Page images




It is a maxim in the science of legislation and government, that Laws are of no avail without manners, or, to explain the sentence more fully, that the best intended legislative provisions would have no beneficial effect even at first, and none at all in a short course of time, unless they were congenial to the disposition and habits, to the religious prejudices, and approved immemorial usages of the people for whom they were enacted; especially if that people universally and sincerely believed, that all their ancient usages and established rules of conduct had the sanction of an actual revelation from heaven : the legislature of Britain having shown, in compliance with this maxim, an intention to leave the natives of these Indian provinces in possession of their own Laws, at least on the titles of contracts and inheritances, we may humbly presume, that all future provisions, for the administration of justice and government in India, will be conformable, as far as the natives are affected by them, to the manners and opinions of the natives themselves; an object, which cannot possibly be attained, until those manners and opinions can be fully and accurately known. These considerations, and a few others more immediately within my province, were my principal motives for wishing to know, and have induced me at length to publish, that system of duties, religious and civil, and of law in all its branches, which the Hindus firmly believe to have been promulged in the beginning of time by MENU, son or grandson of BRAHMA', or, in plain language, the first of created beings, and not the oldest only, but the holiest, of legislators ; a system so comprehensive and so minutely exact, that it may be considered as the Institutes of Hindu Law, preparatory to the copious Digest, which has lately been compiled by Pandits of eminent learning, and introductory perhaps to a Code, which may supply the many natural defects in the old jurisprudence of this country, and, without any deviation from its principles, accommodate it justly to the improvements of a commercial age.

We are lost in an inextricable labyrinth of imaginary astronomical cycles, Yugas, Maháyugas, Calpas, and Menwantaras, in attempting to calculate the time, when the first MENU, according to the Bráhmens, governed this world, and became the progenitor of mankind, who from him are called Mánaváh; nor can we, so clouded are the old history and chronology of India with fables and allegories, ascertain the precise age, when the work, now presented to the Publick, was actually composed; but we are in possession of some evidence, partly extrinsick and partly internal, that it is really one of the oldest compositions existing. From a text of PARA SARA, discovered by Mr. Davis, it appears, that the vernal equinox had gone back from the tenth degree of Bharani to the first of Aswini, or twenty-three degrees and twenty minutes, between the days of that Indian philosopher, and the year of our Lord 499, when it coincided with the origin of the Hindu ecliptick; so that PARA'SARA probably flourished near the close of the twelfth century before CHRIST: now PARA'SARA was the grandson of another sage, named VA'SISHT'HA, who is often mentioned in the laws of MENU, and once as contemporary with the divine BHRIGU himself; but the character of BHRIGU, and the whole dramatical arrangement of the book before us, are clearly fictitious and ornamental, with a design, too common among ancient lawgivers, of stamping authority on the work by the introduction of supernatural personages, though VA'SISHT' HA may have lived many generations before the actual writer of it; who names him, indeed, in one or two places, as a philosopher in an earlier period. The style, however, and metre of this work (which there is not the smallest reason to think affectedly obsolete) are widely different from the language and metrical rules of Ca'lida's, who unquestionably wrote before the beginning of our era ; and the dialect of MENU is even observed, in many passages, to resemble that of the Véda, particularly in a departure from the more modern grammatical forms; whence it must at first view seem very probable, that the laws, now brought to light, were considerably older than those of Solon or even of LYCURGUS, although the promulgation of them, before they were reduced to writing, might have been coeval with the first monarchies established in Egypt or Asia : but, having had the singular good fortune to procure ancient copies of eleven Upanishads, with a very perspicuous comment, I am enabled to fix with more exactness the probable age of the work before us, and even to limit its highest possible age, by a mode of reasoning, which may be thought new, but will be found, I persuade myself, satisfactory; if the Publick shall on this occasion give me credit for a few very curious facts, which, though capable of strict proof, can at present be only asserted. The Sanscrit of the three first Védas (I need not here speak of the fourth), that of the Mánava Dherma Sastra, and that of the Puranas, differ from each other in pretty exact proportion to the Latin of Numa, from whose laws entire sentences are preserved, that of APPIUS, which we see in the fragments of the Twelve Tables, and that of CICERO, or of LUCRETIUS, where he has not affected an obsolete style: if the several changes, therefore, of Sanscrit and Latin took place, as we may fairly assume, in times very nearly proportional, the Vedas must have been written about 300 years before these Institutes, and about 600 before the Puranas and Itihasas, which, I am fully convinced, were not the productions of VYA'sa; so that, if the son of PARA SARA committed the traditional Vedas to writing in the Sanscrit of his father's time, the original of this book must have received its present form about 880 years before CHRIST's birth. If the texts, indeed, which VYA'SA collected, had been actually written, in a much older dialect, by the sages preceding him, we must inquire into the greatest possible age of the Vedas themselves: now one of the longest and finest Upanishads in the second Véda contains three lists, in a regular series upwards, of at most forty-two pupils and preceptors, who successively received and transmitted (probably by oral tradition) the doctrines contained in that Upanishad; and as the old Indian priests were students at fifteen, and instructors at twenty-five, we cannot allow more than ten years, on an average, for each interval between the respective traditions ; whence, as there are forty such intervals, in two of the lists, between VYA'sa, who arranged the whole work, and Aya'sa, who is extolled at the beginning of it, and just as many, in the third list, between the compiler and YA'JNYAWALCYA, who makes the principal figure in it, we find the highest age of the Yajur Véda to be 1580 years before the birth of our Saviour, (which would make it older than the five books of Moses) and that of our Indian law tract about 1280 years before the same epoch. The former date, however, seems the more probable of the two, because the Hindu sages are said to have delivered their knowledge orally, and the very word Sruta, which we often see used for the Veda itself, means what was heard ; not to insist, that CULLU'ca expressly declares the sense of the Véda to be conveyed in the language of VYA'sa. Whether MENU or MENUS in the nominative and Meno's in an oblique case, was the same personage with Minos, let others determine ; but he must indubitably have been far older than the work, which contains his laws, and, though perhaps he was never in Crete, yet some of his institutions may well have been adopted in that island, whence LYCURGUS, a century or two afterwards, may have imported them to Sparta.

There is certainly a strong resemblance, though obscured and faded by time, between our MENU with his divine Bull, whom he names as DHERMA himself, or the genius of abstract justice, and the MNEUES of Egypt with his companion or symbol, Apis; and, though we should be constantly on our guard against the delusion of etymological conjecture, yet we cannot but admit that Minos and MNEUES, or Mneuis, have only Greek terminations, but that the crude noun is composed of the same radical letters both in Greek and in Sanscrit.

« That APIs and MNEUIS," says the Analyst of ancient Mythology, “were both representations of some personage, appears from the testimony of LYCOPHRON and his scholiast; and that personage was the same, who in Crete was styled Minos, and who was also represented under the emblem of the Minotaur: DIODORUS, who confines him to Egypt, speaks of him by the title of the bull Mneuis, as the first lawgiver, and says, 'That he lived after the age of the gods and heroes, when a change was made in the manner of life among men ; that he was a man of a most exalted soul, and a great promoter of civil society, which he benefited by his laws; and those laws were unwritten, and received by him from the chief Egyptian deity HERMES, who conferred them on the world as a gift of the highest importance. He was the same," adds my learned friend, “with MENES, whom the Egyptians represented as their first king and principal benefactor, who first sacrificed to the gods, and brought about a great change in diet.” If MINOS, the son of JUPITER, whom the Cretans, from national vanity, might have made a native of their own island, was really the same person with MENU, the son of BRAHMA', we have the good fortune to restore, by means of Indian literature, the most celebrated system of heathen jurisprudence, and this work might have been entitled The Laws of Minos; but the paradox is too singular to be confidently asserted, and the geographical part of the book, with most of the allusions to natural history, must indubitably have been written after the Hindu race had settled to the south of Himalaya. We cannot but remark that the word MENU has no relation whatever to the Moon; and that it was the seventh, not the first, of that name, whom the Bráhmens believe to have been preserved in an ark from the general deluge: him they call the Child of the Sun, to distinguish him from our legislator; but they assign to his brother Yama the office (which the Greeks were pleased to confer on Minos) of Judge in the shades below.

The name of MENU is clearly derived (like menes, mens, and mind) from the root men to understand; and it signifies, as all the Pandits agree, intelligent, particularly in the doctrines of the Veda, which the composer of our Dherma

« PreviousContinue »