Page images
PDF
EPUB

would be of no small advantage to him, at his entrance into life, that it would procure him some mark of distinction, which would be pleasing to him, and, above all, that it would be a reflection upon this country, if the king should be obliged to carry the manuscript into France. Incited by these motives, and principally the last, unwilling to be thought churlish or morose, and eager for reputation, he undertook the work, and sent a specimen of it to his Danish majesty, who returned his approbation of the style and method, but desired that the whole translation might be perfectly literal, and the Oriental images accurately preserved. The task would have been far easier to him, if he had been directed to finish it in Latin; for the acquisition of a French style was infinitely more tedious, and it was necessary to have every chapter corrected, by a native of France, before it could be offered to the discerning eye of the public; since, in every language there are certain peculiarities of idiom, and nice shades of meaning, which a foreigner can never attain to perfection. The work, however arduous and unpleasant, was completed in a year, not without repeated hints from the secretary's office, that it was expected with great impatience by the court of Denmark. The translation was not, however, published until 1770. Forty copies, upon large paper, were sent to Copenhagen; one of them, bound with uncommon elegance, for the king himself, and the others as presents to his courtiers.

Such were the circumstances which induced him, (as he modestly observed) against his inclinations, to de. scribe the life of a conqueror, and to appear in public as an author, before a maturity of judgment had made hint see the danger of the step. If (to quote his own words) he had reflected on the little solid glory which a man reaps from acquiring a name in literature, on the jea

H

lousy and envy which attend such an acquisition, on the distant reserve which a writer is sure to meet with from the generality of mankind, and on the obstruction which a contemplative habit gives to our hopes of being distinguished in active life; if all or any of these reflections had occurred to him, he would not have been tempted, by any consideration, to enter upon so invidious and thankless a career; but, as Tully says, be would have considered, before he embarked, the nature and extent of his voyage; now, since the sails are spread, the vessel must take its course.

What marks of distinction he received, or what fruits he reaped from his labours, he thought it would ill become him to mention, at the head of a work, in which he professed to be the historian of others, and not of himself; but, to repel the false assertions which appeared in an advertisement on this subject, in the public papers, containing a most unjust reflection on the king of Den. mark, he considered it a duty imposed upon him, by the laws of justice and gratitude, to print, at the beginning of his translation, the honourable testimony of regard which his majesty, Christian VII. sent publicly to London, a few months after the receipt of the work, together with the letter of thanks which he returned for so signal a token of his favour. * From these documents it appears that his Danish majesty sent to him a diploma, constituting him a member of the Royal Society of Copenhagen, and recommended him, in the strongest terms, to the favour and benevolence of his own sovereign.

To the history of Nadir Shah he added a Treatise on Oriental Poetry, in the language of the translation; and I may venture to assert, that Mr. Jones was the

* See Works, vol. v. Preface.

only person in England, at that time, capable of producing a work, which required a critical knowledge of two foreign languages; one of which was scarcely known in Europe. Indeed, when we consider the accuracy of the translation, which has been acknowledged by the most competent judges, the extreme difficulty attending a literal version of Oriental imagery and idioms, the errors common to all manuscripts, which he had no means of amending by the collation of dif. ferent copies, and the elegance and correctness of his French style, we cannot but express our astonishment at the perfection of his performance, and the rapidity with which it was completed. The annexed treatise on Oriental poetry is instructive and elegant, interest. ing from its novelty, and entertaining from its subject and variety, and exhibits the combined powers of taste and erudition. This work was executed by a young man in his twenty-third year; and the motives which induced him to undertake it had an equal influence on his exertions to render it as perfect as possible.

In detailing the circumstances attending the first publication of Mr. Jones, I have carried the narrative to its conclusion, with some anticipation of the order of time. Part of the summer of 1768 he passed at Tun. bridge, where his private studies formed his chief occupation, and the winter of that year, in London. He availed himself of the opportunity, which his situation there afforded, of beginning to learn music; and having made choice of the Welch harp, for which he had a national partiality, he received lessons from Evans, as long as he remained in town; but, as he was then ignorant of the theory of music, the mere practice, without a knowledge of the principles of the art, gave him little delight. I know not that he ever afterwards resumed the practice of the harp, nor is it to be regretted that he

employed the time, which must have been dedicated to the attainment of any degree of perfection on this instrument, in more important pursuits.

In the beginning of this year Mr. Jones formed an acquaintance with Reviczki, afterwards the Imperial mi. nister at Warsaw, and ambassador at the court of England, with the title of count. This learned and accomplished nobleman was deeply captivated with the charms of Oriental literature; and the reputation of Mr. Jones, as an Oriental scholar, attracted his advances towards an intimacy, which were eagerly received.

After their separation, they commenced a correspondence, which was cultivated with attention for many : years. Of this correspondence much has been lost, and many of the remaining letters are defaced and mutilated. They generally wrote in Latin, occasionally in French, on literary subjects chiefly, but more particularly on Oriental literature. From that part of the correspondence, which took place in 1768, I select such letters as seem to fall within my plan, and now present a familiar translation of them to my readers.

* Mr. Jones to C. Reviczki.

How pleasing was that half hour to me, in which we conversed on Persian poetry, our mutual delight. I considered it the commencement of a most agreeable friendship and intercourse between us; but my expectations are disappointed by the circumstances in which we are unavoidably placed; for my business will confine me to the country longer than I wish; and you, as I am informed, are preparing to return immediately to Germany. I have, therefore, to lament that our intimacy

Appendix, No. 1.

is, as it were, nipped in the bud. I am not, however, without this consolation, that if I cannot personally converse with you, I can at least correspond with you, and thus enjoy the satisfaction arising from a communication of our sentiments and studies. In mentioning our friendship, I shall not, I trust, be deemed guilty of an improper freedom. Similarity of studies, fondness for polite literature, congenial pursuits, and conformity of sentiments, are the great bonds of intimacy amongst mankind. Our studies and pursuits are the same, with this difference, indeed, that you are already deeply versed in Oriental learning, whilst I am incessantly labouring, with all my might, to obtain a proficiency in it. But I will not allow you to excel me in partiality for those studies, since nothing can exceed my delight in them. From my earliest years I was charmed with the poetry of the Greeks; nothing, I then thought, could be more sublime than the Odes of Pindar, nothing sweeter than Anacreon, nothing more polished or elegant than the golden remains of Sappho, Archilochus, Alcæus, and Simonides; but when I had tasted the poetry of the Arabs and Persians

The remainder of this letter is lost; but from the context, and the answer of Reviczki, we may conclude that it contained an elaborate panegyric on Eastern poetry, expressed with all the rapture which novelty inspires, and in terms degrading to the Muses of Greece and Rome.

C. Reviczki to W. Jones, Esquire.*

London, Feb. 19, 1768. I am highly gratified by your recollection of me, as well as by the repeated compliments which you pay me,

SIR,

* Appendix, No. 2.

« PreviousContinue »