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SIR WILLIAM JONES has said of the Sutras of Panini that they are "dark as the darkest oracle;" and COLEBROOKE, in one of his Essays, has given a list of about one hundred and forty Indian grammarians and commentators who have followed in the footsteps of the great Patriarch of Sanscrit Grammar, and endeavoured to throw light upon the obscurity of his aphorisms. In this endeavour they have succeeded rather in shewing the depth of their own knowledge, than in making the subject more accessible to the generality of European students; and the explanations which they offer are sometimes more unintelligible than the original itself.
Happily, however, a writer has arisen in our own country competent to elucidate most thoroughly the difficulties of this subject. Professor Wilson, the greatest Sanscrit scholar of the present day, whose name the University of Oxford is proud to associate with its own, in the excellent Grammar which he has given to the public has added to his high reputation by his graceful adaptation of the English language to the exposition of the native system of grammatical teaching. It may be said of all this author's numerous works, that, as they abound in indications of surpassing genius, so they offer to the student of Oriental Literature the most valuable information on every topic of inquiry.
But notwithstanding the advantages thus afforded for the study of a language so interesting in its affinities, so rich in its literature, and so important in its bearing upon our interests in the East, it is remarkable that the greater part of the
English public are not merely indifferent to its acquisition, but ignorant of its character, and even of its very name. must be confessed that this indifference on the part of the generality to a language which recommends itself to their attention by no considerations of immediate practical utility, ought not to excite surprise. It is even, perhaps, too much to expect that the study should flourish in the University of Oxford. Its neglect in this ancient seat of learning only points to a fact which has escaped the observation of those would-be reformers of the present system of education at Haileybury, who are not for wholly abolishing the study of so important a language, but would leave its cultivation to the will of the student: and this fact is, that to make any course of study voluntary in a place of public education is tantamount to its total abolition; and that no temptation of honour, or reward, or present or prospective benefit, and no amount of facilities or opportunities, and no degree of intrinsic excellence or interest in the subject itself, will ever attract any number of votaries to a study which is not made compulsory upon all.
But how does it come to pass, that in the East-India College, where this study is still, with true wisdom, made incumbent upon every one; where it is only reasonable to expect that the classical languages of the Hindus should be cultivated with as much ardour as the classical languages of Europe in the European Universities; and where to educate the minds of the future governors of India with any reference to the duties they are to fulfil, or at least to imbue them with any sympathy for the people they are to govern, is surely to give them some knowledge of the language which is the vehicle of that people's literature, the key to their opinions, the repository of all that they hold sacred, and the source of nearly all their spoken dialects;—how does it come to pass, that in this College the study of Sanscrit is not prosecuted with greater zest?
Many causes are assigned for this indifference. It might, indeed, be anticipated that ignorance and idleness would league themselves in a common crusade against any course of reading which entails a more than usual degree of mental effort and perseverance. But ignorance and idleness would not prevail, were it not in their power to make use of arguments that have a considerable shew of reason. To those who would excuse their indifference by alleging that a knowledge of this language is useless to the Civil servants of India, no reply need be given. Such an argument is unworthy of refutation, as proceeding from an utter ignorance of facts, and a stupid contempt for the authority of those eminent scholars, who have long since determined otherwise. To those who do not deny its utility, but affirm that many great men in India have succeeded very well without it, there is but one answer to return. No one disputes that such men have succeeded very well without a knowledge of this language, but no one can tell how much better they might have succeeded, or in how much less time they might have attained the same position, or how much more consideration they might have shewn for the feelings and prejudices of the natives in the course of their career, had the study of Sanscrit formed a part of their education. Our forefathers doubtless prospered very well without a knowledge of Latin and Greek; but now that so many beneficial effects are found to result from an acquaintance with these languages, and now that so many facilities exist for their acquisition, no one would think of making such an argument an excuse for the neglect of a branch of education which, as civilization and learning advance, becomes every day more essential.
But there are some who rest their objection to the study of Sanscrit on the ground of its difficulty. These adopt a very specious line of argument, and one which, it must be confessed, has every appearance of reason on its side. They maintain that the grammar alone is of itself too intricate to
be mastered by men of ordinary abilities in their short course of two years at Haileybury; that too many other subjects are forced upon their attention to admit of their gaining any satisfactory insight into the literature of the language; that they pass their examinations by a mere forced effort of memory; and that the little they learn is as rapidly forgotten as it was rapidly acquired, and only serves to disgust, without leaving behind any solid or permanent advantage.
It is with the especial view of answering this latter class of objectors that the following short work has been composed. It was thought that any system of grammar, however excellent in itself, founded upon the esoteric method of teaching adopted by the Pandits of India, was certainly amenable to these objections. An elementary work has, therefore, been written, which rests its claim of adaptation to the wants of beginners on its opposition to the Indian scheme of grammatical tuition. For it should be borne in mind that in India we have presented to us the curious phenomenon of a literature elucidating grammar, rather than a grammar elucidating literature. The better to understand this, it may here be observed that the literature of the Hindus is referrible to three distinct phases, the natural, the philological, and the artificial. As the first and last of these are diametrically opposed to each other, so it may be shewn that the cause of this sudden transition from the one extreme to the other was the intervention of a rage for philological inquiry.
Nothing can exceed the simplicity and beauty of the writings which fall under the early period of Hindu literature. Witness some of the episodes of the two epic poems of the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata; witness some of the Purāņas; witness the short specimens of the fables of the Hitopadesha and of the Laws of Manu, given at the end of this volume. The style in all of these is plain, unaffected, and in perfect good taste; and the amount of grammatical knowledge required for their perusal might have been compressed into