveh and Babylon, is to bring to the recollection of the historical reader, the celebrated works of architecture, in temples, walls, palaces, bridges, which distinguished those ancient cities. Yet it is demonstrated, that no high degree of improvement was attained by the people that erected them. The pyramids of Egypt, vast as their dimensions, and surprising their durability, afford intrinsic evidence of the rudeness of the period at which they were reared.9 According to Strabo, the sepulchre of Belus, at Babylon, was a pyramid of one stadium in height. It appears to have been built of different bodies, or stages, one rising above another, exactly in the manner of the great temple at Mexico. A tower, says Herodotus, a stadium both in length and breadth, is reared at the base; and upon this is erected another tower, and again another upon that, to the number of eight towers in all.10

Sonnerat informs us, “that the architecture of the Hindus is very rude; and their structures in honour of their deities are venerable only from their magnitude.”11 “Mail-cotay,” says Dr. Buchanan, “is one of the most celebrated places of Hindu worship, both as having been honoured with the actual presence of an avatara, or incarnation of Vishnu, who founded one of the temples; and also as being one of the principal seats of the Sri Vaishnavam Brahmans, and having possessed very large revenues. The large temple is a square building of great dimensions, and entirely surrounded by a colonade; but it is a mean piece of architecture, at least outwardly. The columns are very rude, and only about six feet high. Above the entablature, in place of a balustrade, is a clumsy mass of brick and plaster, much higher than the columns, and excavated with numerous niches, in which are huddled together many thousand images, composed of the same materials, and most rudely formed. The temple itself is alleged to be of wonderful antiquity, and to have been not only built by a god, but to be dedicated to Krishna on the very spot where that avatara performed some of his great works.”12 Of the celebrated pagodas at Congeveram, the same author remarks, that “they are great stone buildings, very clumsily executed, both in their joinings and carvings, and totally devoid of elegance or grandeur, although they are wonderfully crowded with what are meant as ornaments.”13

Wonderful monuments of the architecture of rude nations are almost every where to be found. Mr. Bryant, speaking of the first rude inhabitants of Sicily, the Cyclopes, who were also called Lestrygons and Lamii, says, “They erected many temples, and likewise high towers upon the sea-coast; and founded many cities. The ruins of some of them are still extant; and have been taken notice of by Fazellus, who speaks of them as exhibiting a most magnificent appearance. They consist of stones which are of great size. Fazellus, speaking of the bay, near Segesta, and of an hill which overlooked the bay, mentions wonderful ruins upon its summit, and gives an ample description of their extent and appearance.”14 The old traveller, Knox, after describing the passion of the Ceylonese, for constructing temples and monuments, of enormous magnitude, in honour of their gods, drily adds; “As if they had been born solely to hew rocks and great stones, and lay them up in heaps:”15 the unsophisticated decision of a sound understanding, on operations which the affectation of taste, and antiquarian credulity, have magnified into proofs of the highest civilization.

Of one very necessary and important part of architecture, the Hindus were entirely ignorant. They knew not the construction of arches, till they first learned it from their Moslem conquerors. In the description of the superb temple at Seringham, we have already seen16 that no better expedient was known than great flat stones for the roof. “On the south branch of the river” Cavery, at Seringapatam, says Dr. Buchanan, “a bridge has been erected, which serves also as an aqueduct, to convey from the upper part of the river a large canal of water into the town and island. The rudeness of this bridge will show the small progress that the arts have made in Mysore. Square pillars of granite are cut from the rock, of a sufficient height to rise above the water at the highest floods. These are placed upright in rows, as long as the intended width of the bridge, and distant about ten feet from each other. They are secured at the bottom by being let into the solid rock, and their tops being cut to a level, a long stone is laid upon each row. Above these longitudinal stones, others are placed contiguous to each other, and stretching from row to row, in the direction of the length of the bridge.”17 The celebrated bridge over the Euphrates, at Babylon, was constructed on similar principles, and the president Goguet remarks, “that the Babylonians were not the only people who were ignorant of the art of turning an arch. This secret,” he adds, “as far as I can find, was unknown to all the people of remote antiquity.”18 Though the ancient inhabitants, however, of Persia, were ignorant of this useful and ingenious art, the modern Persians are admirably skilled in it: the roofs of the houses are almost all vaulted; and the builders are peculiarly dexterous in constructing them.19

Of the exquisite degree of perfection to which the Hindus have carried the productions of the loom, it would be idle to offer any description; as there are few objects with which the inhabitants of Europe are better acquainted. Whatever may have been the attainments, in this art, of other nations of antiquity, the Egyptians, for example, whose fine linen was so eminently prized, the manufacture of no modern nation can, in delicacy and fineness, vie with the textures of Hindustan. It is observed at the same time, by intelligent travellers, that this is the only art which the original inhabitants of that country have carried to any considerable degree of perfection.20

To the skill of the Hindus, in this art, several causes contributed. It is one of the first to which the necessities of man conduct him;21 it is one of those which experience proves to arrive early at high perfection; and it is an art to which the circumstances of the Hindu were in a singular manner adapted. His climate and soil conspired to furnish him with the most exquisite material for his art, the finest cotton which the earth produces. It is a sedentary occupation, and thus in harmony with his predominant inclination. It requires patience, of which he has an inexhaustible fund; it requires little bodily exertion, of which he is always exceedingly sparing; and the finer the production, the more slender the force which he is called upon to apply. But this is not all. The weak and delicate frame of the Hindu is accompanied with an acuteness of external sense, particularly of touch, which is altogether unrivalled, and the flexibility of his fingers is equally remarkable. The hand of the Hindu, therefore, constitutes an organ, adapted to the finer operations of the loom in a degree, which is almost, or altogether, peculiar to himself.22

Yet the Hindus possessed not this single art in so great a degree of perfection, compared with rude nations, as, even on that ground, to lay a foundation for very high pretensions. “In Mexico,” says Clavigero, “manufactures of various kinds of cloth were common every where; it was one of those arts which almost every person learned. Of cotton they made large webs, and as delicate and fine as those of Holland, which were with much reason highly esteemed in Europe. A few years after the conquest, a sacerdotal habit of the Mexicans was brought to Rome, which, as Boturini affirms, was uncommonly admired on account of its fineness. They wove these cloths with different figures and colours, representing different animals and flowers.”23 When the Goths first broke into the Roman empire they possessed fringed carpets and linen garments of so fine a quality as greatly surprised the Greeks and Romans, and have been thought worthy of minute description by Eunapius and Zosimus.24 “Pliny, speaking of a carpet for covering such beds as the ancients made use of at table, says, that this piece of furniture, which was produced from the looms of Babylon, amounted to eighty-one thousand sestertia.”25 This proves the fineness to which that species of manufacture was then wrought, and the excellence which the Babylonians, who yet could not construct an arch, had attained in the art. The Asiatic nations seem to have excelled, from the earliest ages, in the manufactures of the loom. It is by Pliny recorded, as the opinion of his age and nation, that of the art of weaving cotton Semiramis is to be revered as the inventress. The city Arachne, celebrated by the Greeks and Romans, as the place where weaving was first invented, and where it was carried to the highest perfection, is represented by Mr. Bryant as the same with Erech or Barsippa, and situated on the Euphrates, in the territory of Babylon.26 One of the accomplishments of the goddess of wisdom herself, (so early was the date) was her unrivalled excellence in the art of weaving; and Arachne, according to the poets, was a virgin, who, daring to vie with Minerva in her favourite art, was changed into a spider for her presumption.27

That ingenuity is in its infancy among the Hindus, is shewn by the rudeness still observable in the instruments of this their favourite art. The Hindu loom with all its appurtenances, is coarse and ill-fashioned, to a degree hardly less surprising than the fineness of the commodity which it is the instrument of producing. It consists of little else than a few sticks or pieces of wood, nearly in the state in which nature produced them, connected together by the rudest contrivances. There is not so much as an expedient for rolling up the warp. It is stretched out at the full length of the web; which makes the house of the weaver insufficient to contain him. He is therefore obliged to work continually in the open air; and every return of inclement weather interrupts him.28

Among the arts of the Hindus, that of printing and dyeing their cloths has been celebrated; and the beauty and brilliancy, as well as durability, of the colours they produce, is worthy of particular praise. This has never been supposed to be one of the circumstances on which any certain inference with regard to civilization could be founded. It has been generally allowed that a great, if not the greatest part of the excellence which appears in the colours of the Hindu cloths, is owing to the superior quality of the colouring matters, with which their happy climate and soil supply them.29 Add to this that dyeing is an early art. “It must have made,” says Goguet, “a very rapid progress in the earliest times in some countries. Moses speaks of stuffs dyed sky-blue, purple, and double-scarlet; he also speaks of the skins of sheep dyed orange and violet.”30 The purple, so highly admired by the ancients, they represented as the invention of Hercules, thus tracing back its origin even to the fabulous times. In durability it appears not that any thing could surpass the colours of the ancients. “We never,” says Goguet, “find them complain that the colour of their stuffs was subject to alter or change. Plutarch tells us, in the life of Alexander, that the conqueror found among the treasures of the kings of Persia, a prodigious quantity of purple stuffs, which, for one hundred and eighty years which they had been kept, preserved all their lustre, and all their primitive freshness. We find in Herodotus, that certain people, on the borders of the Caspian Sea, imprinted on their stuffs designs, either of animals or flowers, whose colour never changed, and lasted as long even as the wool of which their cloaths were made.”31

We shall next consider the progress of the Hindus in agriculture, which, though the most important of all the useful arts, is not the first invented, nor the first which arrives at perfection. It is allowed on all hands that the agriculture of Hindustan is rude; but the progress of agriculture depends so much upon the laws relating to landed property, that the state of this art may continue very low, in a country where other arts are carried to a high degree of perfection.

A Hindu field, in the highest state of cultivation, is described to be only so far changed by the plough, as to afford a scanty supply of mould for covering the seed; while the useless and hurtful vegetation is so far from being eradicated, that, where burning precedes not, which for a short time smooths the surface, the grasses and shrubs, which have bid defiance to the plough, cover a large proportion of the surface.

Nothing can exceed the rudeness and inefficiency of the Hindu implements of agriculture. The plough consists of a few pieces of wood, put together with less adaptation to the end in view, than has been elsewhere found among some of the rudest nations. It has no contrivance for turning over the mould; and the share, having neither width nor depth, is incapable of stirring the soil. The operation of ploughing is described by the expressive term scratching. Several ploughs follow one another, all to deepen the same furrow; a second ploughing of the same sort is performed across the first; and very often a third, and a fourth, in different directions, before so much as an appearance of mould is obtained for the seed.32

The instrument employed as a harrow is described as literally a branch of a tree; in some places as a log of wood, performing the office partly of a roller, partly of a harrow; and in others as a thing resembling a ladder of about eighteen feet in length, drawn by four bullocks, and guided by two men, who stand upon the instrument to increase its weight.33 The hackery, which answers the purpose of cart or waggon, is a vehicle with two wheels, which are not three feet in diameter, and are not unfrequently solid pieces of wood, with only a hole in the middle for the axle tree. The body of the machine is composed of two bamboos, meeting together at an angle between the necks of the two bullocks, by which the vehicle is drawn, and united by a few crossing bars of the same useful material. It is supported at the angle by a bar which passes over the necks of the two animals; and cruelly galls them. To lessen the friction between the wheel and axis, and save either his wretched cattle, or his own ears, the simple expedient of greasing his wheels, never suggested itself to the mind of a ryot of Hindustan.34 Even this wretched vehicle can seldom be employed for the purposes of husbandry, from the almost total want of roads. It is in back loads that the carriage of almost all the commodities of the country is performed; and in many places the manure is conveyed to the fields in baskets on the backs of the women.35

Every thing which savours of ingenuity; even the most natural results of common observation and good sense, are foreign to the agriculture of the Hindus. The advantages arising from the observation of the fittest season for sowing are almost entirely neglected. No attention was ever paid in Hindustan to the varieties of the grains; so as to select the best seed, or that fittest for particular situations. For restoring fruitfulness to a field that is exhausted, no other expedient is known, than suspending its cultivation; when the weeds, with which it is always plentifully stored, usurp undivided dominion. Any such refinement as a fallow, or a rotation of crops, is far beyond the reach of a Hindu. The most irrational practice that ever found existence in the agriculture of any nation, is general in India, that of sowing various species of seeds, mustard, flax, barley, wheat, millet, maize, and many others, which ripen at different intervals, all indiscriminately on the same spot. As soon as the earliest of the crops is mature, the reapers are sent into the field, who pick out the stalks of the plant which is ripe, and tread down the rest with their feet. This operation is repeated as each part of the product arrives at maturity, till the whole is separated from the ground.

Though, during the dry season, there is an almost total failure of vegetables for the support of cattle; of which every year many are lost by famine, and the remainder reduced to the most deplorable state of emaciation and weakness; none but the most imperfect means were ever imagined by the Hindu of saving part of the produce of the prolific season, to supply the wants of the barren one. Hay is a commodity which it would not always be convenient to make; but various kinds of pulse and millet might be produced at all seasons, and would afford the most important relief to the cattle when the pasture grounds are bare. The horses themselves are often preserved alive by the grooms picking up the roots of the grass with a knife from the ditches and tanks.36

The only circumstance to captivate the fancy of those Europeans, who were on the look-out for subjects of praise, was the contrivance for irrigation. Reservoirs or excavations, known in India by the name of tanks, were so contrived as to collect a large body of water in the rainy season, whence it was drawn off in the season of drought for the refreshment of the fields. These tanks appear to have been at all times a principal concern of the government; and when it is considered that almost the whole revenue of the sovereign depended in each year upon the produce of the soil, and that the decay of the tanks ensured the decay of revenue, it is no wonder that of such care and wisdom as the government any where displayed, a large portion should appear to have been bestowed upon the tanks. In certain places much care and labour have been employed. But those authors were strangely mistaken who looked upon this as a proof of refined agriculture and great civilization. It is only in a small number of instances, where the whole power of an extensive government, and that almost always Mahomedan, had been applied to the works of irrigation, that they are found on a considerable scale, or in any but the rudest state. In a country in which, without artificial watering, the crops would always be lost, the ingenuity of sinking a hole in the ground, to reserve a supply of water, need not be considered as great.37

To separate the grain from the straw, the ancient method of treading with oxen has, in Hindustan, given way to no improvement; and for the most part the corn is still ground in handmills by the women.38

Of the arts which at an early stage of society acquire the greatest excellence, one, as we have already observed, is that of preparing brilliant trinkets for the ornament of the person. The Hindus cut the precious stones, polish them to a high degree of brilliancy, and set them neatly in gold and silver. It remains to be ascertained how much of civilization this faculty implies. So early as the time of Moses, the art of forming jewels had attained great perfection among the Jews. In the ephod of Aaron, and in the breast-plate of judgment, were precious stones set in gold, with the names of the twelve tribes engraved on them. The account of these jewels in the book of Exodus, suggests ideas of considerable magnificence.39 Clavigero informs us, that the ancient Mexicans “set gems in gold and silver, and made most curious jewellery of great value. In short,” says that author, “these sorts of works were so admirably finished, that even the Spanish soldiers all stung as they were with the same wretched thirst for gold, valued the workmanship above the materials.”40

When Europeans have compared the extreme imperfection, the scantiness and rudeness of the tools by which the Hindu artist performs his task, with the neatness and in some cases the celerity of the execution, they have frequently drawn an inference, the very reverse of that which the circumstances implied. This sort of faculty is no mark of high civilization. A dexterity in the use of its own imperfect tools is a common attribute of a rude society.

Acosta, speaking of some remarkable instances of this species of talent in the natives of Mexico and Peru, says, “Hereby we may judge, if they have any understanding, or be brutish; for my part, I think they pass us in those things whereunto they apply themselves.”41 Mr. Forster himself, whose admiration was excited by the dexterity of the Hindus, affords an instance in the rude person of a Russian peasant, which might have suggested to him an appropriate conclusion. “At the distance,” says he, “of a few miles from Choperskoy, the driver of the carriage alarmed me by a report of the hinder axle being shattered; an accident which gave me an opportunity of observing the dexterity of a Russian carpenter in the use of the axe. Without the help of any other tool, except a narrow chisel, to cut a space in the centre of it for receiving an iron bar which supports the axle, and to pierce holes for the linch pins, he reduced in two hours a piece of gross timber to the requisite form, and his charge was one shilling.”42

But while dexterity in the use of imperfect tools is not a proof of civilization; a great want of ingenuity and completeness in instruments and machinery is a strong indication of the reverse; nor would it be easy to point out any single circumstance, which may be taken as a better index of the degree in which the benefits of civilization are any where enjoyed than the state of the tools and machinery of the artists. All European visitors have been vehemently struck with the rudeness of the tools, and machinery used by the people of Hindustan.43 Sonnerat, one of those travellers who have surveyed the state of the arts in that country, with the greatest attention and the most enlightened eyes, informs us, that with his hands, and two or three tools, the Hindu artisan has to perform that kind of task about which with us a hundred tools would be employed.44 “When the rudeness of the tools,” says Mr. Forster, “with the simplicity of the process, is examined, the degree of delicacy which the artizans have acquired in their several professions must challenge a high admiration.”45 Fryer, speaking of the mode in which coral is cut, says, “The tools of the workmen were more to be wondered at than his art; his hands and feet being all the vice, and the other tools unshapen bits of iron.”46

In the mode in which the Hindu artisans, of almost all descriptions, performed their work, is observed a circumstance, generally found among a rude people, and no where else. The carpenter, the blacksmith, the brazier, even the goldsmith and jeweller, not to speak of others, produce not their manufacture, as in a refined state of the arts, in houses and workshops of their own, where the accommodations requisite for them can best be combined: they repair for each job, with their little budget of tools, to the house of the man who employs them, and there perform the service for which they are called.47

With regard to the fine arts, a short sketch will suffice. Hardly by any panegyrist is it pretended that the sculpture, the painting, the music of the Hindus are in a state beyond that in which they appear in early stages of society. The merely mechanical part, that for which the principal requisites are time and patience, the natural produce of rude ages when labour is of little value, is often executed with great neatness; and surprises by the idea of the difficulty overcome. In the province of genius and taste, nothing but indications of rudeness appear. The productions are not merely void of attraction: they are unnatural, offensive, and not unfrequently disgusting. “The Hindus of this day,” says Mr. Foster, “have a slender knowledge of the rules of proportion, and none of perspective. They are just imitators, and correct workmen, but they possess merely the glimmerings of genius.”48 “The style and taste of the Indians,” says Paulini, “are indeed extremely wretched; but they possess a wonderful aptitude for imitating the arts and inventions of the Europeans, as soon as the method has been pointed out to them.”49 Major Rennel himself informs us, that the imitative or fine arts were not carried to the height even of the Egyptians, much less of the Greeks and Romans, by the Hindus; that like the Chinese they made great progress in some of the useful arts, but scarcely any in those of taste.50

“In India,” says Sonnerat, “as well as among all the people of the East, the arts have made little or no progress. All the statues we see in their temples are badly designed and worse executed.”51 We have the testimony of Mr. Hodges, which to this point at least is a high testimony, that the sculpture in the pagodas of Hindustan is all very rude.52 In the description of a temple of Siva, at Hullybedu in Mysore, Dr. Buchanan says, “Its walls contain a very ample delineation of Hindu mythology; which, in the representation of human or animal forms, is as destitute of elegance as usual; but some of the foliages possess great neatness. It much exceeds any Hindu building that I have seen elsewhere.”53

Whatever exaggeration we may suppose in the accounts which the historians of Mexico and Peru have given us of the works of sculpture in the new world, the description of them will not permit us to conclude that they were many degrees inferior to the productions of Hindustan. Clavigero says, “The Mexicans were more successful in sculpture than in painting. They learned to express in their statues all the attitudes and postures of which the human body is capable; they observed the proportions exactly; and could, when necessary, execute the most delicate and minute strokes with the chisel. The works which they executed by casting of metals were in still more esteem. The miracles they produced of this kind would not be credible, if, besides the testimony of those who saw them, curiosities in numbers of this nature, had not been sent from Mexico to Europe.”54

The progress was similar, as we might presume, in the sister art of painting. The Hindus copy with great exactness, even from nature. By consequence they draw portraits, both of individuals and of groups, with a minute likeness; but peculiarly devoid of grace and expression. Their inability to exhibit the simplest creations of the fancy, is strongly expressed by Dr. Tennant, who says, “The laborious exactness with which they imitate every feather of a bird, or the smallest fibre on the leaf of a plant, renders them valuable assistants in drawing specimens of natural history; but farther than this they cannot advance one step. If your bird is to be placed on a rock, or upon the branch of a tree, the draughtsman is at a stand; the object is not before him; and his imagination can supply nothing.”55 In one remarkable circumstance their painting resembles that of all other nations who have made but a small progress in the arts. They are entirely without a knowledge of perspective, and by consequence of all those finer and nobler parts of the art of painting, which have perspective for their requisite basis.56

It is anomalous and somewhat surprising that the music of the Hindus should be so devoid of all excellence. As music is, in its origin, the imitation of the tones of passion; and is most naturally employed for the expression of passion, in rude ages, when the power of expressing it by articulate language is the most imperfect; simple melodies, and these often highly expressive and affecting, are natural to uncultivated tribes. It was in the earliest stage of civilization, that Orpheus is fabled to have possessed the power of working miracles by his lyre. Yet all Europeans, even those who are the most disposed to eulogize the attainments of the Hindus, unite in describing the music of that people, as unpleasing, and void both of expression and art. Dr. Tennant, who founds his testimony both on his own, and other people’s observation, says: “If we are to judge merely from the number of instruments, and the frequency with which they apply them, the Hindoos might be regarded as considerable proficients in music, yet has the testimony of all strangers deemed it equally imperfect as the other arts. Their warlike instruments are rude, noisy, and inartificial: and in temples, those employed for the purposes of religion are managed apparently on the same principle; for, in their idea, the most pleasant and harmonious is that which make the loudest noise.”57 After a description of the extreme rudeness of the instruments of music of the people of Sumbhulpoor, Mr. Motte says, “the Rajah’s band always put me in mind of a number of children coming from a country fair.”58

As the talent of the Hindus for accurate imitation, both in the manual and in some of the refined arts, has excited much attention; and been sometimes regarded, as no mean proof of ingenuity and mental culture, it is necessary to remark, that there are few things by which the rude state of society is more uniformly characterized. It is in reality the natural precursor of the age of invention; and disappears, or at least ceases to make a conspicuous figure, when the nobler faculty of creation comes into play. Garcilasso de la Vega, who quotes Blas Valera, in his support, tells us that the Peruvian Indians, “if they do but see a thing, will imitate it so exactly, without being taught, that they become better artists and mechanics than the Spaniards themselves.”59

Sir William Jones, in pompous terms, remarks: “The Hindus are said to have boasted of three inventions, all of which indeed are admirable; the method of instructing by apologues; the decimal scale; and the game of chess, on which they have some curious treatises.”60 As the game of chess is a species of art, the account of it seems to belong to this place; and as it has been rated high among the proofs of the supposed civilization of the Hindus, we must see what it really imports. Though there is no evidence that the Hindus invented the game, except their own pretensions, which as evidence are of very little value, it is by no means improbable. The invention of ingenious games is a feat most commonly displayed by nations in their rude condition. It is prior to the birth of industry, that men have the strongest need for games, to relieve them from the pain of idleness: at that period they are most addicted to gaming; bestow upon it the greatest portion of time; and most intensely fix upon it all their faculties. It is, in fact, the natural occupation and resource of a rude mind, whenever destitute of the motives to industry. The valuable and intelligent historian of Chili observes of a tribe, but a few removes from the savage state; “If what the celebrated Leibnitz asserts is true, that men have never discovered greater talents than in the invention of the different kinds of games, the Araucanians may justly claim the merit of not being in this respect inferior to other nations. Their games are very numerous, and for the most part very ingenious; they are divided into the sedentary and gymnastic. It is a curious fact, and worthy of notice, that among the first is the game of chess, which they call comican, and which has been known to them from time immemorial. The game of quechu, which they esteem highly, has a great affinity to that of backgammon, but instead of dice they make use of triangular pieces of bone marked with points, which they throw with a little hoop or circle, supported by two pegs.”61

Though the Hindus knew the art of making a species of rude glass, which was manufactured into trinkets and ornaments for the women, they had never possessed sufficient ingenuity to apply it to the many useful purposes to which it is so admirably adapted. In few climates is glass in windows more conducive to comfort than that of Hindustan; yet the Hindus had never learnt to afford this accommodation to themselves. Of its adaptation to optical purposes they were so ignorant, that they were astonished and confounded at the effects of a common spy-glass. They are unable to construct furnaces sufficiently powerful to melt either European glass, or cast iron.62

In almost every manufacture, and certainly as a manufacturing people in general, the Hindus are inferior to the Chinese. Yet Sir William Jones says of that latter people; “Their mechanical arts have nothing in them characteristic of a particular family; nothing which any set of men, in a country so highly favoured by nature, might not have discovered and improved.”63 The partialities, which it was so much his nature to feel, prevented him from perceiving how much less entitled to any kind of admiration were the arts of another people, whom he had adopted it as a business to eulogize.
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Re: The History of British India, vol. II, by James Mill

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Part 1 of 2

CHAP. IX. Literature.

AS the knowledge of what conduces to the augmentation of human enjoyment and the diminution of human misery, is the foundation of all improvement in the condition of human life; and as literature, if not synonymous with that knowledge, is its best friend and its inseparable companion, the literature of any people is one of the sources from which the surest inferences may be drawn with respect to their civilization.

The first literature is poetry. Poetry is the language of the passions, and men feel, before they speculate. The earliest poetry is the expression of the feelings, by which the minds of rude men are the most powerfully actuated. Before the invention of writing, men are directed also to the use of versification by the aid which it affords to the memory. As every thing of which the recollection is valuable must be handed down by tradition, whatever tends to make the tradition accurate is of corresponding importance. No contrivance to this end is comparable to verse; which preserves the ideas, by preserving the very words. In verse not only the few historical facts are preserved, to which the curiosity of a rude age attaches itself, but in verse are promulgated the maxims of religion, and the ordinances of law. Even after the noble art of writing is known, the habit of consigning to verse every idea, destined for permanency, continues, till certain new steps are effected in the intellectual career.64

At this first stage the literature of the Hindus has always remained. The habit of expressing every thing in verse; a habit which urgent necessity imposes upon a people unacquainted with the use of permanent signs, and which the power of custom upholds, till after a certain progress in improvement, even among those to whom permanent signs are known; we trace among the Hindus to the present day. All their compositions, with wonderfully few exceptions, are in verse. For history they have only certain narrative poems, which depart from all resemblance to truth and nature; and have evidently no farther connexion with fact than the use of certain names and a few remote allusions. Their laws, like those of rude nations in general, are in verse. Their sacred books, and even their books of science, are in verse; and what is more wonderful still, their very dictionaries.65

There is scarcely any point connected with the state of Hindu society, on which the spirit of exaggeration and enthusiasm has more signally displayed itself than the poetry of the Hindus. Among those whose disposition was more to admire than explore, scarcely any poetry has been regarded as presenting higher claims to admiration. Among the Hindus there are two great poems, the Ramayan, and the Mahabarat, which are long narratives, or rather miscellanies, in verse, and which their admirers have been puzzled whether to denominate histories, or epic poems. By the Hindus themselves, they are moreover regarded as books of religion; nay farther, as books of law; and in the Digest which the Brahmens, under the authority of the British government, have recently compiled, the text of these poems is inserted as text of the law, in the same manner as the text of any other legal authority and standard. They may even be regarded as books of philosophy; and accordingly the part of the Mahabarat, with the translation of which Mr. Wilkins has favoured us, he actually presents to his reader as one of the most instructive specimens of the philosophical speculations of the country.

It is incompatible with the present purpose to speak of these poems in more than general terms. They describe a series of actions in which a number of men and gods are jointly engaged. These fictions are not only more extravagant, and unnatural, less correspondent with the physical and moral laws of the universe, but are less ingenious, more monstrous,and have less of any thing that can engage the affection, awaken sympathy, or excite admiration, reverence, or terror, than the poems of any other, even the rudest people with whom our knowledge of the globe has yet brought us acquainted.66 They are excessively prolix and insipid. They are often, through long passages, trifling and childish to a degree, which those acquainted with only European poetry can hardly conceive. Of the style in which they are composed it is far from too much to say, that all the vices which characterise the style of rude nations, and particularly those of Asia, they exhibit in perfection. Inflation; metaphors perpetual, and these the most violent and strained, often the most unnatural and ridiculous; obscurity; tautology; repetition; verbosity; confusion; incoherence; distinguish the Mahabarat and Ramayan. That amid the numberless effusions, which a wild imagination throws forth, in its loose and thoughtless career, there should now and then be something which approaches the confines of reason and taste, is so far from surprising, that it would be truly surprising if there were not. A happy description, or here and there the vivid conception of a striking circumstance, are not sufficient; the exact observation of nature, and the symmetry of a whole, are necessary, to designate the poetry of a cultivated people.

Of the poems in dialogue, or in the dramatic form, Sacontala has been selected as the most favourable specimen. The author, Calidas, though he left only two dramatic pieces, Sir William Jones denominates the Shakspeare of India, and tell us that he stands next in reputation to their great historic poets, Valmic and Vyasa.

Sacontala was the daughter of a pious king, named Causica, and of a goddess of the lower heaven; brought up by a devout hermit, as his daughter, in a consecrated grove. The sovereign of the district, on a hunting excursion, arrives by accident in the forest. He observes Sacontala, and her two companions, the daughters of the hermit, in the grove, with watering pots in their hands, watering their plants. Instantly he is captivated. He enters into conversation with the damsels, and the heart of Sacontala is secretly inflamed. The king dismisses his attendants, and resolves to remain in the forest. In a little time the quality of the lover is ascertained, while the secret agitation in the bosom of Sacontala throws her into a languor which resembles disease. The king overhears a conversation between her and her companions, in which, being closely interrogated, she confesses her love. The king immediately discovers himself, and declares his passion. The two friends contrive to leave them together, and they consummate “that kind of marriage which two lovers contract from the desire of amorous embraces.” So precipitate a conclusion, irreconcileable as it is with the notions of a refined people, is one of the numerous marriages legal among the Hindus. Presently, however, the king is summoned to his court. He promises to send for his wife in three days, and leaves a ring. In the mean time a Brahmen, of a proud and choleric temper, comes to the residence of the hermit, when his two daughters are at a little distance, and Sacontala has been overtaken with sleep. Finding no one to receive him with the expected honours, he utters an imprecation: “He on whom thou art meditating, on whom alone thy heart is now fixed, while thou neglectest a pure gem of devotion who demands hospitality, shall forget thee when thou seest him next, as a man restored to sobriety forgets the words which he uttered in a state of intoxication.” This malediction, which falls upon Sacontala, is overheard by her companions, and fills them with horror. They hasten to appease the angry Brahmen; who tells them, his words cannot be recalled, but that the spell would be dissolved when the lord of Sacontala should look upon his ring. Her two friends agree to conceal the calamity from Sacontala, who now languishes at the neglect of her husband, and finds herself pregnant. The hermit Canna, who at the time of the visit of the king was absent from home, returns, and is, by a voice from heaven, made acquainted with the events which have intervened. Encouraged by good omens, he soothes Sacontala, and resolves to send her to her lord. Her friends instruct her, should he not immediately recognise her, to show him the ring. Arrived at the palace, she is disowned by the king; thinks of the ring, but discovers it is lost. The king treats her, and the messengers who brought her, as impostors; and orders them into custody; but while they are conveying her away, a body of light, descending in a female shape, receives her into its bosom, and disappears; upon which the king regards the whole as a piece of sorcery, and dismisses it from his thoughts. After a time, however, the ring is found, and conveyed to the king; when his wife, and all the connected circumstances, immediately rush upon his mind. He is then plunged into affliction; ignorant where Sacontala may be found. In this despondency, he is summoned by Indra, the god of the firmament, to aid him against a race of giants, whom Indra is unable to subdue. Having ascended to the celestial regions, and acquitted himself gloriously in the divine service, he is conveyed, in his descent to the earth, to the mountain Hemacuta, “where Casyapa, father of the immortals, and Aditi his consort, reside in blessed retirement.” To this sacred spot had Sacontala, by her mother’s influence, been conveyed; and there she had brought forth her son, a wonderful infant, whom his father found at play with a lion’s whelp, and making the powerful animal feel the superiority of his strength. The king now recognizes his wife and his son, of whom the most remarkable things are portended; and perfect happiness succeeds.

There is surely nothing in the invention of this story, which is above the powers of the imagination, in an uncultivated age. With the scenery and the manners which the Hindu poet has perpetually present to his observation, and the mythology which perpetually reigns in his thoughts, the incidents are among the most obvious, and the most easy to be imagined, which it was possible for him to choose. Two persons of celestial beauty and accomplishments meet together in a solitary place, and fall mutually in love: To the invention of this scene but little ingenuity can be supposed to be requisite. To create an interest in this love, it was necessary it should be crossed. Surely no contrivance for such a purpose was ever less entitled to admiration than the curse of a Brahmen. A ring with power to dissolve the charm, and that ring at the moment of necessity lost, are contrivances to bring about a great event, which not only display the rudeness of an ignorant age, but have been literally, or almost literally, repeated, innumerable times, in the fables of other uncultivated nations. To overcome the difficulties, which the interest of the plot rendered it necessary to raise, by carrying a man to heaven to conquer giants for a god, for whom the god was not a match, is an expedient which requires neither art nor invention; and which could never be endured, where judgment and taste have received any considerable cultivation.

The poem, indeed, has some beautiful passages. The courtship, between Sacontala and Dushmantu, is delicate and interesting; and the workings of the passion in two amiable minds are naturally and vividly pourtrayed. The friendship which exists between the three youthful maidens is tender and delightful; and the scene which takes place when Sacontala is about to leave the peaceful hermitage where she had happily spent her youth; her expressions of tenderness to her friends, her affectionate parting with the domestic animals she had tended, and even with the flowers and trees in which she had delighted, breathe more than pastoral sweetness. These, however, are precisely the ideas and affections, wherever the scene is a peaceful one, which may naturally arise in the simplest state of society; as the fables of the golden age and of Arcadia abundantly testify: and in whatever constitutes the beauty of these scenes they are rivalled by the Song of Solomon, which is avowedly the production of a simple and unpolished age.67 Beyond these few passages, there is nothing in Sacontala, which either accords with the understanding, or can gratify the fancy, of an instructed people.

Sir William Jones, who, on the subject of a supposed ancient state of high civilization, riches, and happiness among the Hindus, takes every thing for granted, not only without proof, but in opposition to almost every thing, saving the assumptions of the Brahmens, which could lead him to a different conclusion, says, “The dramatic species of entertainment must have been carried to great perfection, when Vicramaditya, who reigned in the first century before Christ, gave encouragement to poets, philologers, and mathematicians, at a time when the Britons were as unlettered and unpolished as the army of Hanumat.”68 Sir William forgets that, more than a century before Christ, the Britons had their Druids; between whom and the Brahmens, in character, doctrines, and acquirements, a remarkable similarity has been traced.69

The mere existence, however, of dramatic entertainments has been held forth, in the case of the Hindus, as proof of a high state of civilization; and Sir William Jones, whose imagination on the accomplishments of the orientals delighted to gild, thinks the representation of Sacontala must have been something pre-eminently glorious; as the scenery must have been striking; and “as there is good reason,” he says, “to believe, that the court at Avanti was equal in brilliancy, in the reign of Vicramaditya, to that of any monarch in any age or country.”70 To how great a degree this latter supposition is erroneous, we shall presently see. In the mean time, it is proper to remark, that nations may be acquainted with dramatic entertainments, who have made but little progress in knowledge and civilization. In extent of dominion, power, and every thing on which the splendour of a court depends, it will not, probably, be alleged, that any Hindu sovereign ever surpassed the present emperors of China. The Chinese, too, are excessively fond of dramatic performances; and they excel in poetry as well as the Hindus; yet our British ambassador and his retinue found their dramatic representations very rude and dull entertainments.71

As poetry is the first cultivated of all the branches of literature, there is at least one remarkable instance, that of Homer, to prove, that in a rude state of society it may acquire extraordinary perfection. At a point of civilization lower than that which we ascribe to the Hindus, poetry has been produced more excellent than theirs. From the effects produced by the poetic declamations of the Druids, it is certain that they must have possessed the faculty of working powerfully on the imaginations and sympathies of their audience. The Celtic poetry, ascribed to Ossian, and other bards, which, whatever age, more recent or more remote, controversy may assign for its date, is, beyond a doubt, the production of a people whose ideas were extremely scanty, and their manners rude, surpasses in every point of excellence, the sterile extravagance of the Hindus. In so rude a state of society as that which existed in Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, at the time of our Anglo-Saxon monarchies, the number of poets, and the power of their compositions, were exceedingly great.72

Even in that figurative and inflated style, which has been supposed a mark of oriental composition, and is, in reality, a mark only of a low stage of society, uniformly discovered in the language of a rude people, the poetry of the northern bards exhibits a resemblance to that of the Hindus, the Fersians, Arabians, and other eastern nations. “The style of these ancient poems,” says Mallet, “is very enigmatical and figurative, very remote from common language; and for that reason, grand, but tumid; sublime, but obscure. If every thing should be expresssed by imagery, figures, hyperboles, and allegories, the Scandinavians may rank in the highest class of poets.”73 For these peculiarities, too, this author philosophically accounts. “The soaring flights of fancy, may possibly more peculiarly belong to a rude and uncultivated, than to a civilized people. The great objects of nature strike more forcibly on their imaginations. Their passions are not impaired by the constraint of laws and education. The paucity of their ideas, and the barrenness of their language, oblige them to borrow from all nature images in which to clothe their conceptions.”74 The poetry of the Persians resembles that of the Arabians; both resemble that of the Hindus; both have been celebrated in still higher strains, and are entitled to more of our admiration. The Persians have their great historic poem, the Shah Namu, corresponding to the Mahabarat or Ramayan of the Hindus. It embraces a period of 3,700 years, and consists of 60,000 rhymed couplets. On this poem the most lofty epithets of praise have been bestowed; and a part of it, embracing a period of 300 years, Sir William Jones selects as itself a whole; a poem truly epic, of which the merit hardly yields to that of the Iliad itself.75 We shall speak of it in the language of an oriental scholar, who has made the literature of Persia more peculiarly his study than Sir William Jones. The Shah Namu, says Mr. Scott Waring, “has probably been praised as much for its length as its intrinsic merit. When we allow it is unequalled in the East, we must pause before we pronounce it to be equal, or to approach very nearly, to the divinest poem of the West. The stories in the Shah Namu,” he says, “are intricate and perplexed, and as they have a relation to each other, they can only be understood by a knowledge of the whole. Episodes are interwoven in episodes; peace and war succeed each other; and centuries pass away without making any alteration in the conduct of the poem—the same prince continues to resist the Persian arms; the same hero leads them to glory—and the subterfuge of supposing two Afrasiabs or two Roostums, betrays, at least, the intricacy and confusion of the whole fable. The character of Nestor answered the most important ends, his eloquence and experience had a wonderful effect in soothing the contentions of a divided council; but the age of Zal or of Roostum answers no purpose, for they only share longevity in common with their fellow creatures.” In many instances, he adds, “the poet is tedious and uninteresting. He is often too minute; and by making his description particular makes it ridiculous. An example of this may be given in his description of the son of Ukwan Deo; which instead of expressing his immense size by some bold figure, gives us his exact measure: He was one hundred yards high and twenty broad.”76 With respect to the style of this as well as of other Persian poets, the same author informs us, that “the style of the most admired Persian authors is verbose and turgid; the mind is filled with words and epithets, and you probably meet with several quibbles and monstrous images before you arrive at one fact.”77 And in another passage he says, “The Persian poets, in all their similes or comparisons, fall infinitely below medioority.”78

As soon as reason begins to have considerable influence in the direction of human affairs, no use of letters is deemed more important than that of preserving an accurate record of those events and actions by which the interests of the nation have been promoted or impaired. But the human mind must have a certain degree of culture, before the value of such a memorial is perceived. The actions of his nation, or of his countrymen, which the rude and untutored barbarian is excited to remember, are those which he wonders at and admires; and they are remembered solely for the pleasure of those emotions. Exaggeration, therefore, is more fitted to his desires than exactness; and poetry than history. Swelled by fiction, and set off with the embellishments of fancy, the scene lays hold of his imagination, and kindles his passions. All rude nations, even those to whom the use of letters has long been familiar, neglect history, and are gratified with the productions of the mythologists and poets.

It is allowed on all hands that no historical composition existed in the literature of the Hindus; they had not reached that point of intellectual maturity, at which the value of a record of the past for the guidance of the future begins to be understood. “The Hindus,” says that zealous and industrious Sanscrit scholar, Mr. Wilford, “have no ancient civil history.” Remarking a coincidence in this characteristic circumstance between them and another ancient people, he adds, “Nor had the Egyptians any work purely historical.”79 Major Rennel says, that, founded on Hindu materials, there is no known history of Hindustan, nor any record of the historical events of that country prior to the Mahomedan conquests;80 and since that period, it is not to Hindu, but Mahomedan pens that we are indebted for all our knowledge of the Mahomedan conquests, and of the events which preceded the passage to India, by the Cape of Good Hope.81 An inclination at first appeared among the warm admirers of Sanscrit to regard the poems Mahabharat and Ramayan, as a sort of historical records. A more intimate acquaintance with those grotesque productions has demonstrated the impossibility of reconciling them with the order of human affairs, and, as the only expedient to soften the deformities in which they abound, suggested a theory that they are allegorical.82

The ancient Persians, who used the Pehlivi language, appear in this respect to have resembled the Hindus. “I never,” says Sir John Malcolm, “have been able to hear of the existence of any work in the ancient Pehlivi that could be deemed historical.”83

The modern Persians, in this, as in many other respects, are found to have made some progress beyond the ancient Persians, and beyond the Hindus. The first step towards the attainment of perfect history is the production of prose compositions, expressly destined to exhibit a record of real transactions, but in which imagination prevails over exactness, and a series of transactions appears in which the lines of reality can but faintly be traced. With histories of this description the Persians abound; but “the Persians,” says Mr. Scott Waring, “do not make a study of history; consequently their histories abound with idle tales, and extravagant fables.”84 Another celebrated Persian scholar says; “The Persians, like other people, have assumed the privilege of romancing on the early periods of society. The first dynasty is, in consequence, embarrassed by fabling. Their most ancient princes are chiefly celebrated for their victories over the demons or genii called dives; and some have reigns assigned to them of eight hundred or a thousand years.”85 On the comparison of the Grecian and native histories of Persia, he says, “There seems to be nearly as much resemblance between the annals of England and Japan, as between the European and Asiatic relations of the same empire.” The names and numbers of the kings, as exhibited by the historians of the two countries, have no analogy. No mention in the Persian annals is made of the Great Cyrus, nor of any King of Persia, the events of whose reign can, by any construction, be tortured into a similitude with his. No trace is to be found of Crœsus, of Cambyses, or of his expedition against the Ethiopians; none of Smerdis Magus, or of Darius Hystaspes: “not a vestige of the famous battles of Marathon, Thermopylæ, Salamis, Platæa, or Mycale, nor of the mighty expedition of Xerxes.”86

On the geography and chronology, as parts of the literature of the Hindus, I shall express myself in the language of Mr. Wilford. “The Hindus,” says that celebrated Hindu scholar, “have no regular work on the subject of geography, or none at least that ever came to my knowledge.—I was under a necessity of extracting my materials from their historical poems, or, as they may be called more properly, their legendary tales.” In another place he says, “The Hindu systems of geography, chronology, and history, are all equally monstrous and absurd. The circumference of the earth is said to be 500,000,000 yojanas, or 2,456,000,000 British miles: the mountains are asserted to be 100 yojanas, or 491 British miles high. Hence the mountains to the south of Benares are said, in the Puranas, to have kept the holy city in total darkness, till Matra-deva growing angry at their insolence, they humbled themselves to the ground, and their highest peak now is not more than 500 feet high. In Europe, similar notions once prevailed; for we are told that the Cimmerians were kept in continual darkness by the interposition of immensely high mountains. In the Calica Purana, it is said that the mountains have sunk considerably, so that the highest is not above one yojana, or five miles high.—When the Puranics speak of the kings of ancient times, they are equally extravagant. According to them, King Yudhishthir reigned 27,000 years; King Nanda is said to have possessed in his treasury above 1,584,000,000 pounds sterling in gold coin alone; the value of the silver and copper coin, and jewels, exceeded all calculation: and his army consisted of 100,000,000 men. These accounts, geographical, chronological, and historical, as absurd and inconsistent with reason, must be rejected. This monstrous system seems to derive its origin from the ancient period of 12,000 natural years, which was admitted by the Persians, the Etruscans, and, I believe, also by the Celtic tribes; for we read of a learned nation in Spain, which boasted of having written histories of above six thousand years.”87

It is an error to suppose, that for the origin of unprofitable speculations respecting the nature and properties of thought, great progress in civilization is required. The fears and hopes, the conceptions and speculations, respecting the Divine Nature, and respecting a future state of existence, lead to inquiries concerning the invisible operations of the mind. If we consult but history, we shall be led to conclude, that certain curious, and subtle, but idle questions, respecting the mental operations, are a mark, not of a cultivated, but a rude state of society. It was during an age of darkness and barbarity, that metaphysical speculations engaged so passionately the minds of the European doctors; and called forth examples of the greatest acuteness and subtlety. It was prior to the dawn of true philosophy, that the sophists, whose doctrine was a collection of ingenious quibbles on abstract questions, enjoyed their celebrity in Greece. Pythagoras flourished at a very early age; and yet there is a high degree of subtle ingenuity in the doctrines he is said to have taught. Amid the rudeness of the Celtic inhabitants of Gaul and Britain, the Druids carried, we know not how far, the refinements of metaphysical speculation. Strabo, as quoted by Dr. Henry,88 says. “The Druids add the study of moral philosophy to that of physiology.89 Ammianus Marcellinus informs us, that the inhabitants of Gaul, having been by degrees a little polished, the study of some branches of useful learning was introduced among them by the bards, the Eubates, and the Druids. The Eubates made researches into the order of things, and endeavoured to lay open the most hidden secrets of nature. The Druids were men of a still more sublime and penetrating spirit, and acquired the highest renown by their speculations, which were at once subtle and lofty.”90 The progress which the Arabians made in a semblance of abstract science has been highly celebrated. The following observations, borrowed from one of the most intelligent of the Europeans by whom they have been studied, will enable us to appreciate their metaphysical science. Of the Arabians, he says, even at the brightest period of their history, the Europeans, have been prone to form too favourable, indeed extravagant ideas.91 Their best writers are the translators or copiers of the Greeks. The only study peculiar to them, a study which they continue to cultivate, is that of their own language. But by the study of language, among the Arabians, we must not understand that philosophical spirit of research, which in words investigates the history of ideas, in order to perfect the art by which they are communicated. The study is cultivated solely on account of its connexion with religion. As the word of God conveys the meaning of God, no conceivable nicety of investigation is ever too much to elicit that meaning in its divine purity. For this reason, it is of the highest moment to ascertain not only the exact signification of the words, but likewise the accents, inflections, signs, and pauses; in a word, all the most minute niceties of prosody and pronunciation; and it is impossible to conceive to what a degree of complication they have invented and refined on this subject, without having heard their declamations in the mosques. The grammar alone takes several years to acquire. Next is taught the nahou, which may be defined the science of terminations. These, which are foreign to the vulgar Arabic, are superadded to words, and vary according to the numbers, cases, genders, and person. After this, the student, now walking among the learned, is introduced to the study of eloquence. For this, years are required; because the doctors, mysterious like the Brahmens, impart their treasures only by degrees. At length arrives the time for the study of the law and the Fakah; or science peculiarly so called; by which they mean theology. If it be considered that the object of these studies is always the Koran; that it is necessary to be acquainted with all its mystical and allegorical meanings, to read all its commentaries and paraphrases, of which there are 200 volumes on the first verse; and to dispute on thousands of ridiculous cases of conscience; it cannot but be allowed that one may pass one’s whole life in learning much and knowing nothing.92 It is vain, as the same author still further remarks, to tell us of colleges, places of education, and books: These words, in the regions of which we are treating, convey not the same ideas as with us.93 The Turks, though signal, even among rude nations, for their ignorance, are not without speculations of a similar nature, which by superficial observers have been taken for philosophy. “Certain it is,” says Sir James Porter, “that there are among the Turks many philosophical minds. They have the whole systems of the Aristotelian and Epicurean philosophy translated into their own language.”94 “The metaphysical questions,” says Gibbon, “on the attributes of God, and the liberty of man, have been agitated in the schools of Mahomedans, as well as in those of the Christians.”95 And Mr. Elphinstone informs us, that if the rude Afghaun is ever stimulated to any degree of literary activity, it is when pursuing the subtleties of metaphysical speculation.96

These facts coincide with a curious law of human nature, which some eminent philosophers have already remarked. The highest abstractions are not the last result of mental culture, and intellectual strength; it is discovered, that some of our most general and comprehensive notions are formed at that very early period, when the mind, with little discriminating power, is apt to lump together things which have but few points of resemblance; and that we break down these genera into species more and more minute in proportion as our knowledge becomes more extensive, more particular, and precise. The propensity to abstract speculations is then the natural result of the state of the human mind in a rude and ignorant age.97

The Vedanti doctrine, which has caught the fancy of some of the admirers of Sanscrit, appears to be delivered viva voce [orally rather than in writing.], and solely in that mode. As no passage implying it has been quoted from any Sanscrit work, it might, if it were any refinement, be suspected of being wholly modern. The following is the account of it by Sir William Jones. “The fundamental tenet of the Vedanti school consisted, not in denying the existence of matter, that is, of solidity impenetrability, and extended figure, (to deny which would be lunacy) but in correcting the popular notion of it, and in contending that it has no essence independent of mental perception, that existence and perceptibility are convertible terms, that external appearances and sensations are illusory, and would vanish into nothing, if the divine energy, which alone sustains them, were suspended but for a moment; an opinion which Epicharmus and Plato seem to have adopted, and which has been maintained in the present century with great elegance, but with little public applause; partly because it has been misunderstood and partly because it has been misapplied by the false reasoning of some unpopular writers, who are said to have disbelieved in the moral attributes of God, whose omnipresence, wisdom, and goodness, are the basis of the Indian philosophy. I have not sufficient evidence on the subject to profess a belief in the doctrine of the Vedanta, which human reason alone could, perhaps, neither fully demonstrate, nor fully disprove; but it is manifest, that nothing can be further removed from impiety than a system wholly built on the purest devotion.”98

“In some of these observations,” Mr. Dugald Stewart very justly observes, “there is a good deal of indistinctness, and even of contradiction.” He also remarks, that Sir William Jones totally misunderstands the doctrine of Berkeley and Hume.99 We may suspect that he not less widely mistakes the doctrine of the Brahmens, and fastens a theory of his own creation upon the vague and unmeaning jargon which they delivered to him. If in all minds the propensity be strong, and in weak minds irresistible, to see only through the medium of a theory; we need not wonder if theory manufactures the ideas of the other senses, of hearing, for example, after the same manner. “If the simplest narrative of the most illiterate observer involves more or less of hypothesis; and a village apothecary or a hackneyed nurse, is seldom able to describe the plainest case, without employing a phraseology of which every word is a theory,”100 we may conclude with certainty that the same intrusion is very difficult to avoid, in making up our own conception of what we hear, and still more in clothing it with our own language. Of the ideas which we profess to report, and which we believe that we merely report, it often happens that many are our own ideas, and never entered the mind of the man to whom we ascribe them.

We have a more distinct account of the same doctrine from Sir James Macintosh, whose mind is more philosophical, and on oriental subjects less prepossessed and less credulous, than that of Sir William Jones.
Presenting, in a letter to Mr. Dugald Stewart, an account of a conversation with a young Brahmen, “He told me,” says he, “that besides the myriads of gods whom their creed admits, there was one whom they know by the name of Brim, or the great one, without form or limits, whom no created intellect could make any approach towards conceiving; that, in reality, there were no trees, no houses, no land, no sea, but all without was Maia, or illusion, the act of Brim; that whatever we saw or felt was only a dream; or, as he expressed it in his imperfect English, thinking in one’s sleep; and that the reunion of the soul to Brim, from whom it originally sprung, was the awakening from the long sleep of finite existence.”101
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Re: The History of British India, vol. II, by James Mill

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It will require few words, in application of the evidence adduced in the chapter on religion, to make it sufficiently appear, that this is a natural part of that language of adulation towards the deity, in which the Hindu theology mainly consists. One of the deities, who is chosen as the chief object of adoration, is first made to excel all the other deities; next to absorb all their powers; next to absorb even themselves; and lastly absorb all things.102 The fancy of “Maia,” is only a part of “the absorption of all things in God.” There is nothing but God. All our supposed perception of things besides God is, therefore, only illusion; illusion created by God. Why, then, does God create such an illusion? This is a very necessary question. If it were put; and why it has not been put, we may a little admire; the Brahmens might very consistently reply, that as for a use, a design, a purpose, in the actions of their God, they never thought of ascribing to them any such quality. He pleases himself by his actions, and that is enough; no matter how fantastic the taste. It is with great pleasure I quote the following co incidence with my own opinion, expressed in a subsequent passage of the same letter. “I intend to investigate a little the history of these opinions; for I am not altogether without apprehension, that we may all the while be mistaking the hyperbolical effusions of mystical piety, for the technical language of a philosophical system. Nothing is more usual, than for fervent devotion to dwell so long, and so warmly, on the meanness and worthlessness of created things, and on the all-sufficiency of the Supreme Being, that it slides insensibly from comparative to absolute language, and, in the eagerness of its zeal to magnify the Deity, seems to annihilate every thing else. To distinguish between the very different import of the same words in the mouth of a mystic and sceptic, requires more philosophical discrimination than most of our Sanscrit investigators have hitherto shown.”103

Sir James might have passed beyond a suspicion; if from nothing else, from the very words of the conversation he reports. Human life is there not compared to a sleep; it is literally affirmed to be a sleep; and men are not acting, or thinking, but only dreaming. Of what philosophical system does this form a part? We awake, only when we are re-united to the Divine Being; that is, when we actually become a part of the Divine Being, not having a separate existence. Then, of course, we cease to dream; and then, it may be supposed, that Maia ceases. Then will there be any thing to be known? any thing real? Or is it the same thing, whether we are awake or asleep? But my reader might well complain I was only trifling with him, if I pursued this jargon any further. What grieves me is, that between the two passages which I have immediately quoted, Sir James (we must remember that it is in the negligence of private correspondence) has inserted the following words. “All this you have heard and read before as Hindu speculation. What struck me was, that speculations so refined and abstruse should, in a long course of ages, have fallen through so great a space as that which separates the genius of their original inventor from the mind of this weak and unlettered man. The names of these inventors have perished; but their ingenious and beautiful theories, blended with the most monstrous superstitions, have descended to men very little exalted above the most ignorant populace, and are adopted by them as a sort of articles of faith, without a suspicion of their philosophical origin, and without the possibility of comprehending any part of the premises from which they were deduced.” Yet Sir James himself has described the origin from which they were deduced; namely, “the hyperbolical effusions of mystical piety;” and surely the Brahmens of the present day may understand these effusions as well as their still more ignorant predecessors.104

With respect to morals or duty, it appears not that any theory has ever been constructed by the Hindus. In what regards the preceptive part, their ethics exactly resemble those of all other rude and uninstructed nations; an excellent precept, and a foolish or absurd one, are placed alternately, or mixed in nearly equal proportions, in all their books which treat upon the subject. For specimens of their ethical precepts, it is sufficient to refer to what we have already produced under the head of religion. If all the good precepts were selected from the rest, and exhibited pure by themselves, they would present a tolerably perfect code of the common duties of morality. As we have authors who have attached importance to this, without adverting to the fact that a soundness in detached maxims of morality is common to all men down to the lowest stage of society, it is necessary to give a specimen of the ethical rules of nations confessedly barbarous. We might, perhaps, be satisfied with a reference to the proverbs of Solomon, and other preceptive parts of the Jewish writings, which are not equalled by the corresponding parts of the books of the Hindus. We shall, however, produce another instance, which is less exposed to any objection. The Havamaal or sublime discourse of Odin, is a Scandinavian composition of great antiquity. It is a string of moral aphorisms, comprised in 120 stanzas; with which, as a whole, there is nothing in Hindu literature in any degree worthy to be compared. The following is a specimen:

“To the guest who enters your dwelling with frozen knees, give the warmth of your fire: he who hath travelled over the mountains hath need of food and well-dried garments:

A man can carry with him no better provision for his journey than the strength of the understanding. In a foreign country this will be of more use to him than treasures; and will introduce him to the table of strangers:

There is nothing more useless to the sons of the age than to drink too much ale; the more the drunkard swallows the less is his wisdom, till he loses his reason. The bird of oblivion sings before those who inebriate themselves, and steals away their souls:

I have never yet found a man so generous and munificent, as that to receive at his house was not to receive; nor any so free and liberal of his gifts as to reject a present when it was returned to him:

They invite me up and down to feasts, if I have only need of a slight breakfast; my faithful friend is he who will give me one loaf when he has but two:

Where is there to be found a virtuous man without some failing; or one so wicked as to have no good quality?”105


Among the parts of Hindu learning chosen by its admirers as the peculiar objects of their applause, are the niceties, the numerous and intricate subtleties, of the Hindu grammar. We are informed by an emiment Sanscrit scholar, that the grammatical precepts of one single treatise are no fewer than 3996. The reader will observe, that this number is composed of the digit 3 and its multiples, to which peculiar virtues are ascribed by the Hindus. It is not improbable that the rules may have been made to correspond with the number rather than the number with the rules. Nevertheless, we learn from Mr. Colebrooke, that “those rules are framed with the utmost conciseness, the consequence of very ingenious methods. But it is added that the studied brevity of the Paniniya Sutras renders them in the highest degree obscure; that even with the knowledge of the key to their interpretation, the student finds them ambiguous; that the application of them even when understood, discovers many seeming contradictions; and that, with every exertion of practised memory, the utmost difficulty is experienced in combining rules dispersed in apparent confusion through different portions of Paninis and lectures. The number of commentaries on the books of grammar is exceedingly great, and many of them very voluminous.”106

As these endless conceits answer any purpose rather than that of rendering language a more commodious and accurate instrument of communication, they afford a remarkable specimen of the spirit of a rude and ignorant age: which is as much delighted with the juggleries of the mind, as it is with those of the body, and is distinguished by the absurdity of its passion for both.107 It could not happen otherwise than that the Hindus should, beyond other nations, abound in those frivolous refinements which are suited to the taste of an uncivilized people. A whole race of men were set apart and exempted from the ordinary cares and labours of life, whom the pain of vacuity forced upon some application of mind, and who were under the necessity of maintaining their influence among the people, by the credit of superior learning, and, if not by real knowledge, which is slowly and with much difficulty attained, by artful contrivances for deceiving the people with the semblance of it. This view of the situation of the Brahmens serves to explain many things which modify and colour Hindu society. In grammatical niceties, however, the Hindus but discover their usual resemblance to other nations in the infancy of knowlege and improvement. We have already seen that the Arabians on this subject carry their complex refinements to a height scarcely inferior to that of the Brahmens themselves.108 Even the Turks, who are not in general a refining race, multiply conceits on this subject.109 During the dark ages the fabrication of grammatical distinctions and subtleties furnished a favorite exercise to the European schoolmen.110

Not only the grammar; the language itself has been celebrated as the mark of a refined and elegant people. “It is more copious,” we are told, “than the Latin. It has several words to express the same thing. The sun has more than thirty names, the moon more than twenty. A house has twenty; a stone six or seven; a tree ten; a leaf five; an ape ten; a crow nine.”111

That which is a defect and a deformity of language is thus celebrated as a perfection.112 The highest merit of language would consist in having one name for every thing which required a name, and no more than one. Redundancy is a defect in language, not less than deficiency. Philosophy, and even common good sense, determine, that every thing which can simplify language, without impairing it in point of precision and completeness, is a first rate advantage. An ignorant and fantastical age deems it a glory to render it in the highest degree perplexing and difficult.

The other perfections which are ascribed to the Sanscrit are its softness, or agreebleness in point of sound, and its adaptation to poetry. Of its completeness or precision, those who were the fullest of admiration for it, were too little acquainted with it to be able to venture an opinion. Yet completeness and precision would have been undeniable proofs of the mental perfection of the people by whom it was used; while a great multitude of useless words and grammatical rules were the very reverse. Nothing is more probable than that a language which has too many words of one description, has too few of another, and unites in equal degree the vices of superfluity and defect. The adaptation of a language to poetry and the ear, affords no evidence of civilization. Languages, on which equal eulogies are bestowed to any which can be lavished on Sanscrit, are the languages confessedly of ignorant and uncivilized men. Nothing can surpass the admiration which is often expressed of the language of the modern Persians. Molina, the intelligent and philosophical historian of Chili, informs us, that of the language of the Chilians the grammar is as perfect as that of the Greek or Latin; that of no language does the formation and structure display greater ingenuity and felicity.113 The language of the Malays is described as remarkably sweet, and well adapted to poetry.114 Clavigero knows not where to set a limit to his admiration of the Mexican tongue.115

“Many extravagant things have been advanced concerning the great antiquity and superior excellency of the Anglo-saxon language. According to some writers, it was the most ancient and most excellent in the world, spoken by the first parents of mankind in Paradise; and from it they pretend to derive the names, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and all the antediluvian patriarchs.”116

The same sacred volume which affords the most authentic materials for ascertaining the Hindu modes of accounting for the phenomena of mind, lends equal assistance in leading us to a knowledge of their modes of accounting for the phenomena of matter. At the close of the night of Brahma, “intellect called into action by his will to create worlds, performed again the work of creation; and thence first emerges the subtle ether, to which philosophers ascribe the quality of conveying sound:”117 Ignorant that air is the great agent in the conveyance of sound, the Hindus had recourse to a fiction; the imagination of a something, of whose existence they had no proof. Equally futile is their account of air. “From ether, effecting a transmutation in form, springs the pure and potent air, a vehicle of all scents; and air is held endued with the quality of touch.”118 The word touch is here ambiguous; it may mean either that air is tangible, or that it has the faculty, the sense of touch. The latter, I suspect, is the meaning of the original; for I can hardly credit that so great a master of language as Sir William Jones, would have explained a passage which only meant that air is tangible, by so exceptionable a term as that it is endued with the quality of touch. I can with less difficulty suppose, from other instances, that he endeavoured to cloak a most absurd idea under an equivocal translation.

With respect to light and heat, we are told in the immediately succeeding passage; “Then from air, operating a change, rises light or fire, making objects visible, spreading bright rays; and it is declared to have the quality of figure.”119 It sufficiently appears from these several passages; that the accounts with which they satisfy themselves, are merely such random guesses as would occur to the most vulgar and untutored minds. From intellect arose ether: from ether, air; from air, fire and light. It appears from this passage that they consider light and heat as absolutely the same; yet the moon afforded them an instance of light without heat; and they had instances innumerable of heat without the presence of light. What is the meaning, when it is declared that fire, alias light, has the quality of figure, it is impossible to say. That fire, or, which is the same thing, light, is itself figured, is an affirmation wherein little meaning can be found. That fire, that is, light, is the cause of figure in all figured bodies, is an affirmation which, notwithstanding the absurdity, is in exact harmony with the mode of guessing at the operations of nature, admired as philosophy among the Hindus.

The account of water and earth is a link of the same chain. “From light, a change being effected, comes water with the quality of taste; and from water is deposited earth with the quality of smell.”120 As from ether came air, so from air light, from light water, and from water earth. It is useless to ask what connexion appears between water and light, or earth and water. Connexion, reason, probability, had nothing to do with the case. A theory of successive production struck the fancy of the writer, and all inquiry was out of the question. Here occurs the same difficulty as in the case of air; air was endowed with the quality of touch; water and earth are said to have the qualities of smell and taste. In this we perceive a most fantastic conceit: To water is ascribed the quality of taste; to earth, the quality of smell; to fire, the quality of figure, (I suspect it should be translated sight); to air, the quality of touch; and to ether, the quality (as Sir William Jones translates it) of conveying sound; I suspect it should be translated, the quality of hearing.

We have thus seen the speculations respecting the origin and qualities of the principal parts of inanimate nature. The same divine volume affords us a specimen of their ideas concerning the origin of at least one great department of animated nature. “From hot moisture are born biting gnats, lice, fleas, and common flies; these, and whatever is of the same class, are produced by heat.”121 If this be an idea natural enough to the mind of an uncultivated observer it is at least not a peculiar proof of learning and civilization.

Of the arbitrary style of deciding without inquiry, the natural and ordinary style of all rude minds, a curious specimen is afforded by the Hindu dogma, that vegetables, as well as animals, “have internal consciousness, and are sensible of pleasure and pain.”122

Mr. Wilford, the industrious explorer of the literature of this ancient people, informs us; “The Hindus were superficial botanists, and gave the same appellation to plants of different classes.”123 To arrange or classify, on this or on any other subject, seems an attempt which has in all ages exceeded the mental culture of the Hindus.

Of all the circumstances, however, connected with the state of Hindu society, nothing has called forth higher expressions of eulogy and admiration than the astronomy of the Brahmens. Mons. Bailly, the celebrated author of the History of Astronomy, may be regarded as beginning the concert of praises, upon this branch of the science of the Hindus. The grounds of his conclusions were certain astronomical tables; from which he inferred, not only advanced progress in the science, but a date so ancient as to be entirely inconsistent with the chronology of the Hebrew Scriptures. The man who invented a theory of an ancient and highly civilized people, now extinct, formerly existing in the wilds of Tartary, and who maintained it with uncommon zeal, and all the efforts of his ingenuity, is not to be trusted as a guide in the regions of conjecture. Another cause of great distrust attaches to Mons. Bailly. Voltaire, and other excellent writers in France, abhorring the evils which they saw attached to catholicism, laboured to subvert the authority of the books on which it was founded. Under this impulse they embraced, with extreme credulity, and actual enthusiasm, the tales respecting the great antiquity of the Chinese and Hindus, as disproving entirely the Mosaic accounts of the duration of the present race of men. When a case occurred, in which it appeared that this favourite conclusion could be established on the strength of astronomical observations and mathematical reasoning, the grand object seemed to be accomplished. The argument was laboured with the utmost diligence by Mons. Bailly, was received with unbounded applause, and for a time regarded as a demonstration in form of the falsehood of Christianity.

The most eminent of all the mathematical converts, gained by Mons. Bailly, was Mr. Playfair, the professor of mathematics in the University of Edinburgh. A bias was probably created in his mind by the high reputation of Mons. Bailly for his attainments in that science in which Mr. Playfair himself was so great a master; and any feeling of that nature could not fail to be greatly strengthened, by the loud applause, in which his countrymen, both those who were still in India, and those who had returned from it, at that time concurred, of the wonderful learning, wonderful civilization, and wonderful institutions of the Hindus; applause which imposed implicit belief on minds such as that of his illustrious colleague, the author of the Historical Disquisition concerning the knowledge which the ancients had of India. In a paper published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Mr. Playfair stated, with skill and dexterity, the matter of evidence on which the proposition is founded;124 and in an article lately published in the Edinburgh Review,125 the arguments are controverted by which Mr. Bentley had endeavoured to overthrow his opinion: but a suspension of belief, till further information shall yield more satisfactory proof, is all that in this latter document is contended for.

Such a demand, however, is infinitely too much, and at variance with all the principles of reasoning. When an opinion is obviously contradicted by a grand train of circumstances, and is not entirely supported by the special proof on which it pretends to rest, it is unproved; and whatever is unproved, and out of the known order of nature, is altogether unworthy of belief; deserves simple rejection.

Whoever, in the present improved state of our knowledge, shall take the trouble to contemplate the proofs which we possess of the state of knowledge and civilization among the Hindus, can form no other conclusion, but that every thing (unless astronomy be an exception) bears clear, concurring, and undeniable testimony to the ignorance of the Hindus, and the low state of civilization in which they remain. That such a people are masters of the science of astronomy to a degree which none but nations highly cultivated have elsewhere ever attained, is certainly not to be credited on any chain of proof that is not entire.126

Of the fitness of the proof to maintain any such conclusions as have been founded upon it, an idea may be formed from this; that Mr. Bentley, who has paid great attention to the books of Hindu astronomy, says they are all of modern date, and their pretensions to antiquity founded only on forgery.127 As his moderate knowledge of mathematics, however, and even the inelegancies of his style, have been sarcastically employed to throw discredit upon his conclusions, it is of importance to add that the two mathematicians whose reputation for profundity seems to exceed that of all their cotemporaries, Laplace, and an eminent ornament of our country, not only reject the inference of the great antiquity and perfection of the Hindu astronomy, but, from the evidence offered, draw a conclusion directly the reverse; viz. that this science is in the very same state of infancy among the Hindus with all the other branches of knowledge. The Surya Sidhanta is the great repository of the astronomical knowledge of the Hindus. It is on the authority of our own countryman I am enabled to declare, that this book is itself the most satisfactory of all proofs of the low state of the science among the Hindus, and the rudeness of the people from whom it proceeds; that its fantastic absurdity is truly Hindu; that all we can learn from it is a few facts, the result of observations which required no skill; that its vague allegories and fanciful reflections prove nothing, or every thing; that a resolute admirer may build upon them all the astronomical science of modern times; but a man who should divest his mind of the recollection of European discoveries, and ask what a people unacquainted with the science could learn from the Surya Sidhanta, would find it next to nothing.128

The Hindu astronomy is possessed of very considerable accuracy in regard to the mean motions. In other respects it has no pretensions to correctness or refinement. Astronomy may acquire great accuracy in regard to the mean motions, without the help of any nice or delicate observations; and while the science can hardly be said to exist. If there is every reason to believe, and none whatsoever to disbelieve, that the mean motions of the Hindu astronomy have been gradually corrected in the same manner in which the calendars of ancient nations have been improved, the legitimate conclusion cannot be mistaken.

As far as a conclusion can be drawn respecting the state of astronomy among the Hindus, from the state of their instruments of observation (and an analogy might be expected between those closely connected circumstances), the inference entirely corresponds with what the other circumstances in the condition of the Hindus have a tendency to establish. The observatory at Benares, the great seat of Hindu astronomy and learning, was found to be rude in structure, and the instruments with which it was provided of the coarsest contrivance and construction.

Even Mr. Playfair himself observes that “regular observations began to be made in Chaldea with the era of Nabonassar; the earliest which have merited the attention of succeeding ages.” The observation which he next presents is truly philosophical and important. “The curiosity of the Greeks,” says he, “was, soon after, directed to the same object; and that ingenious people was the first that endeavoured to explain or connect, by theory, the various phenomena of the heavens.”129 This was an important step; all that preceded was mere observation and empiricism, not even the commencement of science.130 He adds; “The astronomy of India gives no theory, nor even any description of the celestial phenomena, but satisfies itself with the calculation of certain changes in the heavens, particularly of the eclipses of the sun and moon, and with the rules and tables by which these calculations must be performed. The Brahmen, seating himself on the ground, and arranging his shells before him, repeats the enigmatical verses that are to guide his calculation, and from his little tablets and palm leaves, takes out the numbers that are to be employed in it. He obtains his result with wonderful certainty and expedition; but having little knowledge of the principles on which his rules are founded, and no anxiety to be better informed, he is perfectly satisfied, if, as it usually happens, the commencement and duration of the eclipse answer, within a few minutes to his prediction. Beyond this his astronomical inquiries never extend; and his observations, when he makes any, go no farther than to determine the meridian line, or the length of the day at the place where he observes.”131

Scarcely can there be drawn a stronger picture than this of the rude and infant state of astronomy. The Brahmen, making his calculation by shells, is an exact resemblance of the rude American performing the same operation by knots on a string; and both of them exhibit a practice which then only prevails; either when the more ingenious and commodious method of ciphering, or accounting by written signs, is unknown; or when the human mind is too rude and too weak to break through the force of an inveterate custom.132

But the rude state of the science of astronomy among the Brahmens of the present day, is supposed to have been preceded by a period in which it was cultivated to a high degree of perfection. It is vain to ask at what date this period had its existence; and where the signs of such ancient knowledge are to be found. To these questions no answer can be returned. Sir William Jones himself admits “it is improbable that the Indian astronomers, in very early times, had made more accurate observations than those of Alexandria, Bagdad, or Maraghah; and still more improbable that they should have relapsed without apparent cause into error.”133 Mr. Davis, one of the oriental inquirers to whom we are most indebted for our knowledge of Hindu astronomy, says, “I had been inclined to think with many others, that the Brahmens possess no more knowledge in astronomy, than they have derived from their ancestors in tables ready calculated to their hands, and that few traces of the principles of the science could be found among them; but by consulting some Sanscrit books I was induced to alter my opinion. I believe the Hindu science of astronomy will be found as well known now as it ever was among them.”134 In other words, the ignorance of the present age is the same with the ignorance of all former ages.135

While we are thus unable, from all we have learned of the Hindu astronomy, to infer either its high antiquity, or great excellence, it is a matter of doubt whether even that portion of the science which they possess, they may not to a great degree have derived from other nations more advanced in civilization than themselves. The Hindu astronomy possesses certain features of singularity which tend to prove, and have by various inquirers been held sufficient to prove, its perfect originality. But it may very well be supposed, that in a science which so naturally fixes the attention of even a rude people, the Hindus themselves proceeded to a certain extent; and even if they did borrow the most valuable portion of all that they know, that it was constrained to harmonize with the methods they had already invented, and the discoveries they had previously made. The fact, moreover, is, that if the Hindu astronomy exhibits marks of distinction from other systems, it exhibits, on the supposition of its originality, still more surprising instances of agreement with other systems. “The days of the week” (I use the language of Mr. Playfair) “are dedicated by the Brahmens, as by us, to the seven planets, and, what is truly singular, they are arranged precisely in the same order. The ecliptic is divided, as with us, into twelve signs of thirty degrees each. This division is purely ideal, and is intended merely for the purpose of calculation. The names and emblems by which these signs are expressed, are nearly the same as with us; and as there is nothing in the nature of things to have determined this coincidence, it must, like the arrangement of the days of the week, be the result of some ancient and unknown communication.”136 From this striking circumstance, Montucla, the celebrated historian of mathematics, inferred, that the Hindu zodiac was borrowed from the Greeks; and from the vicinity of the Greek empire of Bactria, as well as from the communications which took place between the Hindus, the Persians, and Arabians, the facility with which the knowledge of the Grecian astronomy might pass into India is clear. Sir William Jones controverts the position that the Hindu ecliptic was borrowed from the Greeks; he contends that it was derived from the Chaldeans.137 But this is the same in the end.138

At one time a disposition appeared to set the knowledge of the Hindus in pure mathematics very high.

A very convenient, and even an ingenious mode of constructing the table of approximate signs, is in use among the Hindu astronomers. “But ignorant totally,” says Professor Leslie, “of the principles of the operation, those humble calculators are content to follow blindly a slavish routine. The Brahmens must, therefore, have derived such information from people further advanced than themselves in science, and of a bolder and more inventive genius. Whatever may be the pretensions of that passive race, their knowledge of trigonometrical computation has no solid claim to any high antiquity. It was probably, before the revival of letters in Europe, carried to the East by the tide of victory. The natives of Hindustan might receive instruction from the Persian astronomers, who were themselves taught by the Greeks of Constantinople, and stimulated to those scientific pursuits by the skill and liberality of their Arabian conquerors.”139

Arithmetic is a branch of mathematics; and among other inventions, of which the honour has been claimed for the Hindus, is that of numerical characters. Whether the signs used by the Hindus are so peculiar as to render it probable that they invented them, or whether it is still more probable that they borrowed them, are questions which, for the purpose of ascertaining their progress in civilization, are not worth resolving. “The invention of numerical characters,” says Goguet, “must have been very ancient. For though flints, pebbles, and grains of corn, &c. might be sufficient for making arithmetical calculations, they were by no means proper for preserving the result of them. It was, however, necessary on many occasions to preserve the result of arithmetical operations, and consequently it was necessary, very early, to invent signs for that purpose.”140 Under these motives, a people, who had communication with another people already acquainted with numerical signs, would borrow them: a people who had no such communication, would be under the necessity of inventing them. But alphabetical signs, far more difficult, were invented at a rude period of society; no certain proof of civilization is therefore gained by the invention of arithmetical characters. The characters of which Europeans themselves make use, and which they have borrowed from the Arabians, are really hieroglyphics; and “from the monuments of the Mexicans,” says Goguet, “which are still remaining, it appears that hieroglyphics were used by that people, both for letters and numerical characters.”141 That diligent and judicious inquirer says, in general, “The origin of cyphers or numerical characters was confounded with that of hieroglyphic writing. To this day, the Arabian cyphers are real hieroglyphics, and do not represent words, but things. For which reason, though the nations which use them speak different languages, yet these characters excite the ideas of the same numbers in the minds of all.”142

Algebraic signs, which were brought into Europe from Arabia, may, it is said, have originated in India. There is an assertion of the Arabian writers, that an Arabian mathematician in 959 travelled to India, in quest of information. He might, however, travel without finding. On this foundation, it is plain that no sound inference can be established. If, indeed, it were proved that the algebraic notation came from India, an invention, which the Arabians could make, implies not much of civilization wherever it was made. The shape, indeed, in which it was imported from Arabia sets the question at rest. It cannot be described more clearly and shortly than in the words of Mr. Playfair. The characters, as imported from Arabia, “are mere abbreviations of words. Thus the first appearance of algebra is merely that of a system of short-hand writing, or an abbreviation of common language, applied to the solution of arithmetical problems. It was a contrivance merely to save trouble.”143

The books of the Hindus abound with the praise of learning; and the love and admiration of learning is a mark of civilization and refinement. By the panegyrics, however, in the books of the Hindus, the existence is proved of little to which admiration is due. On the pretensions of the Brahmens to learning, the title to which they reserved exclusively to themselves, a great part of their unbounded influence depended. It was their interest, therefore, to excite an admiration of it, that is, of themselves, by every artifice. When we contemplate, however, the acquirements and performances on which the most lofty of these panegyrics were lavished, we can be at no loss for a judgment on their learning, or the motive from which the praises of it arose. To be able to read the Vedas, was merit of the most exalted nature; to have actually read them, elevated the student to a rank almost superior to that of mortals. “A priest,” says the sacred text of Menu, “who has gone through the whole Veda, is equal to a sovereign of the whole world.144 What is valuable in learning could be little understood, where consequences of so much importance were attached to a feat of this description.

The Hindus have institutions of education; and the Brahmens teach the arts of reading and writing, by tracing the characters with a rod in the sand.145 How extensively this elementary knowledge is diffused, we have received little or no information. This is a satisfactory proof of the want of intelligence and of interest, with which our countrymen in India have looked upon the native population. The magistrates, however, who returned answers to the interrogatories of government in the year 1801, respecting the morals of the people, describe the state of education in general terms, as deplorable in the extreme. Mr. J. Stracey, magistrate of Momensing, says, “The lower sort are extremely ignorant.” Mr. Paterson, magistrate of Dacca Jelalpore, recommends “a total change in the system of education amongst those who have any education at all:” adding, that “the great mass of the lower ranks have literally none.” The judges of the court of appeal and circuit of Moorshedabad say: “The moral character of a nation can be improved by education only. All instruction is unattainable to the labouring poor, whose own necessities require the assistance of their children as soon as their tender limbs are capable of the smallest labour. With the middle class of tradesmen, artificers, and shopkeepers, education ends at ten years of age, and never reaches further than reading, writing (a scarcely legible hand on the plantain leaf), and the simplest rules of arithmetic.”146 But if the Hindu institutions of education were of a much more perfect kind than they appear to have ever been, they would afford a very inadequate foundation for the inference of a high state of civilization. The truth is, that institutions for education, more elaborate than those of the Hindus, are found in the infancy of civilization. Among the Turks and the Persians there are schools and colleges, rising one above another for the different stages of instruction.147 And scarcely in any nation does the business of education appear to have been a higher concern of the government than among the Americans of Mexico and Peru.148

As evidence of the fond credulity with which the state of society among the Hindus was for a time regarded, I ought to mention the statement of Sir W. Jones, who gravely, and with an air of belief, informs us, that he had heard of a philosopher “whose works were said to contain a system of the universe, founded on the principle of attraction and the central position of the sun.”149 This reminds the instructed reader of the disposition which has been manifested by some of the admirers of the Greek and Roman literature, and of these by one at least who had not a weak and credulous mind, to trace the discoveries of modern philosophy to the pages of the classics. Dr. Middleton, in his celebrated life of Cicero, says, that “several of the fundamental principles of the modern philosophy, which pass for the original discoveries of these later times, are the revival rather of ancient notions, maintained by some of the first philosophers, of whom we have any notice in history; as the motion of the earth, the antipodes, a vacuum; and an universal gravitation or attractive quality of matter, which holds the world in its present form and order.”150 It is a well known artifice of the Brahmens, with whose pretensions and interests it would be altogether inconsistent to allow there was any knowledge with which they were not acquainted, or which was not contained in some of their books, to attach to the loose and unmeaning phraseology of some of their own writings, whatever ideas they find to be in esteem; or even to interpolate for that favourite purpose.151 It was thus extremely natural that Sir William Jones, whose pundits had become acquainted with the ideas of European philosophers respecting the system of the universe, should hear from them that those ideas were contained in their own books: The wonder was that without any proof he should believe them.152
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Re: The History of British India, Vol. II, by James Mill

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APPENDIX. No I.: Remarks on the Arguments for the Antiquity of the Hindu Astronomy.

THE knowledge of the Europeans concerning the astronomy of India is chiefly derived from different sets of astronomical tables brought to Europe at different times. All these tables are obviously connected with one another: for they are all adapted to one meridian; the mean motions are the same in them all; and their principal epochs are all deduced by calculation from one original epoch. The most ancient of the Indian epochs is fixed in the year 3102 before the Christian æra, at the commencement of the Caliyug. On account of the mutual connection which, it is allowed, subsists between the three remaining epochs, it is only necessary to discuss that one which seems to be the most important: it is comparatively of modern date, and goes back no further than to the year of Christ 1491.

M. Bailly, in his Astronomie Indienne, has endeavoured to prove that the more ancient of the two epochs is fixed by actual observations: a proposition, which, if it were clearly made out, would confer the highest antiquity on the astronomy of India. In a paper in the Edinburgh Transactions, Mr. Playfair, who has adopted the opinion of M. Bailly, has given a clear and forcible summary of all the arguments that have been adduced in favour of the side he supports. M. Laplace, who is the only other author that has noticed the subject of the Indian astronomy since the publication of M. Bailly’s work, does not accede to the opinion of his brother academician. In a very short passage in the “Systeme du Monde,” Laplace states it as his own opinion, that the ancient epoch of the Brahmens was adopted with the view of making all the celestial motions begin at the same point of the zodiac: and he very briefly hints the reasons on which his opinion is founded. In drawing up the following remarks the observations of Laplace have been kept in view.

1. If we set out from the epoch of 1491, and compute the places of the sun, moon, and the planets, for the ancient epoch in 3102 A. C. it is found that all the celestial bodies are then in mean conjunction with the sun in the origin of the moveable zodiac. Here then is an astronomical fact, which the Indian tables necessarily suppose to have taken place, and which, it must be allowed, appears to be very fit to bring the authenticity of the ancient epoch to the proof. For, although the tables of the modern astronomy, highly improved as they are, do not enable us to go back more than 2000 years with extreme accuracy, yet they are sufficiently exact to afford the means of judging whether the general conjunction, supposed in the Indian tables, was actually copied from the heavens or not. Now M. Bailly has computed the places of the planets at the time of the ancient epoch of the Indians, or for the commencement of the Cali-yug, from the tables of M. Lalande: and, although all the planets, except Venus, were then nearly in conjunction with the sun, yet they were by no means so near to one another as to render it probable that this epoch was fixed by observation. M. Bailly argues that the conjunction could not be determined by direct observation; because the planets are invisible when immersed in the sun’s light: and he shows that fifteen days after the epoch all the planets, except Venus, were contained within seventeen degrees of the zodiac. But this is not satisfactory. Mr. Playfair admits that the Indian tables cannot be entirely vindicated in this respect. Laplace lays all the stress on this argument to which it seems fairly entitled.

The fiction of a general conjunction in the beginning of the moveable zodiac is the more remarkable, because it agrees precisely with the account which M. Bailly gives of the formation of the Indian astronomical systems.

The validity of the observations made by the critic in the Edinburgh Review, as far as they regard the accuracy of the mean motions, and other astronomical elements which do not depend on the epochs, cannot be disputed. There is but one way of determining the mean motions with accuracy; namely, by comparing together real observations of the places of the planets made at a sufficient interval of time. No fictitious, or assumed, epochs can be of the least use for this purpose. Indeed Mr. Bently does not maintain that the Brahmens make any such use of their assumed epochs. The artificial systems of the Indian astronomy necessarily suppose the mean motions, and other elements, to be already determined and known. Mr. Bently seems in some measure to have misconceived the nature of the arguments by which the Europeans endeavour to establish the antiquity of the Hindu astronomy. He seems to have imagined that nothing more was necessary for confuting all their reasoning on this subject, than to make them acquainted with the formation of the artificial systems of the Brahmens.

But considering Mr. Bently as a person acquainted with the astronomy of the East, and as having access to the books in which it is contained, his testimony cannot but be allowed to be of great force in the present argument. He tells us that the Brahmens, when they would form an astronomical system, go back to a remote epoch, and assume as the basis of their system, that all the heavenly bodies are in a line of mean conjunction with the sun in the beginning of Aries: Now the Indian tables actually suppose such a conjunction at the commencement of the Cali-yug; and in this they are at variance with the most exact of the modern astronomical tables. Is it not then in the highest degree probable that the era of the Cali-yug is an assumed, or fictitious epoch in the astronomy of the Hindus?

If the ancient epoch, in 3102 A. C. be fictitious, the force of many of the arguments for the antiquity of the Indian astronomy will be greatly diminished. For that reasoning must needs be a good deal vague and unsatisfactory which rests entirely on the quantity of an astronomical element of an uncertain date affected, as must be the case, by the errors of observation, of the limits of which we have no means of judging.

2. The equation of the sun’s centre, according to the Indian tables, is 2° 10½′; whereas the same quantity, according to modern observations, is only 1° 55½′. It is one consequence of the mutual disturbances of the planets that the excentricity of the solar orbit, on which the equation just mentioned depends, was greater in former ages than it is at the present time. From the quantity which the Hindus assign to this astronomical element, M. Bailly has drawn an argument in favour of the antiquity of the Indian tables, which, it must be confessed, is of great weight, when the difference of the Indian and European determinations is considered as arising from the gradual alteration of the planetary orbits. But Laplace has remarked that the equation, which in the Hindu tables amounts to 2° 10½′, is really composed of two parts; namely, the equation of the sun’s centre, and the annual equation of the moon; both of which depend alike on the excentricity of the sun’s orbit, and complete their periods in the same interval of time. The Indians have naturally enough blended these two irregularities together; because, the great object of their astronomy being the calculation of eclipses, the relative places of the sun and moon are effected by the sum of both. The annual equation of the moon is nearly 11′: And, when added to the equation of the sun’s centre, the amount (2° 6½′,) does not differ much from the quantity set down in the Indian tables. The force of M. Bailly’s argument is therefore completely taken off.

But the remark of Laplace not only invalidates the argument for the antiquity, but it furnishes a powerful one on the opposite side. It is indeed in the situation of a perfidious ally, who not only deserts his friends, but marshals his whole force in the ranks of their opponents. The amount of the two irregularities which are blended together by the Indians is 2° 6½′ at the present time: but if we go back to the commencement of the Cali-yug, there must be added about 13½′, on account of the greater magnitude of the sun’s excentricity in that age above what it is in the present century; and thus we ought to have found 2° 20′, in place of 2° 10½′, in the Hindu tables, if their supposed antiquity be granted. It must be admitted that, in this instance at least, the Indian tables, when they are referred to the ancient epoch, are fairly at variance with the state of the heavens.

3. The quantities which the Indian tables assign to two other astronomical elements, viz. the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn, have been found to agree almost exactly, not with what is observed at the present time, but with what the theory of gravity shows would have been observed at the beginning of the Cali-yug. This curious coincidence between the Hindu tables and the most abstruse theory of modern Europe, was discovered by Laplace after the publication of the Astronomie Indienne: and it was communicated to M. Bailly in a letter inserted in the Journal des Sçavans. The argument which this circumstance furnishes in favour of the antiquity is not forgotten by Mr. Playfair; and it is also mentioned by the critic in the Edinburgh Review.

But the discovery of Laplace, although it cannot be disputed, is absolutely of no avail in establishing the antiquity of the Indian astronomy: for no inference can be drawn from it respecting the ancient epoch in 3102 A. C. which is not equally conclusive with regard to the modern epoch in 1491 of our era.

The theory of astronomy is indebted to Laplace for many interesting discoveries. Of these, two equations, affecting the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn, are not the least important. These irregularities are periodical, and they both complete their courses in 917¾ years: And while one of them augments the motion of one of the planets, the other diminishes the motion of the other planet. It is a consequence of this discovery of Laplace, that, after an interval of time equal to 917¾ years; or equal to twice, or thrice, or any exact number of times that period; the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn will return, to be precisely of the same quantity that they were at the beginning of the interval of time. Now, if from the epoch 1491, we reckon back a number of years, equal to five times the period of Laplace, we shall arrive at the year 3095 A. C., which is so near the ancient epoch of the Indians, as to entitle us to infer, that an observer who lived in 1491, would agree in his determinations of the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn, with an astronomer who had lived forty-six centuries before, at the beginning of the Cali-yug.

No reliance, then, can be placed on this argument, as a proof of the antiquity of the Hindu tables. On the contrary, if we admit, what it must be allowed is extremely probable, that the ancient epoch is a fictitious one, pointed out by superstition, or fixed upon for convenience in calculation, this argument will concur with the last in giving, to the astronomy of India, a modern date, rather than the high antiquity contended for.

4. M. Bailly has shown that the place of the aphelion of Jupiter’s orbit, determined by the Indian tables for the beginning of the Cali-yug, agrees with the modern tables of Lalande, when corrected by the theoretical equations of La Grange. The same thing is true of the quantity which the Hindus assign to the equation of Saturn’s centre. It requires but little scepticism to raise up doubts of the validity of arguments founded on such coincidences. In the first place, we are ignorant of the limits of the errors, that the Indian determinations may be susceptible of. In the second place, the dates of the observations on which the astronomical elements of the Indians depend are unknown and merely conjectural; yet these are necessary data for calculating the corrections that must be applied to the modern tables, to fit them for representing the ancient state of the heavens: In the third place, the theoretical formulas, themselves, by which the corrections are computed, cannot be supposed to enable us to go back with much accuracy, to so remote an epoch as the Cali-yug; a circumstance which is not owing to any imperfection of the theory, but to the want of our knowing with precision the relative proportions of the masses of the planets that compose our system. When we reflect on these things, even the very exact coincidence of the Indian elements, with the calculated quantities (which is nearer than there is reasonable ground to expect) is apt to create a suspicion that the whole is owing to a happy combination of balancing errors.

But waving these objections, fairness of reasoning requires that we should lay no more stress on such coincidences, as those just mentioned, in favour of one side of the question, than we are willing to allow to discrepancies in similar circumstances, in support of the other side. M. Bailly allows that not any more of the elements of the planetary motions, contained in the Indian tables, agree so well with the determinations derived from the theory of gravity: and the quantities which are assigned to the equations of the centre, for Jupiter and Mars, are quite irreconcileable with the supposition of so remote an antiquity as the beginning of the Cali-yug. Such a contrariety of results justly invalidates the whole argument.

5. Another argument urged by the favourers of the antiquity of the Indian astronomy, is derived from the obliquity of the ecliptic, which the Indians state at 24°.

Both observation and theory concur in showing that the obliquity of the ecliptic has been diminishing slowly for many ages preceding the present. At the beginning of the Cali-yug, this astronomical element, according to theory, was 23° 51′, which is still short of what the Indians make it. Twelve centuries before the Cali-yug, the actual obliquity of the ecliptic, as derived from theory, would coincide with the Indian quantity within 2′: And, by going back still further, the error may, no doubt, be entirely annihilated. Nothing, it must be confessed, can be more vague and unsatisfactory than this sort of reasoning.

Let us grant that the Hindus determined the obliquity of the ecliptic, 4300 years before our era, which supposes that they made an error of 2′ only: How are we to account for the strange circumstance, that a quantity, which they were at one time able to determine with so much accuracy, should remain unaltered for a period of nearly 6000 years; during which time, the error of the first determination has accumulated to half a degree? Are we to suppose that, immediately after this imaginary epoch, the art of astronomical observation disappeared, and was entirely lost? This, we know, could not be the case, because many other astronomical elements necessarily suppose observations of a comparatively modern date: as, for instance, the equation of the sun’s centre.

We shall account for the quantity which the Indians assign to the obliquity much more simply and naturally, if we trust to the authority of Mr. Bently. According to him, the Hindu astronomers (unless in cases where extraordinary accuracy is required) make it a rule, in observing, to take the nearest round numbers, rejecting fractional quantities: so that we have only to suppose that the observer who fixed the obliquity of the ecliptic at 24°, actually found it to be more than 23½°.

6. The length of the tropical year, as deduced from the Hindu tables, is 365d 5h 50′ 35″ which is 1′ 46″ longer than the determination of La Caille. This is certainly not a little accurate, and necessarily supposes some degree of antiquity, and the comparison of observations made at a great interval of time. We shall be the better able to form a judgment of the length of time which such a degree of accuracy may require, if we consider the errors of some of our older tables, published before the art of making astronomical instruments was brought to its present perfect state. In the Alphonsine Tables, published about 1252, the length of the tropical year, is

-- 365d / 5h / 49′ / 16″
Copernicus (about 1530) makes it.. / 365 / 5 / 49 / 6
Kepler (about 1627)............ / 365 / 5 / 48 / 57½


These quantities are determined by observations distant from one another about 1500 or 1600 years: and the differences between them and the year of La Caille, is about the fourth part of the error of the Indians.

If we suppose that the length of the year found in the Hindu tables was actually determined by observation at the beginning of the Cali-yug, the error, which has been stated at 1′ 46″, may be reduced to 1′ 5″. The reason of this is that the year has been decreasing in duration, for all the intervening time, and the quantity, computed by theory, which must be added to the length of the year as observed in the present age, to have its length forty-nine centuries ago, is 40½″. Arguments of this kind carry but little force with them. For the time when the observations from which the length of the Indian year was deduced is totally unknown: and it seems highly probable, that the beginning of the Cali-yug is not an epoch settled by observation. Besides, the error of observation (which cannot be reduced under 1′ 5″) must be allowed to be, in this instance, nearly double of the correction applied: and there is nothing to prove that it may not amount to much more.

It is to be remarked that the Indian tables contain the siderial motion of the sun, and not his motion in respect of the moveable equinox as our tables do. If we draw our comparison from the length of the siderial, instead of the tropical year, the result will not be so favourable to the accuracy of the Hindu astronomy. The siderial revolution of the sun, according to the Indians, is 365d6h 12′ 30″; according to modern observation it is 365d 6h 9′ 11″; and the error is 3′ 19″ nearly double the former error. The difference of those errors arises from the quantity which they assign to the precession of the equinoxes, which is 54″ instead of 50½″.

7. Of all the arguments in support of the antiquity of the Hindu astronomy, the strongest and most direct is that which is derived from an ancient zodiac brought from India by M. le Gentil. This argument therefore deserves to be particularly considered.

It must be observed, that the force of an argument such as this, which turns on the magnitude of an astronomical quantity that accumulates slowly, and is perceptible only after a long lapse of time, will entirely depend on the authenticity of the observations, or facts, from which the argument is drawn, and on the precision and accuracy with which they are recorded. Any thing uncertain, or arbitrary, or hypothetical, respecting these fundamental points, will greatly weaken the strength of the argument. We are told by Mr. Playfair, that the star Aldebaran has the longitude of 3° 20′ in the zodiac of M. le Gentil: and it is on the authenticity and precision of this fact, that the validity of his reasoning hinges. Now, if we turn to the passage of the Astronomie Indienne, which is cited by Mr. Playfair, it will appear that this position of Aldebaran is rather a conjecture, or hypothesis, of M. Bailly, than an authentic observation recorded with precision.

The Indian zodiac moves westward, at the same rate as the fixed stars, and it is divided into twenty-seven constellations, each of 13° 20′. The vernal equinox was 54° to the east of the beginning of the zodiac at the commencement of the Cali-yug; and it was therefore in the fifth constellation, being 40′ more advanced than the fourth. The Indians mark the fourth constellation, which they call Rhonini, by five stars, of which the most easterly, or the most advanced in the zodiac, is the very brilliant star Aldebaran. These things being premised, M. Bailly thus proceeds: “Il est naturel que cette belle etoile ait marque la fin ou le commencement d’une constellation. Je suppose qu’elle marque en effet la fin de Rhonini, la quatrieme des constellations Indiennes, et le commencement de la cinquième; il resulte de cette supposition que l’etoile Aldebaran etoit placée dans le zodiaque Indien à 1s23° 20′ de l’origin du zodiaque.” It appears then that the whole of the argument, which is stated so strongly by Mr. Playfair, and by the critic in the Edinburgh Review, rests on the conjecture of M. Bailly; that Aldebaran was exactly placed at the end of the fourth, and the beginning of the fifth constellation in the Indian zodiac. For this, no sort of proof is offered, except the conspicuousness of the star, which is certainly one of the most brilliant in the heavens. Are we to suppose, for the sake of this argument, that the position of the Indian zodiac was entirely regulated by the star Aldebaran? For it must be admitted that when the beginning of one constellation is fixed, all the rest are thereby determined. Or, are we to suppose, what is still more improbable, that the beginning of the fifth constellation fell, by a lucky chance, exactly in the place of this conspicuous star?

But the Indians themselves afford us the means of correcting the supposition of M. Bailly. Mr. Bently tells us that Bromhu Gupta makes the longitude of the star, Spica Virginis, in the moveable zodiac of the Hindus, 6s3°: According to De la Caille, the longitude of the same star in 1750, was

-- 6s / 20° / 21′ / 18″
Of Aldebaran.......... / 2 / 6 / 17 / 47
Difference............. / 4 / 14 / 3 / 31


which subtracted from 6s 3°, leaves 1s 18° 56′ 29″ for the longitude of Aldebaran in the Indian zodiac, instead of 1s 23° 20′ which it is according to the hypothesis of M. Bailly. The error amounts to 4° 23′ 31″: a quantity which is nowise inconsistent with the configuration of the constellation Rhonini, while it is sufficient to show that the Indians may have fixed the origin of their zodiac at the beginning of the Caliyug by calculating back from a modern epoch.

And indeed the Brahmens point out a modern epoch, a noted one in their astronomy, which is connected with the era of the Cali-yug by their precession, in the same manner that the modern epoch 1491 is connected with it by the mean motions. Mr. Bently tells us that, according to Varaha, the year 3601 of the Cali-yug (A. D. 499) began precisely at the vernal equinox: which implies that the origin of the Indian zodiac did then coincide with the equinoxial point. Now if we deduct 1s 24°, the Indian precession for 3600 years, from 12s, we shall have 10s 6° for the origin of the zodiac, reckoned eastward from the vernal equinox according to the practice of our astronomy: precisely as it comes out by the Indian tables.

The epoch 3601 of the Cali-yug is involved in all the Indian tables, insomuch that M. Bailly was led to discover it by calculation: And in fact, there is no authority for fixing the origin of the Indian zodiac in 10s6° at the era of the Cali-yug, except by reckoning back from this epoch, according to the Hindu rule for the precession.

It appears then that the argument drawn from the zodiac of M. le Gentil, when closely considered, not only affords no evidence for the antiquity of the Indian astronomy, but rather favours the opinion that the beginning of the Cali-yug, is a fictitious epoch fixed by calculation. For it has been shown that the place of the origin of the Indian zodiac, at the era of the Cali-yug, is connected by the precession contained in the Hindu tables with the epoch 3601 of that age: and indeed all the epochs of the Brahmens, ancient as well as modern, are connected with the same fundamental epoch, in what regards the precession. The pretended position of the star Aldebaran is merely a conjecture of M. Bailly: and it is at variance with the place which Bromha Gupta, and other Indian astronomers, assign to the star “Spica Virginis.”

8. In the preceding observations, all the arguments that have been adduced in favour of the antiquity of the Indian astronomy, as far as the question is purely astronomical, have been considered, excepting those drawn from the places of the sun and moon, at the beginning of the Cali-yug, (at midnight between the 17th and 18th of February, of the year 3102 A. C.) With regard to the first of these, there is a difficulty which weighed so much with Mr. Playfair, as to induce him to set aside the argument entirely, and to lay no stress upon it. It is remarkable that the critic in the Edinburgh Review has brought forward this argument, without noticing the difficulty which, in Mr. Playfair’s opinion, rendered it inconclusive. After what has been urged to invalidate the opinion of M. Bailly, that the ancient epoch of the Indian tables was settled by observation, we shall be spared the task of examining the remaining argument drawn from the place of the moon: allowing to this argument all the force which the most sanguine supporters of the antiquity can demand, it can have but little weight in opposition to the many strong and concurring indications of a contrary nature.153

10. If the author of the “Astronomie Indienne” has succeeded in establishing any of his positions, it is in proving that the astronomy of the Brahmens is original, or at least that it has not been borrowed from any of the astronomical systems that we are acquainted with. This was a preliminary point which his favourite system required him to examine: for if the astronomy of the Brahmens had turned out to have an obvious affinity to the astronomical systems of Arabia or Greece, it would have been in vain to bring proofs of its antiquity. But how does this prove the antiquity of the Indian astronomy? It only proves that the inhabitants of the eastern world, separated from the rest of mankind, have made the same progress to a certain extent, which, in the western world, has been carried to a far greater pitch of perfection.
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Re: The History of British India, Vol. II, by James Mill

Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2020 6:17 am

APPENDIX. No. II.: Colebrooke on Sanscrit Algebra.

Since the pages relating to the science of the Hindus were sent to the press, has appeared a work entitled, “Algebra, with Arithmetic and Mensuration, from the Sanscrit of Brahmegupta and Bhascara; translated by Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Esq.” No person who takes an interest in the history of the human mind, can fail to recognize that Mr. Colebrooke has added largely to the former obligations he had conferred upon us, not only by laying open to European readers the most approved production on Algebra, in the Sanscrit language, but by the research and ability with which, in a preliminary dissertation, he has brought together the materials for forming an opinion, both respecting the origin of that science among the Hindus, and their merit in the prosecution of it.

On mathematics I must speak superficially, because my knowledge does not permit me to speak profoundly. Enough, I think, however, appears on the face of this subject, to enable me to resolve the only question, in the solution of which I am interested.

Mr. Colebrooke thinks it possible, nay probable, that the Hindus derived their first knowledge of algebra from the Greeks; that they were made acquainted with the writings of Diophantus, before they had of their own accord made any attempts in the science; and that it is in the accessions which Algebra received in their hands, that their title, if any, to our respect, must, in this particular, look for its foundation.154 That the Hindus cultivated astronomy, and the branches of the art of calculation subservient to astronomy, solely for the purposes of astrology, is not disputed by any body, and least of all by Mr. Colebrooke. That candid and careful inquirer has brought to light a very important fact, that even on the subject of astrology, on which they might have been supposed original, the Hindus have been borrowers, and borrowers from the Greeks.155 “Joining, “ he says, “this indication, to that of the division of the zodiac into twelve signs, represented by the same figures of animals, and named by words of the same import, with the zodiacal signs of the Greeks; and taking into consideration the analogy, though not identity, of the Ptolemaic system, and the Indian one of excentric deferents and epicycles, no doubt can be entertained that the Hindus received hints from the astronomical schools of the Greeks.”156

To draw, then, from the tracts which Mr. Colebrooke has translated, an inference to any high state of civilization among the Hindus, the three following propositions must, first, be established;

1.That the Greeks did not teach to the Hindus as much of the science as the works in question contain:

2.That the works are sufficiently old to render it impossible that the knowledge could have been borrowed from any modern source:

3.That the accessions made to the knowledge derived from the Greeks are so difficult as not to have been made except by a people in a high state of civilization.

If all these propositions are not fully and entirely made out; if any weakness appears in the evidence of any one of them, the inference falls to the ground. Upon inquiry, it seems to come out, that for not one of them is the evidence sufficient, or trustworthy.

1. That the Hindus received from the Greeks all that the latter knew, is admitted by Mr. Colebrooke. It is also admitted by Mr. Colebrooke, that “Diophantus was acquainted with the direct resolution of affected quadratic equations, and of indeterminate problems of the first degree; that he displays infinite sagacity and ingenuity in particular solutions; and that a certain routine is discernible in them.”157 It is unfortunately from Diophantus alone, that we derive any knowledge of the attainments of the Greeks in this branch of mathematics. It is no less unfortunate, that out of thirteen books which he wrote upon this subject, only six, or possibly seven, have been preserved. How does Mr. Colebrooke know, that these other books of Diophantus did not ascend to more difficult points of the science?158 He says, you have no right to infer that. True; but neither has he any right to infer the contrary. There is, however, another possibility and a still more important one, which Mr. Colebrooke has altogether overlooked. Supposing that nothing more of Algebra was known to the Greeks, at the time of Diophantus, than is found in seven out of thirteen books of one author, which is a pretty handsome allowance; is it certain or is it probable, that when the Greeks had made so considerable a progress, they remained stationary? and, though the most ingenious and inventive people in the world, peculiarly at that time turned to mathematical and abstruse investigations, they made no addition, through several generations, to what was taught them by Diophantus? This argument appears to be conclusive.

2. Mr. Colebrooke has a very elaborate, complex, and in some parts obscure train of argument to prove the antiquity of certain points of algebraic knowledge among the Hindus. That it is not conclusive may be made to appear very certainly; it is only to be regretted that so many words are required.

The point is, to prove the antiquity of certain treatises which Mr. Colebrooke possesses; part under the name of Bhascara, one mathematician; part under that of Brahmegupta, another. He begins with Bhascara.

There are two treatises of astronomy, which bear the name of Bhascara, and which themselves affirm, that they were written at a particular time, corresponding to the middle of the twelfth century of the Christian era: Therefore the Treatise on Algebra, possessed by Mr. Colebrooke, was produced about the middle of the twelfth century. For this degree of antiquity, this is the whole of the evidence. Let us see what it is worth.

In the first place, the dates refer only to the astronomical treatises; not to the algebraic. The algebraic is indeed prefixed to the astronomic; but it is alleged by one of the commentators, and believed by Mr. Colebrooke, that it “may have been added subsequently.” And then at what date subsequently, or by what hand, are questions to which we shall presently see that there is no answer.

In the next place, an important observation applies to the affirmations, with respect to their own age, found in the treatises on astronomy. From the known, the extravagant disposition of the Hindus to falsify with regard to dates, and make almost every thing with respect to their own transactions and attainments more ancient than it is, such asseverations, found in books, or transcripts of books, are no proof of what is affirmed; and only deserve a moment’s regard when fully corroborated by other circumstances. Not one circumstance is adduced to corroborate them by Mr. Colebrooke.

We come down, all at once, from the date of the work, to the date of the commentaries upon it. For none of them does Mr. Colebrooke claim a degree of antiquity beyond 200 or 300 years. Supposing this date to be correct, what reason has Mr. Colebrooke to infer that the work on which they comment, was, at the time of that commentary, 400 years old? None, whatsoever. In nine instances out of ten, the commentator would be sure to speak of it as old, whether it was so or not. But further, what reason have we to believe that the date which he ascribes to these commentaries is the real one? Again the answer is, None: none that will bear examination. The date of the oldest is assumed upon the strength of an astronomical example, describing a particular state of the heavens: But this may be perfectly accidental; and, besides, the Hindus have the power of calculating backwards. Of the next two, the date is assumed upon the strength of their own assertion: This we have shown is of no value. Of the next two the date is assumed upon the assertion of other books. This, if possible, is of less value. There are three others to which no date is assigned: And there are two commentaries upon the astronomical treatises, the date of which too rests upon their own assertion.

Neither to the treatise, therefore, in the hands of Mr. Colebrooke, nor to the Commentaries upon it, has any thing appeared, in what we have yet mentioned, which enables us to assign, with any degree of certainty, any one date in preference to any other. We may, if we please, assume that all of them in a body are less than a century old.

Beside the Sanscrit commentaries, there is a Persian translation, of each of the two treatises of Bhascara. In general, what is testified by Persian is far more trustworthy, than what rests upon Sanscrit authority; because there was more publicity in the Persian writings; whereas the Sanscrit, being wholly secret, and confined to a small number of Brahmens, accustomed and prone to forgery, there is security for nothing which they had any interest, real or imaginary, to change. If there was any evidence, therefore, to fix the dates of the Persian translations, we could not reasonably dispute a degree of antiquity corresponding to them. I suspect that there is no evidence to fix the dates of these translations. Mr. Colebrooke says, the one was made by order of the emperor Acber, the other in the reign of Shah Jehan. But he subjoins no reason for this affirmation. The cause probably is, that he had none; and that he took the conjecture from some date written somewhere in the book, nobody knows at what time, nobody knows by whom.

Such is the whole of the evidence which is adduced by Mr. Colebrooke to prove the antiquity of Bhascara. “The age of his predecessors,” he adds, “cannot be determined with equal precision:” that is to say, the evidence which can be adduced for the antiquity of the other treatise, that of Brahmegupta, is still less conclusive and less satisfactory. As we have seen that the better evidence proves nothing, I shall spare the reader a criticism to show, what he will easily infer, that the worse evidence proves as little; evidence, which, as it is tedious and intricate, it would require a criticism of some length to unfold.

3. We come to the third of the propositions; that if the Hindus had discovered as much of algebra, as they know beyond what appears in the fragment of Diophantus, they must have been placed in a high state of civilization. That this proposition cannot be maintained, I expect to find universally acknowledged. I transcribe the passage from Mr. Colebrooke, in which he sums up the claims and pretensions of the Hindus. “They possessed well the arithmetic of surd roots; they were aware of the infinite quotient resulting from the division of finite quantity by cipher; they knew the general resolution of equations of the second degree, and had touched upon those of higher denomination, resolving them in the simplest cases, and in those in which the solution happens to be practicable by the method which serves for quadratics; they had attained a general solution of indeterminate problems of the first degree; they had arrived at a method for deriving a multitude of solutions of answers to problems of the second degree from a single answer found tentatively.”159

In all this it appears, that the only point in which there can be a pretence for their having gone beyond what we have in the fragment of Diophantus, is the general solution of indeterminate problems of the first degree. But, to quote Dr. Hutton once more, “Diophantus was the first writer on indeterminate problems. His book is wholly on this subject; whence it has happened that such kind of questions have been called by the name of Diophantine problems.” Now, take the point at which the solution of indeterminate problems appears in the fragment of Diophantus, and the point at which it appears in the Sanscrit treatise, of whatever age, in the hands of Mr. Colebrooke; the interval between the two points is so very small, and the step is so easily made, that most assuredly far more difficult steps in the progress of mathematical science have been made in ages of which the civilization has been as low as that of the Hindus. Thales lived at a period when Greece was still uncultivated, and but just emerging from barbarism; yet he excelled the Egyptians in mathematical knowledge, and astonished them by computing the height of the pyramids from the shadow. Pythagoras lived in the same age; and was a great inventor both in arithmetic and geometry: In astronomy he made great discoveries, and maintained, we are told, the true system of the universe; that the sun is in the centre, and makes all the planets revolve about him. Regiomontanus was born in 1456, when the human mind was still to a great degree immersed in the darkness of the middle ages: Yet of him, Mr. Playfair says, “Trigonometry, which had never been known to the Greeks as a separate science, and which took that form in Arabia, advanced, in the hands of Regiomontanus, to a great degree of perfection; and approached very near to the condition which it has attained at the present day: He also introduced the use of decimal fractions into arithmetic, and thereby gave to that scale its full extent, and to numerical computation the utmost degree of simplicity and enlargement, which it seems capable of attaining.”160 Cardan was born in 1501, when assuredly much had not yet been gained of what deserves the name of civilization. “Before his time,” says the same accomplished mathematician, “little advance had been made in the solution of any equations higher than the second degree. In 1545 was published the rule which still bears the name of Cardan; and which, at this day, marks a point in the progress of algebraic investigation, which all the efforts of succeeding analysts have hardly been able to go beyond.”161 Even Vieta, with all his discoveries, appeared at an early and ill-instructed age.

In looking at the pursuits of any nation, with a view to draw from them indications of the state of civilization, no mark is so important, as the nature of the End to which they are directed.

Exactly in proportion as Utility is the object of every pursuit, may we regard a nation as civilized. Exactly in proportion as its ingenuity is wasted on contemptible or mischievous objects, though it may be, in itself, an ingenuity of no ordinary kind, the nation may safely be denominated barbarous.

According to this rule, the astronomical and mathematical sciences afford conclusive evidence against the Hindus. They have been cultivated exclusively for the purposes of astrology; one of the most irrational of all imaginable pursuits; one of those which most infallibly denote a nation barbarous; and one of those which it is the most sure to renounce, in proportion as knowledge and civilization are attained.
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Re: The History of British India, Vol. II, by James Mill

Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2020 6:25 am

Part 1 of 2

CHAP. X. General Reflections.

TO ascertain the true state of the Hindus in the scale of civilization, is not only an object of curiosity in the history of human nature; but to the people of Great Britain, charged as they are with the government of that great portion of the human species, it is an object of the highest practical importance. No scheme of government can happily conduce to the ends of government, unless it is adapted to the state of the people for whose use it is intended. In those diversities in the state of civilization, which approach the extremes, this truth is universally acknowledged. Should any one propose, for a band of roving Tartars, the regulations adapted to the happiness of a regular and polished society, he would meet with neglect or derision. The inconveniences are only more concealed and more or less diminished, when the error relates to states of society which more nearly resemble one another. If the mistake in regard to Hindu society, committed by the British nation, and the British government, be very great; if they have conceived the Hindus to be a people of high civilization, while they have in reality made but a few of the earliest steps in the progress to civilization, it is impossible that in many of the measures pursued for the government of that people, the mark aimed at should not have been wrong.

The preceding induction of particulars, embracing the religion, the laws, the government, the manners, the arts, the sciences, and literature, of the Hindus, affords, it is presumed, the materials from which a correct judgment may, at last, be formed of their progress toward the high attainments of civilized life. That induction, and the comparisons to which it led, have occupied us long, but not longer, it is hoped, than the importance of the subject demanded, and the obstinacy of the mistakes which it was the object of it to remove.

The reports of a high state of civilization in the East were common even among the civilized nations of ancient Europe. But the acquaintance of the Greeks and Romans with any of the nations of Asia, except the Persians alone, was so imperfect, and among the circumstances which they state so many are incredible and ridiculous, that in the information we receive from them on this subject, no confidence can be reposed.

Of the modern Europeans, the individuals who first obtained a tolerable acquaintance with any of the nations of the East, were the popish missionaries, chiefly the Jesuits, who selected China for the scene of their apostolical labours. Visiting a people who already composed a vast society, and exhibited many, though fallacious, marks of riches, while Europe as yet was every where poor; and feeling, as it was natural for them to feel, that the more they could excite among their countrymen an admiration of the people whom they described, the greater would be the portion of that flattering sentiment, which would redound upon themselves, these missionaries were eager to conceive, and still more eager to propagate, the most hyperbolical ideas of the arts, the sciences, and institutions of the Chinese. As it is almost always more pleasing, and certainly far more easy, to believe, than to scrutinize; and as the human mind in Europe, at the time when these accounts were first presented, was much less powerful, and penetrating, than it is at present, they were received with almost implicit credulity. The influence of this first impression lasted so long, that even to Voltaire, a keen-eyed and sceptical judge, the Chinese, of almost all nations, are the objects of the loudest and most unqualified praise.162 The state of belief in Europe has, through the scrutiny of facts, been of late approximating to sobriety on the attainments of the Chinese, and a short period longer will probably reduce it to the scale of reason and fact.163

It was under circumstances highly similar, that the earliest of the modern travellers drew up and presented their accounts of Hindustan. The empire of the Moguls was in its meridian splendour. It extended over the principal part of India; and the court, the army, and the establishments of Akber or Aurungzebe, exhibited that gorgeous exterior, that air of grandeur and power, which were well calculated to impose upon the imagination of an unphilosophical observer.164

It was unfortunate that a mind so pure, so warm in the pursuit of truth, and so devoted to oriental learning, as that of Sir William Jones, should have adopted the hypothesis of a high state of civilization in the principal countries of Asia. This he supported with all the advantages of an imposing manner, and a brilliant reputation; and gained for it so great a credit, that for a time it would have been very difficult to obtain a hearing against it.

Beside the illusions with which the fancy magnifies the importance of a favourite pursuit, Sir William was actuated by the virtuous design of exalting the Hindus in the eyes of their European masters; and thence ameliorating the temper of the government; while his mind had scope for error in the vague and indeterminate notions which it still retained of the signs of social improvement. The term civilization was by him, as by most men, attached to no fixed and definite assemblage of ideas. With the exception of some of the lowest states of society in which human beings have been found, it was applied to nations in all the stages of social advancement.165

It is not easy to describe the characteristics of the different stages of social progress. It is not from one feature, or from two, that a just conclusion can be drawn. In these it sometimes happens that nations resemble which are placed at stages considerably remote. It is from a joint view of all the great circumstances taken together, that their progress can be ascertained; and it is from an accurate comparison, grounded on these general views, that a scale of civilization can be formed, on which the relative position of nations may be accurately marked.

Notwithstanding all that modern philosophy had performed for the elucidation of history, very little had been attempted in this great department, at the time when the notions of Sir William Jones were formed;166 and so crude were his ideas on the subject, that the rhapsodies of Rousseau on the virtue and happiness of the savage life surpass not the panegyrics of Sir William on the wild, comfortless, predatory, and ferocious state of the wandering Arabs. “Except,” says he, “when their tribes are engaged in war, they spend their days in watching their flocks and camels, or in repeating their native songs, which they pour out almost extempore, professing a contempt for the stately pillars and solemn buildings of the cities, compared with the natural charms of the country, and the coolness of their tents: thus they pass their lives in the highest pleasure of which they have any conception, in the contemplation of the most delightful objects, and in the enjoyment of perpetual spring.”167 “If courtesy,” he observes, “and urbanity, a love of poetry and eloquence, and the practice of exalted virtues, be a just measure of perfect society, we have certain proof that the people of Arabia, both on plains and in cities, in republican and monarchical states, were eminently civilized for many ages before their conquest of Persia.”168 We need not wonder if the man, who wrote and delivered this, found the Hindus arrived at the highest civilization. Yet the very same author, in the very same discourse, and speaking of the same people, declared, “I find no trace among them till their emigration of any philosophy but ethics;”169 and even of this he says, “The distinguishing virtues which they boasted of inculcating, were a contempt of riches and even of death; but in the age of the seven poets, their liberality had deviated into mad profusion, their courage into ferocity, and their patience into an obstinate spirit of encountering fruitless dangers.”170 He adds; “The only arts in which they pretended to excellence (I except horsemanship and military accomplishments) werepoetry and rhetoric.”171 It can hardly be affirmed that these facts are less than wonderful as regarding a people “eminently civilized;” a people exhibiting “a just measure of perfect society.”172

Among the causes which excited to the tone of eulogy adopted with regard to the Hindus, one undoubtedly was, the affectation of candour. Of rude and uncultivated nations, and also of rude and uncultivated individuals, it is a characteristic, to admire only the system of manners, of ideas, and of institutions to which they have been accustomed, despising others. The most cultivated nations of Europe had but recently discovered the weakness of this propensity: Novelty rendered exemption from it a source of distinction: To prove his superiority to the prejudices of home, by admiring and applauding the manners and institutions of Asia, became, therefore, in the breast of the traveller, a motive of no inconsiderable power.173

The nations of Europe became acquainted nearly about the same period, with the people of America, and the people of Hindustan. Having contemplated in the one, a people without fixed habitations, without political institutions, and with hardly any other arts than those indispensably necessary for the preservation of existence, they hastily concluded, upon the sight of another people, inhabiting great cities, cultivating the soil, connected together by an artificial system of subordination, exhibiting monuments of great antiquity, cultivating a species of literature, exercising arts and obeying a monarch whose sway was extensive, and his court magnificent, that they had suddenly passed from the one extreme of civilization to the other. The Hindus were compared with the savages of America; the circumstances in which they differed from that barbarous people, were the circumstances in which they corresponded with the most cultivated nations; other circumstances were overlooked; and it seems to have been little suspected that conclusions too favourable could possibly be drawn.174

The progress of knowledge, and the force of observation, demonstrated the necessity of regarding the actual state of the Hindus as little removed from that of half-civilised nations. The saving hypothesis, however, was immediately adopted, that the situation in which the Hindus are now beheld is a state of degradation; that formerly they were in a state of high civilization; from which they had fallen through the miseries of foreign conquest, and subjugation.

This was a theory invented to preserve as much as actual observation would allow to be preserved, of a pre-established and favourite creed. It was not an inference from what was already known. It was a gratuitous assumption. It preceded inquiry, and no inquiry was welcome, but that which yielded matter for its support.175

To this purpose were adapted the pretensions of the Brahmens, who spoke of an antecedent period, when the sovereigns of Hindustan were masters of great power and great magnificence. It was of importance to weigh these pretensions; because the rude writers of rude nations have almost always spoken of antecedent times as deserving all the praise with which their powers of rhetoric or song could exalt them. If the descriptions of antiquity presented by the Brahmens bore the consistent marks of truth and reality, a degree of intrinsic evidence would be attached to them. If these descriptions flew wide of all resemblance to human affairs, and were nothing but wild unnatural fictions, they would be so far from proving an antecedent state of knowledge and civilization, that they would prove the reverse. And, had the Hindus remained fixed from the earliest ages in the semibarbarous state, it is most certain that the Brahmens would have given to us just such accounts of antiquity as those we have actually received at their hands.

As the Hindus have enlightened us by no record of antecedent events, and we thus have no immediate proof of their state of civilization, in the times that are past, the only sure ground of inference is the laws and institutions which they framed, the manners they adopted, and the arts and sciences to which they attended. If these great circumstances were at variance with the existing state of society, but adapted to one more advanced, the inference would certainly be a probable one, that to a period when society was in that improved condition, they really owed their birth. But in regard to the Hindus, their laws and institutions are adapted to the very state of society which those who visit them now behold. They are laws and institutions which, so far from importing any more perfect state of society, seem entirely inconsistent with it; such as could neither begin, nor exist, under any other than one of the rudest and weakest states of the human mind. As the manners, the arts and sciences of the ancient Hindus are entirely correspondent with the state of their laws and institutions, every thing we know of the ancient state of Hindustan conspires to prove that it was rude.

It is another important fact, that, if the Hindus had ever been placed in this pretended state of civilization, we know of no such period of calamity, as was sufficient to reduce them to a state of ignorance and barbarity. The conquest of Hindustan, effected by the Mahomedan nations, was to no extraordinary degree sanguinary or destructive. It substituted sovereigns of one race to sovereigns of another, and mixed with the old inhabitants a small proportion of new; but it altered not the texture of society; it altered not the language of the country; the original inhabitants remained the occupants of the soil; they continued to be governed by their own laws and institutions; nay, the whole detail of administration, with the exception of the army, and a few of the more prominent situations, remained invariably in the hands of the native magistrates and officers.176 The few occasions of the persecution, to which, under the reigns of one or two bigoted sovereigns, they were subjected on the score of religion, were too short and too partial to produce any considerable effects.177

When we look for the particulars of those pretended reigns of mighty kings, the universal lords of India, under whom science flourished, and civilization rose to the greatest height, we meet with nothing but fable, more wild, and inconsistent, and hyperbolical, than is any where else to be found. From this no rational conclusion can be drawn, except that it is the production of a rude and irrational age. Bharat, or Bharata, is said to have been the first universal sovereign of India, which from him derived its name; India being, in the language of the natives, Bharata Versh. In this, however, as usual, the Hindu accounts contradict themselves, since Bharat is represented as preceding Rama, the son of Cush, who, according to Sir William Jones, might have established the first regular government in India.178 Judhishter is another of these universal sovereigns; but of him even the origin is allegorical; he is the son of Dherma, or the god of justice, and he reigned 27,000 years. The name, with which, chiefly, the idea of the universal sovereignship of India, and the glory of art and science, is combined, is that of Vicramaditya. Of him, let us hear what is represented; and then we shall be enabled to judge. “The two periods,” says Captain Wilford, “of Vicrama’ditya and Saliva’ha’na are intimately connected; and the accounts we have of these two extraordinary personages are much confused, teeming with contradictions and absurdities to a surprising degree. In general the Hindus know but of one Vicrama’ditya; but the learned acknowledge four; and when, at my request, they produced written authorities, I was greatly surprised to find no less than eight or nine. —Vicrama’ditya made a desperate tapasya, in order to obtain power and a long life from Ca’li’devi, and as she seemingly continued deaf to his entreaties, he was going to cut off his own head, when she appeared, and granted him undisturbed sway over all the world for one thousand years, after which a divine child, born of a virgin, and the son of the great Tacshaca, carpenter or artist, would deprive him both of his kingdom and of his life. This would happen in the year of the Cali yug, 3101, answering to the first of the Christian era. The history of these nine worthies, but more particularly when considered as a single individual, is a most crude and undigested mass of heterogeneous legends, taken from the apocryphal gospel of the infancy of Christ, the tales of the Rabbis and Talmudists concerning Solomon, with some particulars about Muhammed; and the whole is jumbled together with some of the principal features of the history of the Persian kings of the Sassanian dynasty. Thus Vicrama is made contemporary with Solomon; and like him, he is said to have found the great mantra, spell or talisman; through which he ruled over the elements, and spirits of all denominations, who obeyed him like slaves. Like Solomon he had a most wonderful throne, supported and adorned with lions, who are endued with reason and speech. We read in the Vetala-pancha-vinsati, that it was through the assistance of the great Vetala, or devil, that two Vicrama’dityas obtained the empire of the world, a long life, with unlimited sway. They performed the pújá in his honour, offered sacrifices, and in short dedicated or gave themselves up to him.”179 On this foundation of historical matter is built the magnificent fabric of a great and universal monarchy, the reign of the arts and sciences, all that embellishes human life, and augments the human powers. Such being the premises, and such the conclusion, are they not admirably adapted to one another? The legend speaks, and that loudly, and distinctly, what it is; the creation of a rude and uncultivated fancy, exerting itself to rouse the wonder of a rude and uncultivated age, by a recital of actions, powers, and events, swelled beyond the measure of human nature; profiting by all the hints which the legends or history of other nations supplied to furnish out its story, and by appropriating the wonderful deeds of all the world to gratify the barbarous vanity of the people to whom the story was addressed. If the historian gave to his hero a reign of a thousand years; it was quite in the same temper, and conducive to the same end, to give him the sovereignty of all India; and not only of all India, but, as we see was the fact, the sovereignty of the whole world. This is precisely the course which a wild and ignorant mind, regarding only the wonder which it has it in view to excite, naturally, in such cases, and almost universally, pursues. Such legends, if they existed in myriads, are no more a proof of a monarchy common to all India, which they do not assert, than of the universal monarchy of the whole world, or of the thousands or the myriads of years to one reign, which they expressly assert.180

The very lists which are found in the books of the Hindus, filled up with the names of successive monarchs, Mr. Wilford assures us, are the creation of the fancies of the writers, and are formed without any reference to facts. In enumerating the authorities, from which he drew his materials, in the essay on Vicramaditya and Salivahana, he says, “The fourth list has been translated into all the dialects of India, and new-modelled at least twenty different ways, according to the whims and pre-conceived ideas of every individual, who chose to meddle with it. It is, however, the basis and ground work of modern history among the Hindus; as in the Khulásetul Tuwarie, and the Tadkeratussulatin. The latter treatise is a most perfect specimen of the manner of writing history in India; for, excepting the above list, almost every thing else is the production of the fertile genius of the compiler. In all these lists the compilers and revisers seem to have had no other object in view, but to adjust a certain number of remarkable epochs. This being once effected, the intermediate spaces are filled up with names of kings not to be found any where else, and most probably fanciful. Otherwise they leave out the names of those kings of whom nothing is recorded, and attribute the years of their reign in some among them better known, and of greater fame. They often do not scruple to transpose some of those kings, and even whole dynasties; either in consequence of some pre-conceived opinion, or owing to their mistaking a famous king for another of the same name. It was not uncommon with ancient writers, to pass from a remote ancestor to a remote descendant; or from a remote predecessor to a remote successor, by leaving out the intermediate generations or successions, and sometimes ascribing the years of their reigns to a remote successor or predecessor. In this manner the lists of the ancient kings of Persia, both by oriental writers, and others in the west, have been compiled: and some instances of this nature might be produced from Scripture. I was acquainted lately, at Benares, with a chronicler of that sort; and in the several conversations I had with him, he candidly acknowledged, that he filled up the intermediate spaces between the reigns of famous kings, with names at a venture; that he shortened or lengthened their reigns at pleasure; and that it was understood, that his predecessors had taken the same liberties. Through their emendations and corrections, you see plainly a total want of historical knowledge and criticism; and sometimes some disingenuity is but too obvious. This is, however, the case with the sections on futurity in the Bhagavat, Vaya, Vishu, and Brahmanda Puranas; which with the above lists constitute the whole stock of historical knowledge among the Hindus; and the whole might be comprised in a few quarto pages of print.”181

Such is the mode, in which the authors of the Puranas supply themselves with a convenient quantity of ordinary kings: Mr. Wilford affords most satisfactory information with regard to the manner in which they further supply themselves with extraordinary ones. “The propensity,” says he, “of the Hindus, to appropriate every thing to themselves, is well known. We have noticed before their claims to Bahram-Gῦr and his descendants; and in the same manner they insist that Acbar was a Hindu in a former generation. The proximity of the time, in which this famous emperor lived, has forced them, however, to account for this in the following manner. There was a holy Brahmen, who wished very much to become emperor of India; and the only practicable way for him was to die first, and be born again. For this purpose be made a desperate Tapasya, wishing to remember then every thing he knew in his present generation. This could not be fully granted; but he was indulged with writing upon a brass plate a few things which he wished more particularly to remember; then he was directed to bury the plate, and promised that he would remember the place in the next generation. Mucunda, for such was his name, went to Allahabad, buried the plate, and then burned himself. Nine months after he was born in the.character of Acbar, who, as soon as he ascended the throne, went to Allahabad, and easily found the spot where the brass plate was buried. Thus the Hindus claim Muhammed and Acbar as their own; exactly like the Persians of old, who insisted that Alexander was the son of one of their kings; so that after all they were forced to submit to their countrymen only.”182

The account of the claim to Bahram-Gῦr, mentioned in the beginning of the preceding passage, is extremely important on the present occasion; as it shows us that Vicramaditya, whom the legend makes sovereign of the world, and the believers in the great Hindu monarchy take for emperor of Hindustan, was in reality a King of Persia, borrowed by the Brahmens, from their propensity to appropriate every thing remarkable which they heard of in the world. “One of these Vicramas,” says Mr. Wilford, speaking of the different persons in whom this Vicramaditya appears, “was really a Sassanian Prince: and the famous Shabour or Sapor, of that dynasty, who took the emperor Valens prisoner.”183 The story is as follows: “In Gurjjara-mandalam are the Sabharamati and Mahi rivers; between them is a forest, in which resided Tamralipta-rĭshi, whose daughter married King Tamrasena. They had six male children and one daughter called Mandava-rec’ha. The King had two young lads, called Devas’arma and Havis’arma, whose duty chiefly was to wash, every day, the clothes of their master, in the waters of the nearest river. One day, as Devas’arma went, by himself, for that purpose, he heard a voice, saying, Tell King Tamrasena to give me his daughter; should he refuse me he will repent it. The lad on his return mentioned the whole to his master; who would not believe it, and the next day sent Havis’arma to the river, who heard the same voice also, with the threats in case of a refusal. The King was astonished; and going himself heard the voice also. On his return he assembled his council; and after consulting together, it was agreed, that the King should go again, and ask him who he was. The supposed spirit being questioned, answered, I am a Gand’harva, or heavenly choirister; who, having incurred Indra’s displeasure, was doomed to assume the shape of an ass. I was born in that shape, in the house of a cumbhacara, or potter, in your capital city; and I am daily roving about in quest of food. The King said that he was very willing to give him his daughter; but that he conceived that such an union was altogether impossible while he remained in that shape. The Gand’harva said, Trouble not yourself about that; comply with my request, and it shall be well with you. If, says the King, you are so powerful, turn the walls of my city, and those of the houses, into brass; and let it be done before sun-rise to-morrow. The Gand’harva agreed to it, and the whole was completed by the appointed time; and the King of course gave him his daughter. This Gand’harva’s name was Jayanta, the son of Brahma. When cursed by Indra, he humbled himself; and Indra relenting, allowed him to resume his human shape in the night time; telling him that the curse should not be done away, till somebody had burned his ass-like frame. The mother of the damsel spied them once in the night; and, to her great joy, found that the Gand’harva dallied with her daughter in a human shape. Rejoiced at this discovery, she looked for his ass-like form, and burned it. Early in the morning, the Gand’harva looked for this body of his, and found that it had been destroyed. He returned immediately to his wife, informing her of what had happened, and that his curse being at an end, he was obliged to return to heaven, and leave her. He informed her also that she was with child by him, and that the name of the child was to be Vicramaditya.”184 After the statement of some other particulars, Mr. Wilford says; “This is obviously the history of Yesdegird, son of Bahram-Gῦr, or Bahram the ass, King of Persia: the grand features are the same, and the times coincide perfectly. The amours of Bahram-Gῦr, with an Indian princess, are famous all over Persia, as well as in India.”185 Such are the accounts of Vicramaditya, from which we are called upon for our belief of an universal monarchy, and a period of civilization and knowledge.186

Our experience of human nature, and the phenomena which are exhibited under the manners, attainments, and institutions of the Hindus, are the only materials from which a rational inference can be drawn. It is by no means impossible for a people, who have passed but a small number of stages in the career of civilization, to be united, extensively, under one government, and to remain steady for a great length of time in that situation. The empire of China is one conspicuous proof; the ancient kingdom of Persia, which for several ages stood exempt from revolution, is another. The Ottoman empire may be considered as a similar instance. And the Russians, a barbarous people, have long formed a very extensive monarchy. It would, therefore, be far from evidence of any higher civilization, among the Hindus, than what they now manifest, had the existence of a great monarchy been proved. Among uncivilized nations, however, it is most common to find a perpetual succession of revolutions, and communities in general small; though sometimes a prince or individual with uncommon talents arises; and, acquiring power, extends his authority over several of those communities; or even, as in the case of Charlemagne, over a great number; while, after his death, the large empire which he had erected gradually dissolves, till the whole, or the greater part, is re-divided into small communities as before. Every thing which the Europeans have seen in Hindustan conspires to prove that such subdivision of communities, and occasional and temporary extensions of power in particular hands, have composed the history of that country. The Mahratta empire affords a striking example of those changes which seem natural to the circumstances in which the people are placed. Within the period of the modern intercourse of the Europeans with Hindustan, an aspiring individual was enabled to extend his authority, partly by persuasion, partly by force, first over one district, and then over another, till at last he united under his command an extensive empire, composed chiefly of the separate and disjointed communities, who occupied the mountainous districts in the western and central parts of Hindustan.187 Soon was this empire broken into several different governments, the owners of which hardly acknowledged even a nominal homage to the throne of Sevagee; and had they been left to themselves, free from the irresistible operation of the British power, the empire of the Mahrattas, in all probability, would have been resolved, ere this time, into its primitive elements. Even the empire of the Moguls, itself; though erected on firmer foundations than it is reasonable to suppose that any Hindu monarchy ever enjoyed; though supported by a foreign force; and acted upon by peculiar motives for maintaining undivided power, had no sooner attained its greatest extension by the conquests of Aurungzebe, than it began immediately to fall to pieces; and a single century beheld it in fragments.

The monuments of the ancient state of Hindustan conspire in giving indication of a troubled scene. Every ancient writing, which bears any reference to the matter of history, the historical poems, the Puranas, hold up to view a state of society, the reverse of tranquil; perpetual broils, dethronements, injustice, wars, conquests, and bloodshed. Among the most important of all the documents of antiquity found in Hindustan, are the inscriptions, declaratory of grants of land, made by the ancient princes of the country. These princes are so far from appearing to have presided over a peaceful land, that they are all represented, as victorious warriors; and as having been surrounded by enemies, over whom they have triumphed, and whom they have severely chastised.188 Almost all the princes mentioned in these inscriptions, princes in all the parts of India, and not pretended to have been more than the sovereigns of some particular district, are described as the conquerors and sovereigns of the whole world.189

Of the unsparing and destructive cruelty which accompanied the perpetual wars and conquests of the Hindus, among other proofs, the following may be considered as strong. In the inscription found at Tanna, part of the panegyric bestowed upon the donor Prince, is in these words; “Having raised up his slain foe on his sharp sword, he so afflicted the women in the hostile palaces, that their forelocks fell disordered, their garlands of bright flowers dropped from their necks on the vases of their breasts, and the black lustre of their eyes disappeared; a warrior, the plant of whose fame grows up over the temple of Brahma’s egg [the universe] from the-repeated-watering-of-it-with-the-drops-that-fell-from-the-eyes-of-the-wives-of-his-slaughtered-foe.”190 It would be in the highest degree absurd to reject this, were it even a solitary instance, as evidence of a general fact; because the exterminating ferocity is described as matter of the highest praise; and panegyric, to be what it is, must be conformable to the ideas of the people to whom it is addressed.191

The picture which Major Rennel, looking only to a limited period, drew of the state of Hindustan, may be taken, agreeably to every thing which we know of Hindustan, as the picture of it, to the remotest period of its history. Rebellions, massacres, and barbarous conquests, make up the history of this fair country, (which to an ordinary observer seems destined to be the paradise of the world,)—the immediate effect of the mad ambition of conquering more than can be governed by one man.”192 “Revolutions,” (says Sonnerat, directing his attention to the coast of Malabar, which had been little affected by foreign conquest) “have been more rapid in this than in any other part of the globe. A daring robber, possessed of policy and courage, in a short time gives laws to the whole coast, but in his turn becomes tributary to a bolder villain, who marching in the same path, subjects him to that lot he had inflicted on others.”193

Notwithstanding, in other respects, the extreme scantiness and uncertainty of the materials for any inferences except the most general, in regard to the ancient state of Hindustan, there is a great body of evidence to prove the habitual division of the country into a number of moderate, and most frequently, petty sovereignties and states.194 In the dramatic poem Sacontala, the daughter of the hermit asks the royal stranger, who had visited their consecrated grove; “What imperial family is embellished by our noble guest? What is his native country? Surely it must be afflicted by his absence from it?” The question undoubtedly implied that there were more royal families than one to which he might belong; and these at no remarkable distance; since the stranger was known to have come into the forest in the course of a hunting excursion. In the Hetopadesa mention is made of a variety of princes. Thus in the compass of a few pages, we are told; “In the country of Calinga is a prince, named Rucmangada, who, advancing with preparations to subdue the adjacent regions, has fixed his station near the river Chandrabhaga.”195 Again, “In the country of Canyacuja is a prince named Virasena.”196 And further, “There is near the Bhagirathi a city, named Pataliputra, in which lived a prince named Sundersana.”197 In the inscription, formerly quoted, found at Monghir, and bearing date 23 years B. C. there is sufficient proof of the division of Hindustan into numerous kingdoms. Gopaal, the prince or the father of the prince by whom the grant is made, is panegyrized as the conqueror of many princes; and his son is, “He, who marching through many countries, making conquests, arrived with his elephants, in the forests of the mountains Beendhyo, where seeing again their longlost families, they mixed their mutual tears; and who going to subdue other princes, his young horses meeting their females at Komboge, they mutually neighed for joy:—who conquered the earth from the source of the Ganges as far as the well-known bridge which was constructed by the enemy of Dosaesyo, from the river of Luckeecool as far as the ocean of the habitation of Booroon.”198 If this prince overran the peninsula, and conquered a multitude of princes, the peninsula must have been possessed by a multitude of princes before. And we may form an idea of the exaggeration used in the account of his victories, when we are told that his father Gopaal was king of the world, and possessed of two brides, the earth and her wealth.199 The conquests by those princes, even when they took place, were but inroads, never to any considerable extent, effecting a durable possession. This prince himself we are told, “when he had completed his conquests, released all the rebellious princes he had made captive; and each returning to his own country laden with presents, reflected upon this generous deed, and longed to see him again.”200 The laws frequently afford evidence to the same purpose. The penalty, so frequently imposed, of banishment from one kingdom to another, proves the vicinity of different kingdoms.201 The following is another instance in point: “If a lender of money says to a person, A debt due to me is outstanding in your hands, and that person denies the debt, if at that time the bond is not in the lender’s hands, but should be in some other kingdom, then, until he brings the bond from such other kingdom, the suit shall not be determined.”202 In the code of Menu is a series of rules for behaviourto neighbouring princes; sufficiently proving, that Hindustan was in that state of subdivison which rendered these rules pertinent and useful.203 These articles, to which there is nothing whatsoever opposed, but the absurd fables of the Brahmens, constitute a degree of evidence to which we may with sufficient confidence attach our belief.204

We have already seen, in reviewing the Hindu form of government, that despotism, in one of its simplest and least artificial shapes, was established in Hindustan, and confirmed by laws of Divine authority. We have seen likewise, that by the division of the people into castes, and the prejudices which the detestable views of the Brahmens raised to separate them, a degrading and pernicious system of subordination was established among the Hindus, and that the vices of such a system were there carried to a more destructive height than among any other people.205 And we have seen that by a system of priestcraft, built upon the most enormous and tormenting superstition that ever harassed and degraded any portion of mankind, their minds were enchained more intolerably than their bodies; in short that, despotism and priestcraft taken together, the Hindus, in mind and body, were the most enslaved portion of the human race. Sir William Jones, in his preface to the translation of the Institutes of Menu, says, that this code exhibits “a system of despotism and priestcraft, both indeed limited by law, but artfully conspiring to give mutual support, though with mutual checks.” The despotism and priestcraft of the system were, it seems, too glaring to be mistaken or denied; but, in order to palliate the deformity, Sir William is betrayed into nonsense. A despotism, he says, limited by law; as if a despotism limited by law were not a contradiction in terms; what is limited by law, so far as so limited, being not a despotism. A priestcraft, he also says, limited by law: A law of which the priests themselves were the sole makers, and the sole interpreters! A despotism, and a priestcraft, he says, with mutual checks. Yes, truly; it was the interest of the priestcraft to check the despotism, in all encroachments on the priestcraft; and it was the interest of the despotism to check the priestcraft, in all encroachments on the despotism: But who checked the despotism and the priestcraft in oppressing the people? Alas! no one. It was the interest of the despotism and the priestcraft to join together in upholding their common tyranny over the people; and it must be allowed that so commanding a motive had all the influence upon their conduct which it might be expected to have. Apply this remark of the splendid orientalist to the Turks: There is a despotism and a priestcraft, limited, (if we may so abuse the term,) and still more strictly limited, by law; for the Moslem laws are more precise and accurate than those of the Hindus: There, too, the despotism and priestcraft check one another: But has all this prevented the Turkish despotism and priestcraft from being the scourge of human nature; the source of barbarity and desolation?
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Re: The History of British India, Vol. II, by James Mill

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Part 2 of 2

That the Hindu despotism was not practically mild, we have a number of satisfactory proofs. We have seen the cruelty and ferocity of the penal laws; itself a circumstance of the highest importance. “A thunderbolt,” says the author of the Hetopadesa, “and the power of kings are both dreadful! But the former expendeth its fury at once, whilst the latter is constantly falling upon our heads.”206 Some of the observations are so comprehensive, and pointed, as to afford the strongest evidence. “In this world,” says the same celebrated book, “which is subject to the power of one above, a man of good principles is hard to be found, in a country, for the most part, governed by the use of the rod.”207 “Princes in general, alas! turn away their faces from a man endowed with good qualities.”208 “The conduct of princes, like a fine harlot, is of many colours: True and false, harsh and gentle; cruel and merciful; niggardly and generous; extravagant of expense, and solicitous of the influx of abundant wealth and treasure.”209 “An elephant killeth even by touching, a servant even by smelling, a king even by ruling.”210 All the general maxims of the Hindus import the extreme degradation of the great body of the people. “The assistance, O king, which is rendered to those of low degree, is like endeavouring to please bears. A low person should never be placed in the station of the great. One of low degree having obtained a worthy station seeketh to destroy his master.”211 “The Hindus,” says Dr. Buchanan, “in their state of independence, exacted deference from those under them with a cruelty and arrogance rarely practised but among themselves. A Nair was expected instantly to cut down a Tiar or Mucua, who presumed to defile him by touching his person; and a similar fate awaited a slave, who did not turn out of the road as a Nair passed.”212 In Sacontala, Dushmantu is represented as a king who possessed every virtue, and made happiness flourish as in the golden age. Yet we have a specimen of the justice and legality which prevailed during this happy reign, in the passage relating to the innocent fisherman. He was found, by certain of the king’s officers, offering to sale a ring with the king’s name upon it. They instantly seize him, and drag him away to justice: all the while beating and bruising him; and loading him with opprobrious epithets. The victim of this brutal treatment offers only the most humble entreaties, making statement of the facts, and protestation of his innocence. Upon the sight of the ring, the king acknowledges that he is innocent; and orders him a sum of money, equal in value to the ring. Of this reward he is obliged to resign a half to the very men who had abused him, “to escape,” it is said, “the effects of their displeasure.”213

The laws for guarding the authority of the magistrate exhibit a character of extreme severity, and indicate an habitual state of the most rigid domination. “If a man speaks reproachfully of any upright magistrate, the magistrate shall cut out his tongue, or, having confiscated all his effects, shall banish him the kingdom.” By this law even the privilege of complaint was taken from the wretched Hindu. The victim of oppression was bound, under ferocious penalties, to suffer in silence.

The following is a law by which every act of despotism is legalized. “If a magistrate, for his own good, hath passed any resolutions, whoever refuses to submit to such resolutions, the magistrate shall cut out that person’s tongue.”214 If every resolution which the magistrate chooses to pass for his own good, is by the very circumstance of his passing it, obligatory under violent penalties, the state of the government is not doubtful.

“If a man makes complaint before the magistrate against the magistrate’s counsellor, without any real fault in him, or performs any business or service for the magistrate’s accuser, the magistrate shall put him to death.”215 Under the operation of this law, the magistrate had little to fear from accusation. There could be no remedy for any grievance; because the existence of any grievance could hardly ever be told. If the magistrate was willing to hear of his own misconduct, or that of his servants, in that case he might hear of it; where he was unwilling, in that case it was death.216

Though all peaceable applications for the redress of grievances were thus precluded, any violence offered to the person of the magistrate, was punished in a manner which none but the most savage people ever endured. “If a magistrate has committed a crime, and any person, upon discovery of that crime, should beat and ill-use the magistrate, in that case, whatever be the crime of murdering one hundred Brahmins, such crime shall be accounted to that person: and the magistrate shall thrust an iron spit through him, and roast him at the fire.”217

The notices afforded us of particular sovereigns are exceedingly few. But, such as they are, most of them declare the misgovernment and cruelty of the individuals to whom they relate. “According to Plutarch, in his life of Alexander, Chandra-Gupta (I use the words of Mr. Wilford) had been in that prince’s camp, and had been heard to say afterwards, that Alexander would have found no difficulty in the conquest of Prachi, or the country of the Prasians, had he attempted it, as the King was despised and hated too, on account of his cruelty.”218

As the Hindu manners and character are invariable, according to their admirers; these admirers cannot consistently reject their present, as proof of their ancient, behaviour; and all men will allow that it affords strong ground of inference. “It is a remark,” says one of the best informed observers of Hindustan, “warranted by constant experience, that wherever the government is administered by Gentoos, the people are subject to more and severer oppressions than when ruled by the Moors. I have imputed this to intelligent Gentoos, who have confessed the justice of the accusation, and have not scrupled to give their opinions concerning it.” The opinions of these Gentoos are as favourable to themselves as, suiting the occasion, they could possibly make them. “A Gentoo,” say they, “is not only born with a spirit of more subtile invention, but by his temperance and education becomes more capable of attention to affairs, than a Moor; who no sooner obtains power than he is lost in voluptuousness; he becomes vain and lordly, and cannot dispense with satiating the impulses of his sensual appetites; whereas a Gentoo Prince retains in his Durbar the same spirit which would actuate him if keeping a shop.” Mr. Orme adds, “Avarice is his predominant passion; and all the wiles, address, cunning, and perseverance, of which he is so exquisite a master, are exerted to the utmost in fulfilling the dictates of this vice; and his religion, instead of inspiring, frees him from the remorse of his crimes; for whilst he is harassing and plundering the people by the most cruel oppressions, he is making peace with the gods by denying nothing to their priests.” Mr. Orme exhibits an impressive example. “The present King of Travancore (an Hindu prince whose dominions had never been subject to a foreign government) has conquered or carried war into all the countries which lay round his dominions, and lives in the continual exercise of his arms. To atone for the blood which he has spilt, the Brachmans persuaded him that it was necessary he should be born anew: this ceremony consisted in putting the prince into the body of a golden cow of immense value, where, after he had laid the time prescribed, he came out regenerated and freed from all the crimes of his former life. The cow was afterwards cut up and divided amongst the Seers who had invented this extraordinary method for the remission of his sins.”219 No testimony can be stronger to the natural tendency of the Hindu religion, and to the effects which their institutions are calculated to produce.220

Among other expedients for saving the favourite system, it has been maintained that the petty states and princes in Hindustan were but subordinate parts of one great monarchy, whose sceptre they acknowledged, and mandates they obeyed. There is no definable limit to gratuitous suppositions. If we are to be satisfied with opinions not only void of proof, but opposed by every thing of the nature of proof, attainable upon the subject, we may conjure up one opinion after another; and nothing, except physical impossibility or a defect of ingenuity, can set bounds to our affirmations. In the loose mode of thinking, or rather of talking without thinking, which has prevailed concerning Indian affairs, the existence of feudal institutions in modern Europe has constituted a sufficient basis for the belief of feudal institutions in India; though it would have been just as rational to conclude that, because the Saxon language forms the basis of most of the languages of Europe, therefore the Saxon language forms the basis of the language in India.

There are two modes in which the subordination of a number of petty princes to a great one may take place. The inferior states may exist merely as conquered, enslaved countries, paying tribute to a foreign government, obeying its mandates, and crouching under its lash. A second mode would be, where the inferior states were connected together by confederacy, and acknowledged a common head for the sake of unity, but possessed the right of deliberating in common upon common concerns. It may with confidence be pronounced, that in neither mode is the supposed effect compatible with the state of civilization in Hindustan.

To retain any considerable number of countries in subjection, preserving their own government, and their own sovereigns, would be really arduous, even where the science of government were the best understood. To suppose it possible in a country where the science of government is in the state indicated by the laws and institutions of the Hindus, would be in the highest degree extravagant. Even the Romans themselves, with all the skill which they possessed, retained their provinces in subjection, only by sending thither their own governors and their own armies, and superseding entirely the ancient authorities of the country. The moderation of conquering, without seizing, is a phenomenon so rarely exemplified in the most civilized times, that to suppose it universal in India, is to make a supposition in contradiction to the known laws of human affairs, and even to particular experience. Wherever an Indian sovereign is able to take possession, he hastens to take it. Wherever he can make a plundering incursion, though unable to retain, he ravages and destroys. Now it sometimes happens, that a neighbouring prince, too weak to prevent or chastise these injuries, endeavours to purchase exemption from them by a composition. This, in the language of the Mahrattas, who, in modern times, have been almost the only people in India in a situation to exact it, is called Chout, of which the standard is a fourth part of the revenues of the district liable to be over-run. It has in several instances, and these abundantly recent ones, been payed, for certain districts, by the British government itself, without the most distant idea of any lordship paramount in the Mahrattas. It is abundantly evident that this species of subordination, if subordination it can be called, never could have extended far; never could reach beyond the countries immediately contiguous to that from which the chance of mischief arose.

A confederation of princes, similar to that which was exemplified in Germany, and which no combination of circumstances has elsewhere produced, is a supposition, still more opposed to experience. Of all the results of civilization, that of forming a combination of different states, and directing their powers to one common object, seems to be one of the least consistent with the mental habits and attainments of the Hindus.221 It is the want of this power of combination which has rendered India so easy a conquest to all invaders; and enables us to retain, so easily, that dominion over it which we have acquired. Where is there any vestige in India of that deliberative assembly of princes, which in Germany was known by the name of the Diet? Where is there any memorial of that curious constitution by which the union of the German princes was preserved; or of those elections by which they chose among themselves him who should be at their head? That nominal homage, which the Mahratta chiefs paid to the throne of Sevagee, was a temporary circumstance, entirely of a different nature. These chiefs were not subordinate princes, but revolted subjects, in a dismembered empire. There was among them no confederacy. When at war with Scindia, the British were at peace with the Peshwa and Holkar; when they were at war with Holkar, they were at peace with the rest. They acknowledged a subordination to the primary seat of government, only because their subjects had been accustomed to look to it; and because they were not yet secure of their obedience.222

They, who affirm the high state of civilization among the Hindus previous to their subjugation to foreigners, proceed so directly in opposition to evidence, that wherever the Hindus have been always exempt from the dominion of foreigners, there they are uniformly found in a state of civilization inferior to those who have long been the subjects of a Mahomedan throne.223

It is in no quarter pretended, that the Hindu superstition was ever less gross than it now appears. It is remarkable, that in any quarter it should not be recollected, that superstition necessarily gives way, as civilization advances. Powerful, at an early age, among the Greeks and Romans, it finally ceased to have almost any influence;224 and Goguet had long ago declared, with philosophical truth, that “we wanted no evidence to prove the ignorance and rudeness of the Greeks in the heroic times; their credulity and their respect for oracles are proofs, more than sufficient. This species of superstition has no force or dominion, but in proportion to the gross ignorance of the people: witness the savages, who do not undertake any thing till they have previously consulted their divines and their oracles.”225

So many regulations are found in the Hindu codes of law respecting seasons of calamity; seasons when it is supposed that a great portion of the people are without the means of subsistence, that those dreadful visitations must be very frequent. From which soever of these two great causes, famine, or the ravages of war, the frequency of those calamities arose, it equally bars the supposition of good government and high civilization.226

If we apply the reflection, which has been much admired, that if a man were to travel over the whole world, he might take the state of the roads, that is, the means of internal communication in general, as a measure of the civilization; a very low estimate will be formed of the progress of the Hindus. “In India,” says Rennel, “the roads are little better than paths, and the rivers without bridges.”227 “In Malabar,” says Dr. Buchanan, speaking of the wretched state of the roads, “even cattle are little used for the transportation of goods, which are generally carried by porters.”228 The Emperor, Shah Jehan, constructed certain roads in Bengal, which were celebrated as prodigies; but the remains of them, Dr. Tennant remarks, sufficiently manifest that they can never have been good, and the admiration they excited proves nothing except the wretched condition of every thing, under the name of road, which had been known in India before.229 Another fact, of much importance, is, that a Mahomedan sovereign was the first who established Choultries; that is, Caravanseras, or houses of reception for travellers upon the road, of which, till that period, they had no experience. “This fact,” says Mr. Forster, “also recorded in Dow’s history, is well known amongst the natives.”230

Among the pretensions received without examination, that of enormous riches found in India by the first Mahomedan conquerors, requires particular attention. If those accounts had not far exceeded all reasonable bounds, it would have been a matter of difficulty, to prove the falsehood of them, except to those who were capable of estimating one circumstance, in any state of society, by its analogy with the rest. As the amount, however, stated by those authors, whose testimony has been adopted; by Ferishta, for example, followed by Dow; far exceeds the bounds not of probability only, but of credibility; and affords decisive evidence of that Eastern exaggeration which in matters of history disdains to be guided by fact, the question is left free of any considerable difficulty.231 These accounts refute themselves. We have, therefore, no testimony on the subject; for all that is presented to us in the shape of testimony betrays itself to be merely fiction. We are left to our knowledge of circumstances, and to the inferences which they support. Now if the preceding induction, embracing the circumstances of Hindu society, is to be relied on, it will not be disputed, that a state of poverty and wretchedness, as far as the great body of the people are concerned, must have prevailed in India, not more in the times in which it has been witnessed by Europeans, than the times which preceded. A gilded throne, or the display of gold, silver, and precious stones, about the seat of a court, does not invalidate this inference. Only there where gold and silver are scarce, can the profuse display of them about the monarch’s person either gratify the monarch’s vanity, or dazzle by its rarity the eyes of the multitude. Perhaps there are few indications more decisive of a poor country, and a barbarous age, than the violent desire of exhibiting the precious metals and precious stones, as the characteristic marks and decorations of the chief magistrate.232

The science of political economy places this conclusion on the ground of demonstration. For the people to have been rich in gold and silver, these commodities must have circulated among them in the shape of money. But of gold and silver in the shape of money, no nation has more, than what is in proportion to its exchangeable commodities. Now that ever the people of Hindustan were profusely supplied with commodities, every thing in their manners, habits, government, and history, concur to disprove. There is, besides, a well-established fact, which ascertains the impossibility of their having abounded in gold and silver. Their commodities were not exchanged by the medium of the precious metals. The traffic of India, as in the rudest parts of the earth, was chiefly a traffic of barter; and its taxes, as already seen, were paid in kind. It was not till the time of Akber that gold or silver was coined for circulation, in the greatest part of India; antecedently to that period small pieces of copper were the only coin.233 Up to the present hour, when the real signs of riches and civilization are but just beginning to be understood, nothing has been more common with rash and superficial travellers, than to set down lofty accounts of the riches of almost every new country to which they repaired.234

As rude nations, still more than civilized, are incessantly harassed by the dangers, or following the gains of war; one of the first applications of knowledge is, to improve the military art. The Hindus have, at no period, been so far advanced in knowledge, as even to be aware of the advantage of discipline, of those regular and simultaneous movements, upon which, in skilled warfare, almost every thing depends. “In the Hindu armies,” says Francklin, “no idea of discipline ever existed.”235 “The rudeness of the military art in Indostan,” says Mr. Orme, “can scarce be imagined but by those who have seen it. The infantry consists of a multitude of people assembled together without regard to rank and file.”236

Even medicine and surgery, to the cultivation of which so obvious and powerful an interest invites, had scarcely, beyond the degree of the most uncultivated tribes, attracted the rude understanding of the Hindus. Though the leisure of the Brahmens has multiplied books, on astrology, on the exploits of the gods, and other worthless subjects, to such a multitude, “that human life,” says Sir W. Jones, “would not be sufficient to make oneself acquainted with any considerable part of Hindu literature,”237 he yet confesses, there is “no evidence that in any language of Asia, there exists one original treatise on medicine, considered as a science.”238 Surgery, says an author, who believes in the high civilization of the Hindus, is unknown among that people. In the case of gunshot, or sabre wounds, all they did was to wash the wound, and tie it up with fresh leaves; the patient, during the period of convalescence, eating nothing but the water gruel of rice.239

In comparing them with other people, it cannot, in a single word, be declared, with which of the nations, more familiar to Europeans, the Hindus, in point of civilization, may be regarded as on a level; because, in comparison with those whom they most nearly approach, while inferior to them in some, they are superior, in other respects. Should we say that the civilization of the people of Hindustan, and that of the people of Europe, during the feudal ages, are not far from equal, we shall find upon a close inspection, that the Europeans were superior, in the first place, notwithstanding the vices of the papacy, in religion; and, notwithstanding the defects of the schoolmen, in philosophy. They were greatly superior, notwithstanding the defects of the feudal system, in the institutions of government and in laws. Even their poetry, if the observance of nature, if the power of moving the affections, or indeed ingenuity of invention, be regarded as the marks of excellence, is beyond all comparison preferable to the poetry of the Hindus. That, in war, the Hindus have always been greatly inferior to the warlike nations of Europe, during the middle ages, it seems hardly necessary to assert.240 In some of the more delicate manufactures, however, particularly in spinning, weaving, and dyeing, the Hindus, as they rival all nations, so they no doubt surpass all that was attained by the rude Europeans. In the fabrication, too, of trinkets; in the art of polishing and setting the precious stones; it is possible, and even probable, that our impatient and rough ancestors did not attain the same nicety which is displayed by the patient Hindus. In the arts of painting and sculpture, we have no reason to think that the Europeans were excelled by the Hindus. In architecture, the people who raised the imposing structures which yet excite veneration in many of the ancient cathedrals, were not left behind by the builders of the Indian pagodas.241 The agriculture of the Europeans, imperfect as it was, surpassed exceedingly that of the Hindus; for with the climate and soil of most of the countries of Europe, agriculture, so imperfect as that of India, could not have maintained the population. In point of manners and character, the manliness and courage of our ancestors, compared with the slavish and dastardly spirit of the Hindus, place them in an elevated rank. But they were inferior to that effeminate people in gentleness, and the winning arts of address. Our ancestors, however, though rough, were sincere; but, under the glosing exterior of the Hindu, lies a general disposition to deceit and perfidy. In fine, it cannot be doubted that, upon the whole, the gothic nations, as soon as they became a settled people, exhibit the marks of a superior character and civilization to those of the Hindus.242

No one can take an accurate survey of the different nations of Asia, and of their different ages, without remarking the near approaches they make to the same stage of civilization. This gives a peculiar interest and importance to the inquiry respecting the Hindus. There can be no doubt that they are in a state of civilization very nearly the same with that of the Chinese, the Persians, and the Arabians; who, together, compose the great branches of the Asiatic population; and of which the subordinate nations, the Japanese, Cochin-chinese, Siamese, Burmans, and even Malays and Tibetans, are a number of corresponding and resembling offsets.

With regard to former ages, it is true, that the religion, and several circumstances in the outward forms of society, have been altered in Persia, since the days of Darius; but the arts, the sciences, the literature, the manners, the government, concur to prove, in a remarkable manner, the near approach of the two periods to the same points of civilization. The ancient Persians, too, there is reason to believe, were placed in nearly the same state of society with the people whom they succeeded; the Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Babylonians. In contemplating, therefore, the state of Hindustan, curiosity is very extensively gratified. As the manners, institutions, and attainments of the Hindus, have been stationary for many ages; in beholding the Hindus of the present day, we are beholding the Hindus of many ages past; and are carried back, as it were, into the deepest recesses of antiquity. Of some of the oldest nations, about which our curiosity is the most alive, and information the most defective, we acquire a practical, and what may be almost denominated a personal knowledge, by our acquaintance with a living people, who have continued on the same soil from the very times of those ancient nations, partake largely of the same manners, and are placed at nearly the same stage in the progress of society. By conversing with the Hindus of the present day, we, in some measure, converse with the Chaldeans and Babylonians of the time of Cyrus; with the Persians and Egyptians of the time of Alexander.

A judicious observer of Asiatic manners declares that “The leading customs of the various nations of Asia are similar, or but weakly diversified. When they sit, the legs are crossed or bent under them; they perform topical ablutions before and after meals, at which no knife or spoon is used, unless the diet be wholly liquid; they invariably adopt the like modes of performing natural evacuations.”243

The account which Gibbon presents us, from Herodian, and Ammianus Marcellinus, of the art of war among the Persians, in the time of the Roman emperors, is an exact description of the art, as practised by the Persians and Hindus, and by most of the other nations of Asia, at the present day. “The science of war, that constituted the more rational force of Greece and Rome, as it now does of Europe, never made any considerable progress in the East. Those disciplined evolutions which harmonize and animate a confused multitude, were unknown to the Persians. They were equally unskilled in the arts of constructing, besieging, or defending regular fortifications. They trusted more to their numbers than to their courage; more to their courage than to their discipline. The infantry was a half-armed, spiritless crowd of peasants, levied in haste by the allurements of plunder, and as easily dispersed by a victory as by a defeat. The monarch and his nobles, transported into the camp the pride and luxury of the seraglio. Their military operations were impeded by a useless train of women, eunuchs, horses and camels; and in the midst of a successful campaign, the Persian host was often separated or destroyed by an unexpected famine.”244

In the system of Zoroaster, and in that of the Brahmens, we find the same lofty expressions concerning the invisible powers of nature; the same absurdity in the notions respecting the creation; the same infinite and absurd ritual; the same justness in many ideas respecting the common affairs of life and morality; the same gross misunderstanding in others; but a striking resemblance between the two systems, both in their absurdities and perfections. The same turn of imagination seems to have belonged to the authors of both; and the same aspect of nature to have continually presented itself; the deformities however of the Hindu system being always the greatest.

The Persians, in the time of Cambyses, had judges, select sages, who were appointed for life; and whose business it was, according to pre-established laws, to terminate all disputes, and punish crimes. This, like similar circumstances, in the state of the Hindus, presents part of the forms of a legal government. These judges, however, when consulted by the king if he might perform an act, on which for fear of popular odium he hesitated to venture, gave a solemn opinion, that for the king of the Persians it was law, to do whatsoever he pleased.245 “This constitutional maxim,” says Gibbon archly, “was not neglected as an useless and barren theory.”246

“Like Brimha, the Fo of the Chinese has various times become incarnate among men and beasts. Hence he is represented in his temples as riding upon dragons, rhinoceroses, elephants, mules and asses; dogs, rats, cats, crocodiles, and other amiable creatures, whose figures he fancied and assumed. There are in some of these pagodas, a thousand of these monstrous statues, all most horribly ugly, and ill represented, and unlike any thing in heaven or earth, or the waters under the earth.”247

Under the reign of credulity, it is instructive to mark the inconsiderateness of a reflecting writer. After many praises of the Chinese husbandry, such as those which we have often heard of the agriculture of the Hindus, Lord Macartney adds, “The plough is the simplest in the world, has but one handle, is drawn by a single buffalo, and managed by a single person without any assistance.”248 And Mr. Barrow says, “Two thirds of the small quantity of land under tillage is cultivated with the spade or the hoe, without the aid of draught cattle.”249

Even of the principal route from Pekin to Canton, Lord Macartney remarks; “For horse and foot the road is excellent, but admits of no wheel carriages.”250 Mr. Barrow more explicitly declares, that except near the capital, and in some few places where the junction of the grand canal with navigable rivers is interrupted by mountainous ground, there is scarcely a road in the whole country that can be ranked beyond a foot path.251 Even the grand canal itself was opened by the Tartar conqueror Gingis Khan, in the thirteenth century: and that solely with a view to convey the taxes, paid in kind, from the southern part of the empire to the capital, a great part of them having been always lost by the unskilfulness of Chinese navigation, when conveyed by sea.”252

Like the Hindus, before the improvements introduced among them by the Moguls, the Chinese have no coin, above a small one of copper; and the taxes of that immense empire are paid in kind.253

Lord Macartney remarks, that the Chinese have no natural philosophy; no medical or chirurgical skill; that a fractured leg is usually attended by death.254

In the sciences and arts of the Hindus and Chinese there is manifested a near approximation to the same point of advancement. In respect to government and laws, the Chinese have to a considerable degree the advantage. As they are a busy people, however; and have no idle class, whose influence depends upon the wonder they can excite by pretended learning, they have multiplied, far less than the Hindus, those false refinements, which a barbarous mind mistakes for science.255 Both have made greater progress in the refinement of the useful arts, than in the advancement of science. But in these too the Chinese appear to have the superiority; for though it may be doubted whether the Chinese manufacture of silk rivals in delicacy the cotton manufacture of the Hindus, the latter people have nothing to set in competition with the porcelain of the Chinese; and in the common works in wood and iron, the Chinese are conspicuously preferable. In the contrivance and use of machinery both are equally simple and rude.256

In the state of the fine arts, there is a striking resemblance between the two nations. “The architecture of the Chinese,” says Mr. Barrow, “is void of taste, grandeur, beauty, solidity, or convenience; their houses are merely tents, and there is nothing magnificent in the palace of the emperor.”257 Both nations were good at imitation.258 Both were extremely defective in invention. In painting and sculpture they were ignorant of perspective, of attitude, and proportion.

Even in manners, and in the leading parts of the moral character, the lines of resemblance are strong. Both nations are to nearly an equal degree tainted with the vices of insincerity; dissembling, treacherous, mendacious, to an excess which surpasses even the usual measure of uncultivated society. Both are disposed to excessive exaggeration with regard to every thing relating to themselves. Both are cowardly and unfeeling. Both are in the highest degree conceited of themselves, and full of affected contempt for others. Both are, in the physical sense, disgustingly unclean in their persons and houses.259

With respect to the inhabitants of another quarter of Asia, Turner, in his account of the embassy to Tibet, informs us, that the deportment of the Rajah of Bootan was exceedingly urbane, and his sentiments breathed that sort of humanity which seems to flow from the belief of the metempsychosis. “My food, said he, consists of the simplest articles; grain, roots of the earth, and fruits. I never eat of any thing which has had breath, for so I should be the indirect cause of putting an end to the existence of animal life, which by our religion is strictly forbidden.”260

Though frequent ablutions are performed for religious purposes, the same author informs us that the people in their persons are extremely unclean.261

“Bootan presents to the view nothing but the most mishapen irregularities; mountains covered with eternal verdure, and rich with abundant forests of large and lofty trees. Almost every favourable aspect of them, coated with the smallest quantity of soil, is cleared and adapted to cultivation, by being shelved into horizontal beds; not a slope or narrow slip of land between the ridges lies unimproved. There is scarcely a mountain whose base is not washed by some rapid torrent, and many of the loftiest bear populous villages, amidst orchards and other plantations on their summits and on their sides. It combines in its extent the most extravagant tracts of rude nature and laborious art.”262

Yet they have no discipline in their armies. In their mode of warfare, stratagem is more practised than open assault.263

The appearance of the capital Teshoo Loomboo was in a high degree magnificent, and together with the palace afforded proofs of a progress in the arts which vied with that of Hindustan and China.264

The inhabitants of the great Peninsula, to the eastward of the Ganges, discover, as far as known, the uniform marks of a similar state of society and manners. The Cochin-Chinese, for example, who are merely a separate community of the Chinese race, appear by no means in civilization behind the Chinese and Hindus. A traveller from whom we have obtained a sensible though short account of some of the more striking phenomena of the country, both physical and moral, informs us, that it is “one of the most fruitful in the world. In many parts,” he says, “the land produces three crops of grain in the year. All the fruits of India are found here in the greatest perfection, with many of those of China. No country in the East produces richer or a greater variety of articles proper for carrying on an advantageous commerce, cinnamon, pepper, cardemoms, silk, cotton, sugar, Agula wood, Japan wood, ivory, &c.”265

The following paragraph describes an important article of accommodation, to which no parallel can be found in all China and Hindustan. “In this valley we passed through three or four pretty villages pleasantly situated, in which, as well as on other parts of the road, were public houses, where tea, fruits, and other refreshments are sold to travellers. At noon we alighted at one of them, and partook of a dinner, which consisted of fowls cut into small pieces, dressed up with a little greens and salt, some fish, &c.”266

The appearance of the king’s court was not only splendid but decorous; and even the little of the country which the travellers saw discovered to them large cities, with streets, laid out on a regular plan, paved with flat stones, and having well-built brick houses on each side.267

The people on the western side of that peninsula, whether known by the name of Birmans, Peguans, Assamese, or Siamese, partake strongly of the Hindu character, and exhibit only a variation of the religion, laws, institutions, and manners which prevail on the other side of the Ganges. The great difference consists in their having adopted the heresy, or retained the primitive faith of Buddha; and rejected the distinction of castes. But nothing appears among them which would lead to an inference of any inferiority in their progress towards the attainments of civilized life.

The Birmans, we are told by Symes, call their code generally Derma Sath or Sastra; it is one among the many commentaries on Menu. “The Birman system of jurisprudence,” he adds, “is replete with sound morality, and in my opinion is distinguished above every other Hindoo commentary for perspicuity and good sense. It provides specifically for almost every species of crime that can be committed, and adds a copious chapter of precedents and decisions to guide the inexperienced in cases where there is doubt and difficulty. Trial by ordeal and imprecation are the only absurd passages in the book.”268

“There is no country of the East,” says the same author, “in which the royal establishment is arranged with more minute attention than in the Birman court; it is splendid without being wasteful, and numerous without confusion.”269

Their literature appears to be as extensive and curious, as that of the Hindus. They have numerous, and copious libraries; the books, says Colonel Symes, are “upon divers subjects; more on divinity than on any other; but history, music, medicine, painting and romance, had their separate treatises.”270

Of the kingdom of Assam we possess not many accounts; but what we have yield evidence to the same effect. In the Alemgeernameh of Mohammed Cazim, is a description of Assam, which has been translated by Henry Vansittart, Esqr. and presented to us in several publications. We are there told that the country, at least in many places, is “well inhabited, and in an excellent state of tillage; that it presents, on everyside, charming prospects of ploughed fields, harvests, gardens, and groves.”271

“As the country is overflowed in the rainy season, a high and broad causeway has been raised, for the convenience of travellers from Salagereh to Ghergong, which is the only uncultivated ground to be seen: each side of this road is planted with shady bamboos, the tops of which meet and are entwined.”272 And this is more than seems to have been attained in Hindustan, before the improvements introduced by the Mohammedan conquerors.

“The silks are excellent, and resemble those of China. They are successful in embroidering with flowers, and in weaving velvet, and tautband, which is a species of silk of which they make tents and kenauts.”273

The bigotted and intolerant Mussulman, however, who finds no excellence where he finds not his faith; discovers no qualities but evil in the minds of the Assamese. “They do not adopt,” he says, “any mode of worship practised either by heathens or Mahomedans; nor do they concur in any of the known sects, which prevail amongst mankind. They are a base and unprincipled nation, and have no fixed religion; they follow no rule but that of their own inclinations, and make the approbation of their own vicious minds the test of the propriety of their actions.”274 Such are the distorted views presented to an ignorant mind, through the medium of a dark and malignant religion, respecting a people cultivating the ground to great perfection, and forming a dense population. Among other particulars of the vileness which he beheld in them, is the following: “The base inhabitants, from a congenial impulse, are fond of seeing and keeping asses, and buy and sell them at a high price.”275 Yet he speaks in lofty terms of the royal magnificence of the court. “The Rajahs of this country have always raised the crest of pride and vain glory, and displayed an ostentatious appearance of grandeur, and a numerous train of attendants and servants.” And he expresses himself with mingled horror and admiration of the prowess and superiority of the Assamese in war. “They have not bowed the head of submission and obedience, nor have they paid tribute or submission to the most powerful monarch; but they have curbed the ambition, and checked the conquests, of the most victorious princes of Hindustan.” Several armies from Bengal, which had been sent to conquer them, having been cut off, of some of which scarce even tidings had ever been received, “the natives of Hindustan consider them wizards and magicians, and pronounce the name of that country in all their incantations and countercharms: they say, that every person who sets his foot there is under the influence of witchcraft, and cannot find the road to return.”276

The admiration which the Greeks, no very accurate observers of foreign manners, expressed of the Egyptians, and which other nations have so implicitly borrowed at their hands, not a little resembles the admiration among Europeans which has so long prevailed with regard to the Hindus. The penetrating force of modern intelligence has pierced the cloud: and while it has displayed to us the state of Egyptian civilization in its true colours, exhibits a people who, standing on a level with so many celebrated nations of antiquity, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Arabians, correspond, in all the distinctive marks of a particular state of society, with the people of Hindustan. The evidence has been weighed by a cool and dispassionate judge, in the following manner: “I see nothing,” says the President Goguet, “in the Egyptians that can serve to distinguish them in a manner very advantageous; I even think myself authorized to refuse them the greatest part of the eulogies that have been always so liberally bestowed upon them. The Egyptians did invent some arts and some sciences, but they never had the ingenuity to bring any of their discoveries to perfection. I have exposed their want of taste, and I venture to say, of talent, in architecture, in sculpture, and in painting. Their manner of practising physic was absurd and ridiculous. The knowlege they had of geometry and astronomy was but very imperfect. Their discoveries are far enough from entering into any comparison with those which the Greeks made afterwards in those two sciences. In fine, the Egyptians have had neither genius, ardour, nor talent, for commerce, or for the marine and military art.

“As to civil laws, and political constitutions, the Egyptians had indeed some very good ones; but otherwise there reigned in their government a multitude of abuses and essential defects, authorized by the laws and by their fundamental principles of government.

As to the manners and customs of this people, we have seen to what a height indecency and debauchery were carried in their religious feasts and public ceremonies. The public cult which a nation fixes to honour the Deity, bears the stamp of that nation’s character. Neither was the morality of the Egyptians extremely pure; we may even affirm, that it offended against the first rules of rectitude and probity. We see that the Egyptians bore the highest blame of covetousness, of ill faith, of cunning, and of roguery.

It appears to me to result from all these facts that the Egyptians were a people industrious enough, but, as to the rest, without taste, without genius, without discernment; a people who had only ideas of grandeur ill understood; and whose progress in all the different parts of human knowledge never rose beyond a flat mediocrity; knavish into the bargain, and crafty, soft, lazy, cowardly, and submissive; and who, having performed some exploits to boast of in distant times, were ever after subjected by whoever would undertake to subdue them; a people again vain and foolish enough to despise other nations without knowing them: Superstitious to excess, singularly addicted to judicial astrology, extravagantly besotted with an absurd and monstrous theology. Does not this representation sufficiently authorize us to say that all that science, that wisdom, and that philosophy, so boasted of in the Egyptian priests, was but imposture and juggling, capable of imposing only on people so little enlightened, or so strongly prejudiced, as were anciently the Greeks in favour of the Egyptians.”277

The sagacity of Adam Smith induced him, at an early period of his life, to deny the supposed proof of any high attainments among those ancient nations, and to declare, though with hesitancy, his inclination to the opposite opinion.

“It was in Greece, and in the Grecian colonies, that the first philosophers of whose doctrine we have any distinct account, appeared. Law and order seem indeed to have been established in the great monarchies of Asia and Egypt, long before they had any footing in Greece: Yet after all that has been said concerning the learning of the Chaldeans and Egyptians, whether there ever was in those nations any thing which deserved the name of science, or whether that despotism which is more destructive of leisure and security than anarchy itself, and which prevailed over all the East, prevented the growth of philosophy, is a question which, for want of monuments, cannot be determined with any degree of precision.”278 To leave the subject even in this state of doubt was but a compromise with popular opinion, and with his own imperfect views. The circumstances handed down to us, compared with the circumstances of other nations, afforded materials for a very satisfactory determination. The opinion by which he supports his disbelief of the ancient civilization of Asia is at once philanthrophic and profound; That “despotism is more destructive of leisure and security, and more adverse to the progress of the human mind, than anarchy itself.”
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Re: The History of British India, Vol. II, by James Mill

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BOOK III.: THE MAHOMEDANS.

CHAP. I. From the first Invasion of India by the Nations in the North, till the expulsion of the Gaznevide dynasty.


AT the time when the nations of Europe opened their communication with India, by the Cape of Good Hope, the people whom we have now described had for a number of ages been subject to a race of foreigners. That subjection, though it had not greatly altered the texture of native society, had introduced new forms into some of the principal departments of state; had given the military command to foreigners; and had mixed with the population a proportion of a people differing from them considerably, in manners, character, and religion. The political state of India, at this time, consisted of a Mahomedan government, supported by a Mahomedan force, over a Hindu population.

It appears that the people of Hindustan have at all times been subject to incursions and conquest, by the nations contiguous to them on the north-west. The Scythians, that is, the rude nations on the east of Persia, conquered, we are told by Justin, a great part of Asia, and even penetrated as far as Egypt, about 1,500 years before Ninus, the founder of the Assyrian monarchy. And we know that in the vast empire of Darius Hystaspes as much of India was included, as constituted one, and that the most valuable, of his twenty satrapies. The exact limits of the Indian satrapy are unknown; but from the account which Herodotus gives of its tribute, far exceeding that of any of the rest, the extent of it cannot have been small. Major Rennel supposes that it may have reached as far as Delhi, and have included the whole of the Punjab, or country watered by the five branches of the Indus, together with Cabul, Candahar, and the tract of country which lies along the Indus to the sea.279

The conquests of Alexander the Great, which succeeded to those of the Persian monarchs, seem not to have extended so far in India, as the previous possessions of Darius; since his career was stopped on the banks of the Hyphasis, or modern Beyah, the last of the five branches of the Indus; whence returning to the Hydaspes, he passed down the Indus to the sea. Seleucus, the successor of Alexander in Upper Asia, not only received, but endeavoured to augment, the acquisitions made by that conqueror in India. He gained victories over Sandracottos, the sovereign of a people living on the Ganges. But, as he was recalled to the defence of another part of his dominions against Antigonus, he made peace with the Indian: and the limits established between them are not ascertained.280

Among the kingdoms, formed out of the vast empire of Alexander, by the dissensions of his followers, was Bactria. This district was part of that great range of country, on the eastern side of Media and Persia, extending from the lake Aral to the mouths of the Indus, which the power of the Persian monarchs had added to their extensive dominions. The people of this intermediate region seem to have possessed an intermediate stage of civilization between the Tartar or Scythian tribes which bordered with them on the east, and the people of the Assyrian or Persian empire which was contiguous to them on the west. Among these people there is some reason for believing that the Bactrians were distinguished, and at an early period, by superior progress in the knowledge, and other acquirements of civilized men. Among the numerous Zoroasters, with whom Persian story abounds, one is said to have been king of Bactria, contemporary with Ninus; and to have invented magic; that is, to have been the object of admiration on account of his knowledge. Of the eastern nations added to the subjects of the Persian kings, the Bactrians were the nearest to India, and were only separated from it by that range of mountains, in which the Indus and the Oxus find their respective sources. Bactria as well as India were among the parts of the dominions of Alexander which fell to the share of Seleucus. In the reign, however, of his son or grandson, the governor of the Bactrian province threw off his dependence upon the Seleucidæ; and a separate Greek kingdom was erected in that country, about sixty-nine years after the death of Alexander. The Persian dominions in India seem to have shared the fate of Bactria, and to have fallen into the hands of the same usurper. The Greek sovereigns of Bactria became masters of an extensive empire; and assumed the proud title of King of Kings; the distinctive appellation of the Persian monarchs in the zenith of their power. They carried on various wars with India; and extended their conquests into the interior of the country. The limits of their dominions in that direction we have no means of ascertaining. One of those great movements in central or eastern Tartary, which precipitates the eastern barbarians upon the countries of the west, brought an irresistible torrent of that people across the Jaxartes, about 126 years before the Christian era, which, pouring itself out upon Bactria, overwhelmed the Grecian monarchy, after it had lasted nearly 130 years.281

About the same period that the successors of Alexander lost the kingdom of Bactria, the misconduct of a governor in the distant provinces bordering on the Caspian Sea, raised up a military chief who excited the rude and turbulent inhabitants to revolt, and laid the foundation of the Parthian kingdom; a power which soon possessed itself of Media, and finally stripped the descendants of Seleucus of almost all that they possessed from the Tigris eastwards. The rebellion of the Parthians is placed about the year 256 before Christ; and the kings of Syria maintained from that time a struggling and declining existence, till they finally yielded to the power of the Romans, and Syria was erected into a province sixty-four years before the commencement of the Christian era.282

The descendants of the Parthian rebel, known under the title of the Arsacides, held the sceptre of Persia till the year of Christ 226. The possession of empire produced among them, as it usually produces among the princes of the East, a neglect of the duties of government, and subjugation to ease and pleasure; when a popular and enterprising subject, availing himself of the general dissatisfaction, turned the eyes of the nation upon himself, and having dethroned his master, substituted the dynasty of the Sassanides to the house of Arsaces. As usual, the first princes of this line were active and valiant; and their empire extended from the Euphrates to the Jaxartes, and the mountainous ridge which divided the kingdom of Bactria from the Scythians of the East. To what extent their power was carried over the ancient soil of the Hindus, does not appear; but it is more than probable that the territory west of the Indus, from the time when it was first established into a Persian satrapy, in the reign of Darius, owned no more the caste who sprung from the arm of the Creator. Bactria was numbered as one among the four provinces of the great Chosroes, who reigned from the year 531 of the Christian era to the year 571, and was denominated King of Persia and of India. The grandson of Chosroes, who was deposed in 628, may be considered as closing the line of the Sassanides; for, after a few years of tumult and distraction, the irresistible arms of the successors of Mahomet were directed toward Persia, and quickly reduced it under the power of the Caliphs.283

In the year 632, Caled, the lieutenant of Abubeker, entered Persia. In a few years the standards of the Faithful were carried to the furthest limits of Bactria, and pushing once more the shepherds of the East beyond the Jaxartes, rendered the empire of the Caliphs in that direction conterminous with the Persian monarchy in its proudest days.284

The possession of empire required, as usual, but a few generations to relax the minds of the successors of Mahomet, and render them as unfit as their predecessors for any better use of power, than the unrestrained indulgence of themselves in the pleasures which it commands.

The tribes of Tartar, or Scythian shepherds, from the centre of Asia, unsettled, fierce, and warlike, had from the earliest ages proved dangerous and encroaching neighbours to the Eastern provinces of Persia. Pushed beyond the Jaxartes and Imaus, by Cyrus, and the more warlike of the successors of Cyrus, they were ever ready, as soon as the reign of a weak prince enfeebled the powers of government, to make formidable incursions, and generally held possession of the provinces which they over-ran, till a renewal of vigour in the government made them retire within their ancient limits. We are informed by Polybius that a tribe of Nomades or shepherds, whom he calls Aspasians, forced their way across the Oxus, and took possession of Hyrcania, even in the reign of Antiochus. We have already seen that a body of Tartars overwhelmed Bactria about 120 years before Christ. And about 100 years subsequent to the Christian era, a portion of the great nation of the Huns, who had been forced by a victorious tribe from their native seat behind the wall of China, penetrated into Sogdiana, the country between the Oxus and the Jaxartes, towards the shores of the Caspian Sea; and there established themselves under the titles of the Euthalites, Nephthalites, and White Huns. After these irruptions, the more vigorous of the princes of the Sassanian dynasty reduced Sogdiana, as well as Bactria, to occasional obedience; but without expelling the new inhabitants, and without acquiring any permanent dominion. In the cultivated provinces in which they settled, the savage Tartars acquired a degree of civilization; and when obliged to yield to the followers of Mahomed, felt so little attachment to their ancient religion, as immediately to recommend themselves to the favour, by adopting the faith, of their conquerors.285

When the government of the Caliphs began to lose its vigour, a tribe of Tartars, originally situated in the Alti mountains, and known by the name of Turks, had acquired extraordinary power. They had, in a series of wars, subdued the neighbouring tribes, and extended their sway, that species of sway which it is competent to a pasturing people to exercise or to sustain, over a great portion of the Tartars of Asia.286 When the military virtues of the Arabians sunk beneath the pleasures which flow from the possession of power, the Caliphs sought to infuse vigour into their effeminate armies, by a mixture of fierce and hardy Turks. Adventurers of that nation were raised to the command of armies, and of provinces; and a guard of Turkish soldiers was appointed to surround the person of the monarch. When weakness was felt at the centre of the empire; the usurpation of independence by the governors of the distant provinces was a natural result. The first, by whom this usurpation was attempted, was Taher, Governor of Chorasan, the province extending from the Caspian Sea to the Oxus. He and his posterity, under the title of Taherites, enjoyed sovereignty in that province from the year 813 to the year 872. The son of a brazier, called in Arabian Soffar, who rose (a common occurrence in the East) through the different stages of military adventure, to be the head and captain of an army, supplanted the Taherites, and substituted his own family, called from their origin Soffarides, in the government of Chorasan and Transoxiana. The Soffarides were displaced by a similar adventurer, who established the house of the Samanides, after a period, according to the varying accounts, of either 34 or 57 years, from the elevation of the Brazier. The Samanides are celebrated by the Persian historians for their love of justice and learning; they extended their sway over the eastern provinces of Persia, from the Jaxartes to the Indus, and reigned till after the year 1000 of the Christian era.287

The Taherites, the Soffarides, and Samanides usurped only the eastern provinces of the empire of the Caliphs, the provinces which, being the nearest to the turbulent and warlike tribes of shepherds, and most exposed to their incursions, were of the least importance to the sovereigns of Persia. Three adventurers, brothers, called, from the name of their father, the Bowides, rose to power in the provinces extending westward from Chorasan, along the shores of the Caspian Sea, about the year 315 of the Hegira, or 927 of Christ. This dynasty consisted of seventeen successive and powerful princes, who reigned till the year 1056. They conquered the provinces of Gilan, Mazenderan, Erak, Fars, Kerman, Khosistan, Ahvaz, Tabarestan, and Georgian; and rendered themselves masters of the Caliphs, to whom they left only a shadow of authority.288

About the year of Christ 967, Subuctagi, a servant of the Samanides, was appointed governor of the Indian province of Candahar, or Ghazna, as it is called by the Persian writers; from the name of the capital Ghizni. Having raised himself from the condition of a Turkish slave to such a degree of power as made it dangerous to recall him from his government, he left it to his son Mahmood, who asserted his independence; and founded the dynasty of the Ghaznevides. Mahmood subverted the throne of the Samanides, reduced to a shadow the power of the Bowides, and reigned from the Tigris to the Jaxartes. He also made extensive conquests towards the south; and as he was the first who in that direction bore the crescent beyond the furthest limits of the Persian empire, and laid the foundation of the Mahomedan thrones in India, we are now arrived at the period when the Mahomedan history of India begins.289

The northern provinces of India, Cabul, Candahar, Multan, and the Punjab, appear, from the days of Darius Hystaspes, to have followed the destiny of Bactria, Chorasan, and Transoxiana, the eastern appendages of Persia, and, excepting some short intervals, to have been always subject to a foreign yoke. Even the White Huns, who established themselves in Sogdiana, on the river Oxus, and in Bactria, about the end of the first century of the Christian era, advanced into India, and in the second century were masters as far as Larice or Guzerat.290 Mahmood was already master of the dominions of the Samanides, and of all the eastern provinces that had occasionally owned allegiance to the Persian throne; when he first, says the Persian historian, “turned his face to India.” This expedition, of which the year 1000 of the Christian era is assigned as the date, seems to have been solely intended to confirm or restore the obedience of the governors who had submitted to his father, or been accustomed to obey the masters of eastern Persia; and few of its particulars have been thought worthy of record. He renewed his invasion the succeeding year; and proceeded so far as to alarm a prince who reigned at Lahore; a city, on one of the most eastern branches of the Indus, which gave its name to a small kingdom. This prince, called by the Persian historians Jeipal, or Gepal, met him, with his whole army, and was defeated. It was, according to the same historians, a custom or law of the Hindus, that a prince, twice defeated by Mahomedan arms, was unworthy to reign; and as this misfortune had happened to Jeipal, who had formerly yielded to Subuctagi, he resigned the throne to his son Anundpaul, and burnt himself alive in solemn state.291

In the year 1004 Mahmood again marched into India to chastise, for defect of duty, a tributary prince on the Indus. His presence was still more urgently required the following year; when the king of Multan revolted, and was joined by Anundpaul. Mahmood was met by Anundpaul as he was descending through the pass in the intervening mountains. Anundpaul was conquered and obliged to fly into Cashmere: when the king of Multan endeavoured, by submission, to save what he could. As Mahmood had received intelligence that a body of Tartars had invaded his northern provinces, he was the more easily softened; and leaving Zab Sais, a Hindu who had embraced the Mahomedan religion, his lieutenant, or governor in India, marched to repel the invaders.292

During this expedition against the Tartars, Zab Sais revolted; resumed the Brahmenical faith; and was on the point of being joined by a confederacy of Rajahs, or Hindu sovereigns, when Mahmood hastened back to India, took Zab Sais unprepared, and made him prisoner for life; after which, the season being far advanced, he returned to Ghizni. Early, however, in the following spring, some movements of Anundpaul recalled him to India, when the princes of Oogeen, Gualior, Callinger, Kanoge, Delhi, Ajmere, the Guickwars, and others, joined their forces to oppose him. A general battle was fought, in which the Ghiznian monarch prevailed. He then reduced the fort of Nagracote or Nagarcote; and, having plundered the temple of its riches, very great, as we are told, returned to his capital. As the king of Multan still continued refractory, Mahmood returned to that province in the following year, and having taken the Rajah prisoner, carried him to Ghizni, where he confined him for life.293

“In the year 402, 294 the passion of war,” says the historian, “fermenting in the mind of Mahmood,” he resolved upon the conquest of Tannasar or Tahnesir, a city about thirty coss north-west from Delhi; the seat of a considerable government; famous for its sanctity and subservience to the Brahmenical religion. Having taken Tannasar, and demolished the idols, he marched to Delhi; which he quickly reduced; and thence returned with vast riches.”295

Two years afterwards, he drove from his dominions the king of Lahore, and overran Cashmere, compelling the inhabitants to acknowledge the prophet.

In the beginning of the year 1018, the Sultan (Mahmood was the first on whom that title was bestowed) with a large army, raised chiefly among the tribes who possessed, or bordered upon, the northern provinces of his empire, marched against Kanoge, the capital of a kingdom, situated on the Ganges, about 100 miles south-east from Delhi.296 “From the time of Gustasp, the father of Darab, to this period, this city (says the Persian historian) had not been visited by any foreign enemy; three months were necessary to complete the march between this kingdom and the capital of Mahmood; and seven mighty streams rushed across the intervening space.” The conqueror having with much difficulty forced a passage through the mountains, by the way of Cashmere, arrived at Kanoge, before the Rajah was prepared for resistance. Placing his only hopes in submission, he threw himself upon the mercy of the invader. The magnitude and grandeur of the city is celebrated in poetic strains by the Persian historians. Mahmood, remaining but three days, proceeded against a neighbouring prince, inhabiting a city called Merat; thence to another city, on the Jumna, named Mavin, and next to Muttra, which is still a city of considerable extent, at a small distance from Agra. This last city was full of temples and idols, which Mahmood plundered and destroyed; and from which, according to the usual story, he obtained incredible treasure. Several other forts and Rajahs being subdued, Mahmood returned from his eighth expedition into India, laden, we are told, with riches; and began to adorn and improve his capital. He built a mosque, so beautiful and magnificent, that it was called the Celestial Bride, and “struck every beholder with astonishment and pleasure. In the neighbourhood of this mosque he founded an university, which he furnished with a vast collection of curious books, in various languages: and with natural and artificial curiosities. He appropriated a sufficient fund for the maintenance of the students, and the learned men who were appointed to instruct the youth in the sciences.”297

Mahmood’s ninth expedition in 1021, was for the purpose of protecting the Rajah of Kanoge, who now held the rank of one of his dependants. The Rajah of Callinger, a city in the province of Bundelcund, situated on one of the rivers which fall into the Jumna, was the most guilty of the assailants. As the Rajah avoided Mahmood in the field, he plundered and laid waste the country, and, this done, returned to his capital.

Here he had not reposed many days, when he was informed that two districts on the borders of Hindustan refused to acknowledge the true prophet, and continued the worship of lions.298 The zeal of the religious sultan immediately took fire. Having speedily brought to reason the disrespectful provinces, he marched to Lahore, which he gave up to pillage. According to custom, it afforded enormous riches. Mahomedan governors were established in this and several other districts of Hindustan.

The twelfth expedition of the Ghiznian monarch was undertaken in the year 1024. He had heard not only of the great riches and supposed sanctity of the temple of Sumnaut, but of the presumption of its priests, who had boasted that other places had yielded to the power of Mahmood, by reason of their impiety; but if he dared to approach Sumnaut, he would assuredly meet the reward of his temerity. Mahmood, having arrived at Multan, gave orders to his army to provide themselves with water and other necessaries for crossing a desert of several days’ march, which lay between this city and Ajmere. The Rajah and people of Ajmere abandoned the place at his approach. They were invited to return, and experience the clemency of the victor; but not complying, beheld their country desolated with fire and sword. Arrived at Sumnaut, which was a strong castle, situated on the promontory of Guzerat, near the city of Diu,299 washed on three sides by the sea, Mahmood met with a more serious resistance than any which he had yet encountered in Hindustan. Not only did the priests and guardians of the temple defend it with all the obstinacy of enthusiasm and despair; but a large army collected in the surrounding kingdoms was brought to its defence. Having triumphed over all resistance, the religious sultan entered the temple. Filled with indignation at sight of the gigantic idol, he aimed a blow at its head, with his iron mace. The nose was struck from its face. In vehement trepidation the Brahmens crowded around, and offered millions,300 to spare the god. The Omrahs dazzled with the ransom ventured to counsel acceptance. Mahmood, crying out that he valued the title of breaker, not seller of idols, gave orders to proceed with the work of destruction. At the next blow, the belly of the idol burst open: and forth issued a vast treasure of diamonds, rubies, and pearls; rewarding the holy perseverance of Mahmood, and explaining the devout liberality of the Brahmens. After this Mahmood took vengeance on the rajahs who had confederated to defend the temple, and reduced all Guzerat to his obedience. It is said that he was so captivated with the beauty of the country, the richness of the soil, and the salubrity of the climate, that he conceived the design of making it the place of his residence, and resigning Ghizni to one of his sons. Diverted from this design by the counsels of his friends, he placed a Hindu governor over the province, and after an absence of two years and six months returned to Ghizni. A people whom the translator of Ferishta calls the Jits, afterwards better known under the name of Jaats, who inhabited part of the country bordering on the Indus, southward from Multan, either failed in respect, or gave molestation, as he marched from Guzerat. Returning in the same year to chastise them, he defeated 4,000 or 8,000 (so wide are the accounts) of their boats, launched on the river to defend an island to which, as the place of greatest safety, they had conveyed the most valuable of their effects, and the most cherished of their people.301 This was the last of the exploits of Mahmood in India, who died at Ghizni in the year 1028. Mahmood, the son of Subuctagi the Turkish slave, is one of the most celebrated of eastern princes. He was supposed to possess in the highest perfection almost every royal virtue. He patronized learning, and encouraged the resort of learned men. Ferdosi, the author of the Shah Namah, the most celebrated poem of the East, was entertained at his court.

After a short contest between Mahommed and Musaood, the sons of Mahmood, Musaood mounted the throne of Ghizni, and the eyes of Mahommed were put out. Musaood entered India three times, during the nine years of his reign; and left the boundaries of the Ghaznevide dominions there in the situation nearly in which he received them. His first incursion was in the year 1032, when he penetrated by the way of Cashmere; and his only memorable exploit was the capture of the fort of Sursutti, which commanded the pass. In 1034, he sent an army which chastised a disobedient viceroy. And in 1035, he marched in person to reduce Sewalik, a kingdom or rajahship lying at the bottom of the mountains near the place where the Ganges descends upon the Indian plains. He assailed the capital, of great imputed strength; took it in six days; and found in it incredible riches. From this he proceeded against the fort of Sunput, a place about forty miles distant from Delhi on the road to Lahore, the governor of which abandoned it upon his approach, and fled into the woods. He proposed to march against another prince, called Ram; but Ram, understanding his intentions, endeavoured to divert the storm, by gifts and compliments, and had the good fortune to succeed. Musaood was recalled from India to oppose an enemy, destined to render short the splendour of the house of Ghizni.

During several centuries, the movements westward of the hordes of Turkmans had been accumulating that people upon the barriers of the Persian empire. In the reign of Mahmood, three brothers, sons of Seljuk, solicited permission to pass the Oxus, with their flocks and herds, and to enjoy the unoccupied pastures of Chorasan. Mahmood, disregarding the advice of his best counsellors, granted their request. The example set, the number of Tartars in Transoxiana and Chorasan continually increased. During the vigilant and vigorous reign of Mahmood, the Turks behaved so much like peaceable subjects, that no complaint against them seems to have been raised. But in the days of his son and successor Musaood, the inhabitants of Chorasan and Transoxiana complained that they were oppressed by the strangers, and Musaood at last resolved to drive them back from his dominions. Togrul Beg, however, the son of Michael, the son of Seljuk, offered himself as a leader and a bond of union to the Turks; opposed Musaood; triumphed over him in the field; rendered himself master of the northern provinces of his empire, and established the dynasty of the Seljukides. Having baffled the power of the Sultan of Ghizni, Togrul found nothing remaining to oppose to him any serious resistance, from the Oxus to the Euphrates; he extinguished the remaining sparks of the power of the Bowides; and took the Caliph under his protection. Togrul was succeeded by his nephew Alp Arslan, and the latter by his son Malek Shah; both celebrated warriors, who pushed the limits of their empire beyond the Euphrates and the Jaxartes, and made deep inroads upon the Roman provinces and the Tartar plains. The provinces of Zabulistan or Candahar, of Segistan or Seistan, and Cabul, with the provinces in India beyond the Hydaspes, were all that at last remained to the Ghaznevides.

Musaood returning from the defeat which he, deserted by his troops, had sustained at the hand of the Turkmans, and hastening to India to recruit his forces, was deposed by a mutiny in the army, and his brother Mahommed, whose eyes he had put out, was placed upon the throne. Modood, the son of Musaood, who had been left by his father with an army at Balke marched against Mahommed, whom he dethroned. Modood made some efforts against the Seljukians, and for a time recovered Transoxiana. But the feebleness and distraction now apparent in the empire of the Ghaznevides encouraged the Rajah of Delhi, in concert with some other rajahs, to hazard an insurrection. They reduced Tannasar, Hassi the capital of Sewalik, and even the fort of Nagracote. The Rajahs of the Punjab endeavoured to recover their independence; and the Mahommedan dominion was threatened with destruction.

In the year 1049 Modood died; and a rapid change of princes succeeded, violently raised to the throne, and violently thrown down from it. His son Musaood, a child of four years old, was set up by one general; and, after a nominal reign of six days, gave place to Ali, the brother of Modood, who was supported by another. Ali reigned about two years, when he was dethroned by Abdul Reshid, his uncle, son of the great Mahmood. Tugril, governor of Segistan, rebelled against Reshid, and slew him after reigning one year. Tugril himself was assassinated after he had enjoyed his usurpation but forty days. Feroch-Zaad, a yet surviving son of Musaood, was then raised to the throne, who, dying after a peaceable reign of six years, was succeeded by his brother Ibrahim.

Ibrahim reigned a period of no less than forty-two years. After he had terminated his disputes with the dangerous Seljukians, by resigning to them all the provinces they had usurped of the Ghaznevide empire, he directed his ambition towards India. An army which he dispatched into that country is said to have reduced to his obedience many places which had not yet yielded to the Moslem arms. In the year 1080, he marched in person; and by the successful attack of several places of strength, added the territory they protected to his dominions.302 Against the house of Seljuk, now reigning over Persia, Chorasan, and Bucharia, the latter comprehending the ancient provinces or kingdoms of Bactria, Sogdiana, and Transoxiana, he found protection chiefly by intermarriages and alliance.

Ibrahim was succeeded by his son Musaood, who enjoyed a peaceable reign of sixteen years. With the exception of one expedition, under one of his generals, who penetrated beyond the Ganges, India remained unmolested by his arms. But as the Indian provinces now formed the chief portion of his dominions, Lahore became the principal seat of his government.

His son Shere, says the Persian historian, “placed his foot on the imperial throne; but within a year was assassinated by his brother Arsilla.” Byram, one of the brothers of Arsilla, made his escape; and fled to the governor of Chorasan, who was brother to the king of Persia, and to his own, and Arsilla’s mother. By the assistance of this prince, his uncle, who marched with an army to his support, he dethroned Arsilla, and assumed the reins of government, which had been held by the usurper for three years.

Byram, or Bahram, was twice called into India, by the disobedience of the governor of Lahore, who aspired to independence. But he had no sooner settled this disturbance, than he was called to oppose the governor of another of his provinces, whose rebellion was attended with more fatal consequences. A range of mountainous country, known by the name of the mountains of Gaur, occupies the space between the province of Chorasan and Bactria on the west and north, and the provinces of Segistan, Candahar, and Cabul on the south. The mountaineers of this district, a wild and warlike race, had hardly ever paid more than a nominal obedience to the sovereigns of Persia. The district, however, had been included in the dominions of the Sultans of Ghizni; and had not yet been detached by the Seljukian encroachments. In the days of Byram, a descendant of the ancient princes of the country, Souri by name, was governor of the province. Finding himself possessed of power to aim at independence, he raised an army of Afghauns, such is the name (famous in the history of India) by which the mountaineers of Gaur are distinguished, and chased Byram from his capital of Ghizni. Byram, however, having collected and recruited his army, marched against his enemy, and aided by his subjects of Ghizni, who deceived and betrayed their new master, gained a complete victory, and put the Gaurian to a cruel death. The power which he gained was but of short duration. Alla, the brother of Souri, who succeeded him in his usurped dominion, hastened to repair his loss. Byram was defeated in a decisive battle, and fled towards India; but sunk under his misfortunes, and expired, after a languid, but gentle reign of thirty-five years.

He was succeeded by his son Chusero, who withdrew to India, and made Lahore his capital. This prince cherished the hope of recovering the lost dominions of his house from the Gaurian usurper, by aid from his kinsman, the king of Persia; and collected an army for that purpose; but at this moment a fresh horde of Turkman Tartars rushed upon the Persian provinces, and inundated even Cabul and Candahar, from which the Gaurians were obliged to retire. The Turks, after two years’ possession, were expelled by the Gaurians. The Gaurians were again defeated by the arms of Chusero, and yielded up the temporary possession of Ghizni to its former masters. Chusero continued to reside at Lahore, and, having died after a reign of seven years, was succeeded by his son Chusero the Second.

Mahommed, brother to the Gaurian usurper, pursued the same ambitious career. He soon rendered himself master of the kingdom of Ghizni or Candahar; and, not satisfied with that success, penetrated even into India; over-ran Multan, with the provinces on both sides of the Indus; and advanced as far as Lahore. After an uninteresting struggle of a few years, Chusero was subdued; and in the year 1184 the sceptre was transferred from the house of Ghizni to the house of Gaur. The same era which was marked by the fall of the Ghaznevides, was distinguished by the reduction of the house of Seljuk. The weakness and effeminacy which, after the vigour and ability of the founders of a new dynasty, uniformly take place among the princes their successors, having relaxed the springs of the Seljukian government, the subordinate governors threw off their dependence; and a small portion of the dominions of Malek now owned the authority of Togril his descendant.
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Re: The History of British India, Vol. II, by James Mill

Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2020 6:35 am

CHAP. II. From the Commencement of the first Gaurian Dynasty to that of the second Gaurian or Afghaun Dynasty.

Mahomed left the government of India, after the defeat and death of Chusero, in the hands of a viceroy, and returned to Ghizni. After an absence of five years, he marched towards Ajmere; and, having taken the city of Tiberhind, is said to have been on his way back, when he heard that the Rajahs of Ajmere and Delhi, with others in confederacy, were advancing with a large army to relieve the city which he had just taken and left. He turned and met them a little beyond Tannasar. Having incautiously allowed his army to be surrounded by superior numbers, he was defeated, and, being severely wounded, escaped with great difficulty from the field of battle. He took such measures, as the moment allowed, to secure his provinces and forts, and hastened to Gaur.

After little more than a year he was prepared to return to India with a formidable army of Turks, Persians, and Afghauns. The combined Rajahs had consumed their time in the siege of Tiberhind, which had resisted them for one year and one month. No fewer, it is said, than 150 kings, with their armies, amounting, by “the lowest and most moderate account, to 300,000 horse, 3000 elephants, and a great body of infantry,” met him on the former field of battle. The Rajahs sent him an insulting proposal, that he might be permitted to march back unmolested, if he had the prudence to decline the combat. Mahomed had learned wisdom from experience. Sending an humble answer; that he was only the servant of his brother, bound to execute his commands; and praying for time, to learn the will of his master; he filled the Rajahs, and their enormous camp, with an ill-grounded and intemperate presumption. While they were spending the night in revelling and joy, Mahomed crossed the river with his army, and fell upon them before the alarm was spread. The extent of the camp was so great, that a part of the army had time to form itself and advance to cover the flight. Mahomed immediately drew off his troops to meet them. Forming a strong reserve of his chosen horse, he ordered the rest of his army, drawn up in four lines, to receive the enemy calmly. The first line, having discharged its missile weapons, was made to withdraw to the rear; the next, coming in front, discharged in like manner its weapons, and in like manner gave place to another. By this stratagem were the enemy held in play, “till the sun was approaching the west,” when Mahomed, placing himself at the head of his reserve, rushed upon the fatigued and now presumptuous multitude; who were immediately thrown into the greatest disorder, and “recoiled, like a troubled torrent, from the bloody plain.”

Shortly after this event Mahomed returned to Ghizni, leaving the fruits of the victory to be gathered and secured by his favourite General Cuttub. The events of this man’s life, though far from singular in the East, involved extraordinary changes of condition and fortune. In his childhood, he was brought from Turkestan to Nishapore, the capital of Chorasan, and there sold for a slave. It happened that the master by whom he was bought had the disposition to give him education, and that the quickness of his parts enabled him to profit by this advantage. The death of his patron, however, exposed him once more to the chance of the market; which fortunately assigned him to Mahomed the Gaurian. His intelligence and assiduity attracted in time the notice of the Prince. He advanced by gradual accessions of favour, till he rose to be Master of the Horse. Even misfortune, though he lost a detachment of men, and was taken prisoner by the enemy, did not lose him the kindness of Mahomed; or interrupt the career of his promotion.

Cuttub improved, with diligence and ability, the advantages which his master had gained in India. He reduced the surrounding districts; took the fort of Merat; and invested Delhi. The garrison ventured to meet him in the field. He vanquished them; and, surmounting all opposition, obtained possession of the city.

Mahomed returned to India in 1193. Cuttub was received with the highest marks of distinction; and being honoured to command the van of the army, he conquered the rajah of Benares; where Mahomed destroyed innumerable idols, and obtained, of course, incalculable riches. The whole country submitted, to the confines of Bengal.

Upon the return of Mahomed to Ghizni, Cuttub was declared his adopted son, and confirmed in the government of India. By various expeditions, he chastised repeatedly the refractory rajahs of Ajmere and Guzerat; took the cities of Calinger and Kalpy, with their respective territories; and at last made himself master of the forts of Biana and Gualior.

In the year 1202, Mahomed was excited to try his fortune for a share in the dismemberment of the Seljukian empire. Among the provinces of which the governors had thrown off their dependance upon the Seljukian princes, that of Karisme, on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea, had risen to the rank of an independent kingdom, under a race of princes known by the name of the Karismian dynasty. Against Tacash, the reigning sovereign of this kingdom, Mahomed led an army. But Osman, a Tartar chief, who had assumed the rank of sovereign, in another part of Transoxiana, and had Samarcand for his capital, marched to the assistance of Tacash; Mahomed sustained a total defeat; and was fain, by a great ransom, to purchase return to his own country. Intelligence of his defeat was to his servants the signal for revolt. His slave Ildecuz, having assumed supremacy in his capital of Ghizni, refused him admittance. He continued his route to Multan, where another of his servants took arms against him. Being joined by many of his friends, he gave the traitor battle, and obtained the victory. He next collected such of his troops as were in the contiguous provinces of India, and marched back to Ghizni, where the rebellious slave was delivered up by the inhabitants.

At the same time with the other rebellious attempts, to which his defeat by the Karismians had given birth, a tribe of Indians, inhabiting the country about the sources of the Indus from the Nilab or western branch of that river upwards to the Sewalic mountains; called by the Persian historian, Gickers, and by him described as a people excessively rude and barbarous, putting their female children to death; attempted the recovery of their independence, and proceeded towards Lahore. Mahomed had no sooner recovered his capital than he marched against them; and Cuttub at the same time advancing from Delhi, they were attacked on both sides, and speedily subdued. Mahomed was returning to Ghizni, when he was murdered in his tent by two Gickers, who penetrated thither in the night.

The death of Mahomed, who left no children, produced a contest for the succession, and a division of the empire. Mamood, his nephew, retained Gaur, of which he was governor. Eldoze, another governor, took possession of Candahar and Cabul; and Cuttub claimed the sovereignty of India. Eldoze marched against him; but was met and conquered. Cuttub, following up his victory, proceeded to Ghizni, where he was crowned. He now resigned himself to sloth and indulgence. Eldoze, who had retired to Kirma, his former province, obtained intelligence of this degeneracy, and of the disgust to which it had given birth. He raised an army, and surprised Cuttub, who withdrew to India; and made no effort for the recovery of Ghizni; but is celebrated for having governed his Indian dominions with great justice and moderation. During his administration, Bahar and Bengal were added to the Mahomedan dominions.303 He died only four years after the death of Mahomed, in 1210. Tacash, the Karismian, who had extended his sway over almost the whole of Persia, shortly after marched against Eldoze, and added Ghizni, with all the possessions, of the Gaurides, as far as the Indus, to his extensive empire.

Cuttub was succeeded by his son Aram; who proved unequal to the task of reigning. Multan and Sind were seized upon by one chief; Bengal by another; and in almost every province the standard of revolt was raised or preparing to be raised; when the Omrahs of Delhi invited Altumsh, the son-in-law of Cuttub, and governor of Budaoon, now the country of the Rohillas, to ascend the throne. The reign of Aram scarcely completed a year.

Altumsh, like Cuttub, had been a slave from Tartary; but, being remarkable for the beauty of his person, was thought by his master worthy of a good education. He was sold to Cuttub for a large sum, and appointed master of the chase. He rapidly made his way to great favour; was at last married to the daughter of his sovereign; and declared his adopted son.

Altumsh ascended not the throne in perfect tranquillity. Several of Cuttub’s generals aspired to improve their fortune by resistance; and Eldoze, being driven from Ghizni by the arms of the Karismian monarch, made an effort to procure for himself a sceptre in India. But Altumsh prevailed over all his opponents; and reigned from the mouths of the Indus to those of the Ganges.

This prince died in 1235, and was succeeded by his son Feroze; who appearing a weak and dissolute prince, subservient to the cruel passions of his mother, was soon deposed; and Sultana Rizia, the eldest daughter of Altumsh, was raised to the throne.

It is a rare combination of circumstances which, in the East, places sovereign power in the hands of a woman. Rizia possessed manly talents and great virtues. The idea, however, of the weakness of her sex encouraged the presumption of her deputies in the various provinces. She contended with success against more than one rebellious and usurping governor. But her difficulties continually increased; and at last a combination of the Omrahs set up her brother Byram, as a competitor for the throne. She was still able to meet the rebels with an army. But the Turkish or Tartarian mercenaries in her brother’s pay were an overmatch for her Indian troops. She was conquered and put to death, after a reign of three years and six months.

Byram the Second, nursed in pleasure, and a stranger to control, was a weak, imprudent prince. The jealousies which he felt towards the great men in his court, he sought to relieve by assassination. His vizir, having escaped an intended blow, found means to regain his confidence: and being placed at the head of an army against the Moguls, he matured the dissatisfaction of the Omrahs, and, turning the army of Byram against himself, dethroned and killed him, about two years after he had ascended the throne.

It was during this reign that the Moguls, destined to erect in India the greatest empire it had ever seen, first penetrated into that country. Gingis, the chief of a tribe of Tartars, distinguished by the name of Moguls, who roamed with their flocks and herds on the northern side of the wall of China, formed, by talents and good fortune, one of those combinations, among different tribes of Tartars, which more than once within the period of history had been witnessed before; and never without extensive revolutions and conquests. Partly by force, partly by intimidation, partly by hopes of sharing in the advantages of conquest, Gingis, about the year 1210, was acknowledged as Khan, by all the shepherd hordes from the wall of China to the Volga. The presumption and pride of two such elevated neighbours as the emperor of China, and the new sovereign of Tartary, could not fail to kindle the flames of war. Innumerable squadrons of Tartars surmounted the unavailing rampart which the Chinese had in former ages raised to exclude them. Pekin was taken; and the northern provinces of China were added to the empire of Gingis.

About the same time a quarrel arose on the opposite side of his dominions. Mahomed was now king of Karisme, which from a revolted province had grown into the seat of a great empire, extending from the borders of Arabia to those of Turkestan. The monarch of so many provinces, which prided themselves in their riches and the acquirements of civilized life, made light, it seems, of the power of him who ruled over multitudes, indeed, but of men who had no riches except their cattle, and no cities except their camps. An injury done to some of the subjects of Gingis, for which all reparation was haughtily refused, first drew upon western Asia the fury of his arms. Mahomed crossed the Jaxartes to meet his enemy in the plains of Turkestan, with no less, it is said, than four hundred thousand men. But these were encountered by seven hundred thousand Tartars, under Gingis and his sons, who in the first battle, which was suspended by the night, laid one hundred and sixty thousand Karismians dead upon the field.

After this fatal blow, Mahomed expected to arrest the progress of the victor, by throwing his troops into the frontier towns. But the arms of Gingis were irresistible; the places of greatest strength were obliged to surrender; and Karisme, Transoxiana, and Chorasan, soon acknowledged the sovereignty of the Mogul. He was withdrawn by the wishes of his troops from the further prosecution of his conquests in the West, and died in the year 1227; but left sons and grandsons to copy the deeds of their progenitor. In the year 1258, the conquest of Persia was consummated: and the last remains of the power of the Caliphs and Seljukians trampled in the dust.

It was but an incursion which, in the year 1242, the Moguls, during the reign of Byram II., made into India. They plundered the country as far as Lahore, and then retreated to Ghizni.

Upon the fall of Byram, the men in power thought proper to take from his prison Musaood, the son of Feroze, the late king, and set him upon the throne. In the second year of his reign, an army of Mogul Tartars made a descent into Bengal, by the way, says Ferishta, of Chitta and Tibet.304 They met, we are told, with a total defeat. On the following year, however, another army of the same people crossed the Indus; but Musaood marching against them in force, they were pleased to retire. Musaood, however, in a reign of four years had disgusted his nobles, by his vices; and made them bold, by his weakness. They combined to call Mamood his uncle to the throne, and Musaood was thrown into prison for life.

Mamood II., upon the death of his father Altumsh, had been consigned to a prison; but there exhibited some firmness of mind, by supporting himself with the fruits of his industry in copying books; while he often remarked that “he who could not work for his bread did not deserve it.” He was released by his predecessor Musaood, and received the government of a province; in which he acted with so much vigour and prudence, that the fame of his administration recommended him to the Omrahs, as the fittest person to cover, with his power and authority, their rebellious enterprise.

The infirm administration of the preceding princes had introduced much disorder into the kingdom. The tribes of Hindus, known by the name of Gickers, a more active and enterprising race than the general body of their countrymen, had been guilty of many acts of insubordination and violence toward the Mahomedan government and people, in the provinces near the Indus. One of the first enterprises of Mamood, was to chastise this people; many thousands of whom he carried away into captivity. Of the Omrahs, who had received jagheers, or estates in land, many declined or refused to furnish their quota of troops for the army; though it was for the maintenance of those troops, that the estates, says Ferishta, were bestowed. The chiefs who infringed this condition were carried prisoners to Delhi; and their sons, or other relations, gifted with the estate. Some places of strength, in the country lying between the Jumna and the Ganges, were taken. A governor on the Indus, who had rebelled, was reduced to obedience, and received into favour. Shere, the king’s nephew, viceroy of Lahore and Multan, expelled the Moguls from Ghizni, and once more annexed that kingdom to the Indian part of the Gaurian empire. Mamood fell into the error of disgusting his Omrahs, by pampering a favorite; but recovered his authority, by sacrificing, with a good grace, the author of his danger. A fresh army of the Moguls crossed the Indus in the year 1257; but retired upon the approach of Mamood. In the following year, an ambassador, from Hallacu, the grandson of Gingis, who had just completed the conquest of Persia, arrived at Delhi. The grandest possible display of the power and wealth of the empire seems to have been studied upon this occasion. To meet the representative of the conqueror, before whom Asia trembled, the vizir went out at the head of 50,000 foreign horse, two hundred thousand infantry, two thousand elephants of war, and three thousand carriages of fireworks. With this magnificent escort, the ambassador was conducted to the royal presence; all the officers, dignitaries, and dependants of the empire, in gorgeous attire, surrounding the throne. This appears to have been a message of peace; since nothing of importance occurred, till the death of the Shah, which happened in the year 1265.

This prince carried to the throne that contempt of pleasure and show, and that simplicity of manners, which he had learned in his adversity. “Contrary,” says Ferishta, “to the custom of princes, he kept no concubines. He had but one wife, whom he obliged to do every homely part of housewifery; and when she complained one day, that she had burned her fingers in baking his bread, desiring he would allow her a maid to assist her, he rejected her request, with saying—that he was only a trustee for the state, and that he was determined not to burthen it with needless expences. He therefore exhorted her to persevere in her duty with patience, and God would reward her in the end. As the emperor of India never eats in public, his table was rather that of a hermit, than suitable to a great king. He also continued the whimsical notion of living by his pen. One day, as an Omrah was inspecting a Coran, of the emperor’s writing, before him, he pointed out a word, which he said was wrong. The king, looking at it, smiled, and drew a circle round it. But when the critic was gone, he began to erase the circle and restore the word. This being observed by one of his old attendants, he begged to know his Majesty’s reason for so doing; to which he replied, “that he knew the word was originally right, but he thought it better to erase from a paper, than to touch the heart of a poor man, by bringing him to shame.”

Mamood died without leaving any sons; and his vizir, Balin, who even in his life time engrossed the principal share of power, without opposition mounted the throne. Balin was originally a Turk, of Chitta, of the tribe of Alberi. He was taken, when very young, by the Moguls who over-ran his country, and sold to a slave merchant who carried him to Bagdat. The master into whose hands he fell, learning that he was a relation of Altumsh, who then reigned at Delhi, proceeded with him to that city, and presented him to the monarch, who received him gladly, and liberally rewarded his conductor.

A brother of Balin had already made his way to the court of Delhi, and was considerably advanced in the road of favour and power. The young adventurer improved his advantages; and rapidly ascended the ladder of promotion. He took an active part in all the revolutions which placed so many successors on the throne. In the reign of Musaood he was raised to the dignity of lord of requests; and in that of Mahmood obtained the vizarit.

The reign of Balin was severe; but vigilant, clearsighted, and consistent. He punished disobedience with rapidity and cruelty; but he distinguished talents with care, and rewarded services with discernment and generosity. The fame of his government made his alliance be courted, even by the Mogul sovereigns who reigned over Tartary and Persia.

“He expelled,” says Ferishta, “all flatterers, usurers, pimps, and players, from his court; and being one day told, that an Omrah, an old servant of the crown, who had acquired a vast fortune by usury and monopoly in the bazaar or market, would present him with some lacks of rupees, if he would honour him with one word from the throne; he rejected the proposal with great disdain. What, he said, must his subjects think of a king who should condescend to hold discourse with a wretch so infamous.” As freedom of bargain respecting interest on loans is exceptionable on principles of superstition alone, Balin was possibly mistaken in his instance, without being incorrect in his rule. The association of the king with persons infamous by their vices, sheds moral depravity among the people, except in that proportion exactly in which it sheds contempt upon the throne.

The generosity of Balin made his court the resort and asylum of the various princes, whom the arms of Gingis and his successors had rendered fugitives from their kingdoms. More than twenty of these unfortunate sovereigns, from Tartary, Transoxiana, Chorasan, Persia, Irac, Azarbijan, Persia proper, Roum, and Syria, among whom were two princes of the race of the Caliphs, had allowances assigned them from the revenues of Balin, with palaces, which took their names from their possessors, and admission on all public occasions to the presence and throne of their benefactor. The most learned men from all Asia, accompanying their respective princes, or seeking the same asylum, were assembled at Delhi. “And the court of India,” says the historian, “was, in the days of Balin, reckoned the most polite and magnificent in the world. All the philosophers, poets, and divines, formed a society every night, at the house of the prince Shehid, the heir apparent to the empire. Another society of musicians, dancers, mimicks, players, buffoons, and story-tellers, was constantly convened at the house of the emperor’s second son Kera, who was given to pleasure and levity. The Omrahs followed the example of their superiors, so that various societies and clubs were formed in every quarter of the city.”

The hills to the south-east of Delhi were inhabited by Hindus, who acted the part of banditti and plunderers; and advanced, in numbers resembling an army, sometimes to the very walls of the capital. Balin ordered operations against them; and they were massacred without mercy. The soldiers, who carried hatchets for the purpose, cut down, to the distance of one hundred miles, the woods to which the robbers retired. The cleared space proved excellent land; and was speedily peopled; the inhabitants being protected from the mountaineers by a line of forts erected at the bottom of the hills.

The Shah gave considerable employment to his army, in bridling the wild inhabitants of the mountains, near the centre of his dominions; but he rejected the advice of his counsellors, to regain the distant provinces of Malwa and Guzerat, which had asserted their independence from the time of Cuttub; wisely observing, that the cloud of Moguls, now gathered on his northern frontier, presented an object of more serious and anxious regard.

His accomplished and philosophical son, Mahomed Shehid, was appointed viceroy of the northern provinces, to hold in check those dangerous neighbours. And he assembled around him the men, most eminent for thought or action, whom the Asiatic world at that time contained.

Argunu, the grandson of Hallacu who subdued Persia, and the fourth in descent from Gingis, now filled the throne of Persia; and another descendant of that renowned conqueror, by name Timur, ruled over the eastern provinces from Chorasan to the Indus. In revenge for some former check, as well as by desire for extension of empire, Timur invaded India with a large army in 1283. They were met by the Indian prince, and battle was joined. Both leaders displayed the talents of great generals; but Mahomed at last prevailed, and the Moguls betook themselves to flight. Mahomed joined in the pursuit. He had just halted, in order to return; when he was surprised with only five hundred attendants, by a party of the enemy; and, being overpowered by superior numbers, was slain defending himself to the last. The army and the empire were filled with grief by his fall.

While the son was engaged in his arduous defence of the empire against the Moguls, the father was employed in subduing a dangerous rebellion in Bengal. Tughril, governor of that rich and powerful province, had executed an expedition against the rajahs of Jagenagur, a province bounded on the north by Bengal, and on the east by Orissa. Succeeding, and obtaining great treasure, he began to feel himself too great for a subject; delayed remitting the Emperor’s share of the plunder; and, hearing that Balin was sick, and too ill to survive, raised the red umbrella, and assumed the title of king. Balin ordered the Governor of Oude to assume the office of Subahdar of Bengal, and, with an army which he committed to his command, to march against the rebel. The new Subahdar was defeated; and Balin was so enraged that he bit his own flesh, and commanded the general to be hanged at the gate of Oude. Another of his generals whom he sent to wipe off this disgrace had no better success; when Balin, deeply affected, resolved to take the field in person. Tughril, hearing of his approach, thought proper to elude the storm, by retiring. He intended to remain in Jagenagur, till the Shah retired; and then to resume the command of the province. With some difficulty Balin procured intelligence of his route. An exploring party, at last, discovered and surprised his camp. Tughril fled and was killed, when Balin inflicted sanguinary punishment on his adherents.

But the death of his great and hopeful son was a blow to the heart of Balin, to which no success could yield a remedy. Oppressed, at once, with grief, with business, and with old age (he was now in his eightieth year), he languished for a short time, and expired. He appointed his grandson, by the deceased Mahomed, his successor. Kera,305 however, the second son of Balin, was governor of Bengal, the most affluent province of the empire; and the Omrahs, respecting his present power, more than the will of their deceased master, raised his son Kei Kobad to the throne.

Kei Kobad was in his eighteenth year, handsome in his person, of an affable and mild disposition, and not slightly tinctured with literature. His mother was a beautiful princess, daughter of the emperor Altumsh. “He delighted,” says his historian, “in love, and in the soft society of silver-bodied damsels with musky tresses.” He adds; “When it was publicly known that the king was a man of pleasure, it became immediately fashionable at court; and, in short, in a few days, luxury and vice so prevailed, that every shade was filled with ladies of pleasure, and every street rung with music and mirth. The king fitted up a palace at Kilogurry, upon the banks of the river Jumna; and retired thither to enjoy his pleasures undisturbed, admitting no company but singers, players, musicians, and buffoons.”

The father of Kei Kobad remained contented with his government of Bengal. But Nizam ul Dien, who became the favourite minister of the young Shah, conceived hopes, from the negligence of his master, of paving for himself a way to the throne. He proceeded to remove the persons whose pretensions were likely to obstruct his career. The many acts of cruelty and perfidy, of which he was the cause, shed discredit upon the government. The father of Kei Kobad saw the danger; and forewarned his son. But the prince could not attend to business, without sacrificing pleasure. He found it, therefore, more agreeable to repose upon the minister, and neglected the advice. Kera, alarmed for his own fate, as well as that of his son, thought it adviseable to second his advice with his presence, and his presence with an army. This was construed an act of hostility; and the Shah marched out from Delhi, at the head of an army, to oppose his father. The father, either conscious of his inferiority in point of strength, or unwilling to proceed to the last extremity, requested an interview. This was dreaded by the minister, who endeavoured to blow up the vanity and presumption of the young monarch to such a pitch, that he might hear of nothing but a battle. Kera was not easy to be repulsed; and renewed his application, by a letter, full of parental expostulation and tenderness. The heart of the young prince was corrupted, but not yet thoroughly depraved. He could not resist the letter of his father; and Nizam, no longer able to defeat the interview by direct, endeavoured to elude it by artificial means. He prevailed upon the prince, as sovereign, to insist upon the first interview; in hopes that Kera would refuse. Kera was not a slave to points of ceremony; and readily consented to repair to the imperial camp; where the son was prepared to display his insolence at even his father’s expense. The throne was set out with the greatest pomp and ceremony; and Kei Kobad, ascending, commanded that his father should three times kiss the ground. At the first door, the aged prince was ordered to dismount; and, when he came in sight of the throne, to perform the abject obeisance of the east; the mace-bearer at the same time calling out, according to custom, “The noble Kera to the king of the world sends health!” The father, whose heart was full, was no longer able to restrain his tears. Upon sight of his father in tears, the young prince forgot his insolence, and rushing from the throne, threw himself upon his face at his father’s feet, and implored his forgiveness.306

The presence and admonitions of Kera made an impression upon the mind of Kei Kobad, which it was too soft to retain. “When he arrived at Delhi,” says Ferishta, “the advice of his father, for a few days, seemed to take root in his mind. But his reformation was not the interest of the minister.” He accordingly plied him with pleasure in all the shapes in which it was known to have the greatest influence on his mind. The most beautiful and accomplished women whom it was possible to procure were made to present themselves to him at all the most accessible moments, and invention was exhausted to find an endless variety of modes to surprise and captivate the prince with new combinations of charms. The most exquisite musicians, dancers, players, buffoons, were collected to fill up the intervals left vacant by love.

The hatred, however, which the success, the presumption, and insolence of the minister had engendered in his fellow courtiers; or the suspicions and fears which, at last, though tardily, were excited in the breast of the sovereign, cut short the days and the machinations of Nizam ul Dien. He was taken off by poison. The authority of the king did not long survive. His intemperance in the haram brought on a palsy; which disabled him in one side, and distorted his countenance. All attention was then absorbed by the scramble for power. Every Omrah of popularity set up his pretensions. The friends of the royal family brought out the son of Kei Kobad, a child of three years old, and set him on the throne. He was supported by the Tartars; a body of whom, as mercenaries, were generally kept by the Indian sovereigns, whom they became the common instruments of setting up and pulling down. On the present occasion, the Tartars had a formidable body of competitors. Of the Afghauns, or mountaineers of Gaur and Ghirgistan, on the frontiers of Persia, a tribe named Chilligi307 made war and depredation their business; and usually, in great numbers, served, as mercenaries, any power which chose to employ them. An adventurer of this tribe, of the name of Mallek, who subsisted by his sword, rose to distinction in the army of Balin; and left his talents and his fortune to his son Feroze, who, at the time of the illness of Kei Kobad, was one of the chief Omrahs, and commanded a province. He was joined by the Chilligi mercenaries, who attacked, and cut to pieces, the Tartars. There was no longer any obstruction. Kei Kobad was killed upon his bed, after a reign of little more than three years. Such was the termination of the Gaurian, or rather of the first Gaurian dynasty; and such the commencement of the Afghaun, or second Gaurian dynasty, in the year 1289. At the time of this revolution, Cubla, the grandson of Gingis, sat on the throne of Tartary and China; another of his descendants on that of Persia; and a third possessed a kingdom in Transoxiana, and those provinces to the north-west of the Indus which constituted the original dominions of the house of Ghizni.
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