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The following particulars relating to the question about the priority of Brahmanism and Boudhism may, to some readers, be objects of curiosity. I quote them from a very interesting paper
on the religion and literature of the Burmals, by Dr. Francis Buchanan.* Chambers, the most judicious of our Indian Antiquaries, has given good reason for believing that the worship of Bouddha once extended over all India, and was not rooted out by the Brahmans in the Deccan so late as the ninth, or even as the twelfth century of the Christian æra.” † The same Author (Dr. Buchanan) has elsewhere remarked, that, “ however idle and ridiculous the legends and notions of the worshippers of Bouddha may be, they have been in a great measure adopted by the Brahmans, but with all their defects monstrously aggravated ; Rajahs and heroes are converted into gods, and impossibilities are heaped on improbabilities.” I
BEFORE the reader pronounces a decisive opinion on the conjectures which I have now submitted to his consideration, I must request his earnest attention to the long extract which follows. It contains the most ample and candid acknowledgment by Mr. Wilford, of the frauds which have been successfully practised on himself by certain Bramins, of whose assistance he had availed himself in the prosecution of his researches. I shall transcribe the passage in his own words, as I think they cannot fail to shake the faith of every person who peruses them with attention, in the unfathomable antiquity of the Sanscrit, as well as in whatever other information is derived to us through so very suspicious a channel as that of the Hindoo priesthood.
ander on this occasion, does hon to his prudence and forbearance. “ Proinde cum essent tales, neque sibi decorum putafat Alexander ad illos accedere, nec vellet invi. tos cogere ut quicquam facerent præter patria instituta, se missum inquit, &c.”—Strabo, lib. xv. Amstel. ed. p. 715.
* Asiatic Researches, Vol. VI.
palinode of Major Wilford has been long before the public: but it has attracted much less attention than the fictions which he has so honorably disavowed.
“A fortunate, but, at the same time, a most distressful discovery contributed to delay the publication of this paper. Though I never entertained the least doubt concerning the genuineness of my vouchers, (having cursorily collated them with the originals a little before I had completed my Essay,) yet when I reflected how cautious an author ought to be, and how easily mistakes will take place, I resolved once more to make a general collation of my vouchers with the originals before my Essay went out of my hands. This I conceived was a duty which I owed not only to the public, but to my own character.
“On going on with the collation, I soon perceived, that, whenever the word Sowetam, or S'weta-dwipa, * the name of the principal of the Sacred Isles, and also of the whole cluster, was introduced, the writing was somewhat different, and that the paper was of a different color, as if stained. Surprised at this strange appearance, I held the page to the light, and perceived immediately that there was an erasure, and that some size had been applied. Even the former word was not so much effaced, but that I could sometimes make it out plainly. I was thunderstruck, but felt some consolation in knowing, that still my manuscript was in my own possession. I recollected my Essay on Egypt, and instantly referred to the originals which I had quoted in it; my fears were but too soon realized, the same deception, the same erasures appeared to have pervaded them. I shall not trouble the Society with a descrip
* For the sake of those who are not acquainted with the speculations of Major Wilford, it is proper to mention, that his great object is to prove that the Sacred Isles of the Hindoos are the British Isles, and, in particular, that S'weta-dwipa, or the White Island, is England.
“ The Sacred Isles in the west,” he informs us, “ of which S'weta-dwipa, or the White Island, is the principal and the most famous, are, in fact, the Holy Land of the Hindus. There the fundamental and mysterious transactions of the history of their religion, in its rise and progress took place. The White Island, this Holy Land in the west, is so intimately connected with their religion and mythology, that they cannot be separated; and, of course, divines in India are necessarily acquainted with it, as distant Muselmans with Arabia.” – Asiatic Researches, Vol. VIII. 8vo. ed.
tion of what I felt, and of my distress at this discovery. My first step was to inform my friends of it, either verbally, or by letters, that I might secure, at least, the credit of the first disclosure.
“ When I reflected that the discovery might have been made by others either before or after my death; that, in the one case, my situation would have been truly distressful; and that, in the other, my name would have passed with infamy to posterity, and increased the calendar of imposture, it brought on such paroxysms, as threatened the most serious consequences in my then infirm state of health. I formed, at first, the resolution to give up entirely my researches and pursuits, and to inform government and the public of my misfortune. But my friends dissuaded me from taking any hasty step; and advised me to ascertain, whether the deception pervaded the whole of the authorities cited by me, or some parts only. I followed their advice, and having resumed the collation of my vouchers with unexceptionable manuscripts, I found that the impositions were not so extensive as I had apprehended.
“ The nature of my inquiries and pursuits was originally the source of this misfortune. Had they been confined to some particular object, to be found within the limits of a few books, as astronomy, it could never have taken place; but the case was very different. The geography, history, and mythology of the Hindus, are blended together and dispersed through a vast number of voluminous books, in which prevails a most disgusting confusion and verbosity. Besides, the titles of their books have seldom any affinity with the contents; and I have often found most valuable materials in treatises, the professed subject of which was of the most unpromising nature.
“Thus, when I began to study the Sạnscrit language, I was obliged to wade with difficulty, through ponderous volumes, generally without finding any thing valuable enough to reward me for my trouble. But, in the course of conversation, my Pandit, and other learned natives, often mentioned most interesting legends, bearing an astonishing affinity with those of the western mythologists.
“I consequently directed my Pandit to make extracts from all the Puránás, and other books relative to my inquiries, and to arrange them under proper heads. I gave him a proper establishment of assistants and writers, and I requested him to procure another Pandit to assist me in my studies; and I obtained for his farther encouragement, a place for him in the college at Benares. At the same time, I amused myself with unfolding to him our ancient mythology, history, and geography. This was absolutely necessary as a clue to guide him through so immense an undertaking, and I had full confidence in him. His manners were blunt and rough, and his arguing with me on several religious points with coolness and steadiness, (a thing very uncommon among natives, who on occasions of this sort, are apt to recede or even coincide in opinion,) raised him in my esteem. I affected to consider him as my Guru, or spiritual teacher; and, at certain festivals, in return for his discoveries and communications, handsome presents were made to him and his family.
“ The extracts which I thus received from him, I continued to translate, by way of exercise, till, in a few years, this collection became very voluminous. At our commencement I enjoined him to be particularly cautious in his extracts and quotations, and informed him, that, if I should, ai a future period, determine to publish any thing, the strictest scrutiny would take place in the collation. He seemed to acquiesce fully in this; and we went on without any suspicion on my part, until Sir William Jones strongly recommended to me to publish some of my discoveries, particularly respecting Egypt. I collated immediately all my vouchers relating to that country, carefully revised my translations, selected the best passages, compared them with all the fragments I could find among our ancient authors, and framed the whole into an essay. I then informed my Pandit, that previously to my sending it to Sir William Jones, a most scrupulous collation of the vouchers, with the original manuscripts from which they were extracted, would take place.
“To this, without the least alteration in his counte
nance, nay, with the greatest cheerfulness, he assented; and, as several months intervened, he had time to prepare himself, so that, when the collation took place, I saw no ground to discredit his extracts, and was satisfied.
“I have since learned, that, as the money for his establishment passed through his hands, his avaricious disposition led him to embezzle the whole, and to attempt to perform the task alone, which was impracticable. In order to avoid the trouble of consulting books, he conceived the idea of framing legends from what he recollected of the Puránás, and from what he had picked up in conversation with me. As he was exceedingly well read in the Puránás, and other similar books, in consequence of his situation with a Mahratta Chief of the first rank in his younger days, it was an easy task for him, and he studied to introduce as much truth as he could, to obviate the danger of immediate detection.
“ Many of the legends were very correct, except in the name of the country, which he generally altered into that of either Egypt or S'wétam.
“ His forgeries were of three kinds. In the first, there was only a word or two altered; in the second, were such legends as had undergone a more material alteration ; and, in the third, all those he had written from memory
“ With regard to those of the first class, when he found that I was resolved to make a collation of the manuscripts, he began to adulterate and disfigure his own manuscript, mine, and the manuscripts of the college, by erasing the original name of the country, and putting that of Egypt, or S'wétam, in its place.
“ To prevent my detecting those of the second class, which were not numerous, but of the greatest importance in their nature; and as books in India are not bound as in Europe, and every leaf is loose, he took out one or two leaves, and substituted others with an adulterous legend. In books of some antiquity it is not uncommon to see a few new leaves inserted in the room of others that were wanting.