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The close of this year is marked with an occurrence, which probably had a material influence on the determination of his future pursuits. From a motive of mere curiosity, he was prompted to peruse the little treatise of Fortescue, in praise of the Laws of England; and, although he was more diverted with the simplicity of the Latin style, than attracted by the subject, he felt so much interest in the work, as to study it with considerable attention. In the course of the reflections which it excited, he was naturally led to a comparison of the laws of England with those of other countries, and he marked with delight their uncontroverted claim to superiority over the laws of every other state, ancient or modern. Of this fact he acknowledged that he had never before entertained an idea. He was now qualified to appreciate with more accuracy, the merits and defects of the republican system of Greece and Rome, for which he had adopted a strong partiality, natural to an enthusiastic admirer of the orators and poets of those celebrated nations; and to examine their jurisprudence by a standard of comparison, which impressed his mind with a decided reverence for the institutions of his own country. He was not, however, regardless of the deviations in practice from the theoretical perfection of the constitution in the contested election, of which he was an unwilling spectator.
From Althorpe he removed, in the spring of 1768, to Wimbledon, where he received a proposal from Mr. Sutton, then Under-Secretary to the Duke of Grafton, the account of which I shall relate nearly in his own words*.
The King of Denmark, then upon a visit to this country, had brought with him an eastern manuscript, containing the life of Nadir Shah, which he was desirous of having translated in England.
* Introduction to the History of the Life of Nadir Shah. Works, vol, v. p. 531,
The Secretary of State with whom the Danish minister had conversed upon the subject, sent the volume to Mr. Jones, requesting him to give a literal translation of it in the French language; but he wholly declined the task, alleging for his excuse, the dryness of the subject, the difficulty of the style, and chiefly his want both of Jeisure and ability, to enter upon an undertaking so fruitless and laborious. He mentioned, however, a gentleman, with whom he was not then acquainted, but who had distinguished himself by the translation of a Persian history, and some popular tales from the Persic, as capable of gratifying the wishes of his Danish Majesty. Major Dow, the writer alluded to, excused himself on account of his numerous engagements, and the application to Mr. Jones was renewed. It was hinted, that his compliance 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 describe the life of a conqueror; and to appear in public as an author, before a maturity of judgment had made him 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 jealousy 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, he 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 Denmark, 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 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 rio means of amending by the collation of different 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, interesting 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 Tunbridge, 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 * See Works, vol. v. Preface.
beginning to learn music; and, having made choice of the Welch harr, 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 minister 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 * Appendix, No. 1.