Page images
PDF
EPUB

now trace with the melancholy recollection, that the friend whoia I loved, and whose virtues I admired, is no more.

The introduction of the unvarnished tale of his respectable Hindu friend, is a proof of that kindness and sensibility, which he ever felt for distressed merit. It is superfluous to add, what the reader will have anticipated, that the disposition to relieve his wants was not suffered to evaporate in mere profession.

In the midst of his public duties and literary employments, political speculations had but little share of his attention; yet the sentiments which he occasionally expresses on this subject, do honour to his heart, and prove that the welfare of his country was always nearest to it.

The hope with which he flatters himself, that his constitution had overcome the climate, was unfortunately ill-founded; few months elapsed without his suffering from the effects of it, and every attack had a tendency to weaken the vigour of his frame.

Among other literary designs which he meditated, he mentions the plan of an epic poem. It was founded on the same story which he had originally selected for a composition of the same nature in his twenty-second year, the discovery of England by Brutus ; but his acquaintance with Hindu mythology had suggested to him the addition of a machinery perfectly new, by the introduction of the agency of the Hindu "deities; and however wild or extravagant the fiction may appear, the discordancy may be easily reconciled by the actual subjection of Hindustan to the British dominion, poetically visible to the guardian angels of that country. The first hint of this poem, was not suggested by the example of Pope, but by a passage in a letter of Spenser to Sir Walter Raleigh*;

* Appendix A.

it is evident however, that Sir William Jones was not disposed to abandon the execution of his purpose by the strictures or" Dr. Johnson, on Pope's intended poem, and that, in more open defiance of the critic's opinion, he determined to write it in blank verse, although he originally proposed to adopt the heroic measure in rhyme. I should have been happy to gratify the curiosity of my readers with his reasons for this determination, but they do not appear.

Notwithstanding all that might have been expected from the genius, taste, and erudition of Sir William Jones on a subject like this, I cannot, for my own part, lament the application of his time and labour to other studies, calculated to instruct as well as to delight the public; we have far more reason to lament, that he did not live to return to his native country through Persia, and that we have lost for ever that information which would have been supplied by his researches and observations during the journey. The strength of a constitution, never vigorous, was unequal to the incessant exertion of his mental faculties: and whilst we admire the boundless activity of his mind, we anticipate with sorrow its fatal effects upon his health.

I have frequently remarked, that it was the prevailing wish of Sir William Jones to render his talents and attainments useful to his country. The tenour of his correspondence shews, that his principal studies were directed to this object; and nearly two years preceding the period at which I am arrived, he describes the mode in which he proposes to give effect to his wishes, and expresses his determination to accomplish it, with an energy which marks his sense of the importance of the work he then meditated.

V

R R Having

[graphic]

Having now qualified himself, by his knowledge of the Sanscrit and Hindu laws, for the execution of lus plan, he determined to delay it no longer; and as he could not prudently defray the expense of the undertaking from his own finances, he deemed it proper to apply to the government of Bengal for their assistance. The following letter which he addressed to the Governor-General, Lord Cornwallis, on this subject, contains all the explanations necessary.

My LOftr>r

It has long been my wish to address the government of the British dominions in India on the administration of justice among the natives of Bengal and Bahar, a subject of equal importance to the appellate jurisdiction of the supreme court at Calcutta, where the judges are required by the legislature to decide controversies between Hindu and Mohammedan parties, according to their respective laws of contracts, and of succession to property;. they had, I believe, so decided themr in most cases before the statute to which I allude, had passed; and the parliament only confirmed that mode of decision, which the obvious principles of justice had led them before to adopt. Nothing indeed could be more obviously just, than to determine private contests according to those Iaws> which the parties themselves had ever considered as the rules of their conduct and engagements in civil life; nor could any thing be wiser, than, by a legislative act, to assure the Hindu and Mussulman subjects of Great Britian, that the private laws which they severally held sacred, and a violation of which they would have thought the most grievous oppression, should not be superseded by a new system ©f which they could haveno knowledge, and which they must have considered as imposed on them by a spirit of rigour and intolerance..

So.

So far the principle of decision between the native parties in a cause appears perfectly clear; but the difficulty lies (as in most other cases) in the application of the principle to practice; for, the Hindu and Mussulman laws are locked up for the most part in two very difficult languages, Sanscrit and Arabic, which few Europeans will ever learn, because neither of them leads to any advantage in worldly pursuits: and if we give judgment only from the opinions of the native lawyers and scholars, we can never be sure, that we have not been deceived by them.

It would be absurd and unjust to pass an indiscriminate censure on so considerable a body of men; but my experience justifies me in declaring, that I could not with an easy conscience concur in a decision, merely on the written opinion of native lawyers, in any cause in which they could have the remotest interest in misleading the court; nor, how vigilant soever we might be, would it be very difficult for them to mislead us; for a single obscure text, explained by themselves, might be quoted as express authority, though perhaps in the very book from which it was selected, it might be differently explained or introduced only for the purpose of being exploded. The obvious remedy for this evil had occurred to me before left I England, where I had communicated my sentiments to some friends in parliament, and on the bench in Westminster-Hall, of whose discernment I had the highest opinion: and those sentiments I propose to unfold in this letter, with as much brevity as the magnitude of the subject will admit.

If we had a complete digest of Hindu and Mohammedan laws, after the model of Justinian's inestimable pandects, compiled by the most leamed of the native lawyers, with an accurate verbal translation of it into English; and if copies of the work were deposited sited in the proper offices of the Sedr Pivani Adaulat *, and of the* supreme court, that they might occasionally be consulted as & standard of justice, we should rarely be at a loss for principles at least, and rules of law applicable to tKe cases before usj and should never perhaps be led astray by the pundits or maulavis, who would hardly venture to impose on us, when their imposition might so easily be detected. The great work, of which Justinian has the credit, consists of texts collected from law books of approved authority, which in his time were extant at Rome, and those texts are digested according to a scientifical analysis; the names of the original authors, and the titles of their several. books, being. constantly cited with references even to the parts of their works, from which the different passages were selected: but although it comprehends the whole system of jurisprudence, public, private, and criminal, yet that vast compilation was finished, we are told, in three years; it bears marks unquestionably of great precipitation, and of a desire to gratify the Emperor by quickness of dispatch; but with all its imperfections, it is a most valuable mine of judicial knowledge, it gives law at this hour to the greatest part of Europe, and, though few English lawyers dare make such an acknowledgement, it is the true source of nearly all our English laws, that are not of a feudal origin. It would not be unworthy of a British -government, to give the natives of these Indian provinces a permanent security for the due administration of justice among them, similar to that which Justinian gave to his Greek and Roman subjects: but our compilation would. require far less labour, and might be completed with far greater exactness in as short a time, since it would be confined to the laws of contracts and inheritances, which are of the most extensive use in private life, and to which the legislature has limited the decisions of the supreme

* The court of appeals in civil suits.

court

« PreviousContinue »