« PreviousContinue »
SIR WILLIAM JONES.
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 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 Paraʼsara 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 super, natural 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