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Art. X.—Oriental Historical Manuscripts in the Tamil Language, translated with Annotations. By William Taylor, Missionary. In Two Volumes, 4to. Madras, 1835.
We hail the appearance of these volumes; for, meagre and unsatisfactory as some portion of their contents may be found by those who are anxious for complete elucidation on the mystical subject of Indian History, Geography, and Religion; and vague, as much of what actually appears obviously is, to even the most ardent of believers; and inconclusive, consequently, as the deductions must be in the hands of the most profound thinkers and most elaborate scholars; still, so much of indication as regards the unknown points is thrown up amongst the mass of matter here presented to us, we regret to add in a most confused and undigested form, that, with all the objections which the most careless or the most sceptical reader may be disposed to raise, there is unquestionably a vast deal of information to be gathered from these volumes. Yet our critical duty obliges us to confess that the faults we have pointed out, and some others also, render the work far less important and interesting than we had a right to expect from the skill of the author in the language he translates, and from his sacred character, with its supposed consequent biblical knowledge.
In truth the utter confusion of ideas, incident probably to the very nature of his subject, and the absence of any index or table of contents in a work so complicated, and so often referring in one portion to another for comparative passages, render the task of the reader difficult, that of the reviewer almost hopeless. In coming forward to supply the intimated omissions of Professor H. H. Wilson's Historical Summary and Descriptive Catalogue of the MSS. collected by the late Colonel Mackenzie, Mr. Taylor seems to consider that his readers must necessarily be acquainted with this work; and, with unpardonable remissness, he has so treated, or rather maltreated, his subject, as to render the professor's volumes indispensable for even a tolerable apprehension of his own. In the incessantly insinuated blame, therefore, of which he is lavish towards his learned and able predecessor, we discover nothing of the candour that ought to distinguish a gentleman, a disputant, a Christian, and a missionary. Nor does the Sanscrit professor stand alone in this category of Mr. Taylor's wrath ; he is accompanied in that disastrous predicament by other names; but they are less likely to throw off the dew-drops of our missionary's tender mercies; not only from their inferior ability, and the absence, in some at least, of that high reputation which so justly distinguishes the Sanscrit professor, but also because, while he is living and can disdain it, others have descended to that tomb which is generally considered to cover the errors and disarm the malice of mankind. In the name of humanity we lift our voice against this system; in the name of Christian charity we protest against the man who flings the corpse of his brethren as a feast to the dog and the crow, and makes his religion the pretext for raking up the dead, and scattering their ashes as a sacrifice to the breath of heaven.:
To the volumes of Professor Wilson then we must turn for something of order and arrangement; and, though the view therein taken of the MSS. themselves is not so complete as we could have wished it, nor the elucidations derivable from them so ample as we could have expected from the mind that has recently illustrated the calumniated Ctesias; yet the learned author has certainly assisted his readers to comprehend their historical tendency, and conceive their historical value. He has not, that we can perceive, in any case decried their importance; and though, from other avocations and various causes, the notices he has given are, to a degree, imperfect; still we ourselves can find nothing of that superficial scorn which some professed Oriental scholars exhibit upon matters seen for the first time; and for which, we confess, we were in the present case fully but wrongfully prepared by Mr. Taylor's allusions. The Professor's is an honest as well as an able summary, such as might be expected from the man.
To an inquiring mind, the subject of India will suggest a series of doubts and incertitudes. The mystery in which all that is known is veiled, and the still greater mystery that shrouds the unknown ;—the fact, not merely of a vacuum in her history, but of a positive cloud supplying its place; refracting the scanty rays of light that scattered records afford, through an atmosphere that is fatal to the breath of history, and that enlarges the few forms appearing through its medium into gigantic proportions, evidently false and impossible: the anomaly of a literature without records; and of a language utterly unintelligible to the mass of natives of those countries in every age; all these are sources not merely of doubt but distrust. Suspicion will ever awake at mystery; for what in such cases is mystery but concealment? and what is that concealment but silent falsehood? If no historical records existed, whence came the fables? If they did exist, why came the fables? The Brahmins could not believe what they disbelieved; namely, the falsehoods they themselves avowedly framed for the vulgar. As little could they have disbelieved what they believed and knew, i.e. the events of their own times. How is it then that the truths have vanished and the errors remain ?—that, while science and literature were cultivated and preserved, record was neglected and left to perish? the very records, too, the sole support of their claims to antiquity! Did they then contradict the claim 1 In every other country where the ignorance of new occupants, or the arrogant vanity of despots, destroyed confessedly the ancient monuments, it was in order that the actual dynasty might be deemed the original, or the actual usurpation be held alone worth recording. Are not these the two horns of the Brahmin dilemma?
But, we are told, their language, the Sanscrit, is a proof of their antiquity. It is certainly a proof of its own, so far as it exists, or existed, in antiquity; but no further, that we can see: nor even is this a proof in favour of its professors, unless it can be shown that the present Brahmins are an uninterrupted descent, and their legends a carmen perpetuum, primaque aborigine mundi ad tempora nostra—a presumption which they themselves, as we shall find, contradict in the former part at least. Even without any contradiction of theirs, the fact that they hold to, and cannot explain, their own mythoi, is to us a sufficient refutation of their asserted descent in integrity. But even their boasted language confessedly brings no proof of its own existence much beyond 3000 years. How then can it evidence for others what it cannot for itself? Paul may answer for Peter, but who shall answer for Paul?
Some writers, it is true, have noticed in ancient remains a few, a very few words, which they refer to this language of the Brahmins; but, since those words all exist in the Zend, Hebrew, and other confessedly oldest tongues, in a nearer and ruder form, they can be no evidence of a Sanscrit origin, and, consequently, no proof that the Sanscrit was formed at that early period. We may grant the Brahmins their pretended origin at Mount Meru; yet this only shows that they migrated from the West, as Langles, Klaproth, Rask, Kennedy, &c. &c. conceived: but we cannot grant the pretended date of that origin, for it is monstrous beyond all possibility, and the lowest calculation even has been generally held incredible. Let us observe, too, that the Phrygian and Greek languages were formed long before the Sanscrit was known to exist, so far as we have proofs; till then the Brahmins can establish their westward migration, we have no right, it appears to us, to give their grammatical system the priority over the Greek; but, on the contrary, have every reason to assign or suspect, with Gibbon, the former (in part at least) attributable to the Bactrian successors of Alexander. But we assert distinctly that, while no evidence appears to prove the westward migration of these sages, we have no ground to embrace the conjecture of that unkuown and unimaginable migration, and by men who, if settled and civilized to such a degree, would scarcely have wandered so far as Greece. On the other hand, there are historical proofs of Zend and other migrations to that country and vicinity.
We must add a few words on the other anomaly we have alluded to;—the existence of a dialect unknown to the vulgar. We may be answered with Hieratic and Demotic Egypt, Chaldasan Assyria, Zendic Persia, Bali India, &c. &c. &c. Of the first we know nothing yet; or, if any thing.it supports and proves our argument: of the rest, will any one assert that they have never formed a dialect of a spoken or vulgar tongue? These languages, too, have been motive, the Sanscrit, as is affirmed, stationary; their religious systems have altered, her's is unchanged in the land of her nativity; yet who use the latter tongue? Those only who are interested in maintaining the delusion, which gives them power, riches, influence, sanctity, adoration from man, and beatitude in divine essence.
We are far from undervaluing what we possess of Sanscrit literature. In truth, it is its very variety and perfection that makes us ask for more, and that renders us sceptical as to its confined historical range. A single and indifferent history of a single distant province has alone been brought to light; and it seems to us impossible that the most civilized sages of the East should have been able to carry their intellectual labours to so high a pitch of excellence in other departments, and yet have been so ignorant as to overlook the very basis on which their pretensions must be founded. This, too, must have been any thing but accidental or ignorantly done, since the bordering civilized nations adopted the opposite course: an obvious example and reproach. China and Persia, and even Tatary, had their records> while the Brahmin was satisfied to rest his illumination on ignorance. With ruder nations, war and accident might destroy whatever relics, if any, they possessed of antiquity. We have in a previous Number (XXXV. p. 125 & 127) hinted at some points of resemblance between the Arabic and Sanscrit formations. In the similar, and, we suspect at least equally groundless, claim to remote antiquity, the analogy is sustained; and it is strengthened by the fact, that the oldest Arabic falls even short of the Sanscrit in its proofs, which do not extend to near 3000 years. The vacuum in Arabian history, therefore, is even greater than in the Sanscrit; but the causes we must defer investigating here.
Yet, while the literature of the Brahmins has thus apparently shunned all historical detail, their ancient epic poems have not been equally cautious. Through the extravagance and inflation of these accounts some points are distinctly visible, which obviously refer to actual events, and which correspond in the main with portions of other national records or traditions. But where, as in the Mahabharata, men are exalted to spirits and gods, or degraded to beasts and monkeys, the most timorous fugitive from truth might rest safe and contented in the darkness; since even the few gleams of light that could penetrate thither are separated by the prism of genius, and distorted and resolved into mere rainbow imaginings. The historian might be discouraged or silenced; the poet could not be controlled. The ignorance and restless fears of the human mind had already woven from the dry and unpromising thread of numbers the wild-floating veil of magical incantations and phantasies; converting calculation itself into a vague, superstitious dream, and finding in the coldest reality the fittest source for unsubstantial forms and phantasmaic terrors. The science of the Nabathaean, early perverted, and sunk to mere dexterity in Egypt, had blended with Persian mysticism, and perhaps also with Western speculation: the poet seized the realm which philosophy was slowly discovering, peopled it at once with his own creations, till nature and magic, forms and spirits, substance or essence, instruments, birds, fish, animals, man, genii, deities, and even the Godhead, moved, at the sound of his voice alone, to bewilder and enchant the bosom of his auditory. With such a power even despotism, that strongest despotism, of religion, could nothing avail. The Metternich of Brahminism, therefore, bowed down before circumstance, and, like his modern and living type, what he could not control he converted to his own purpose.
From the hopelessness of such historical monuments it is a relief to turn, and seek at whatever cost, and with whatever labour and patience, for more detailed and more authentic sources of information in other quarters. The task must be long, and may, perhaps, be fruitless; but we are not of those who deem the broken threads of antiquity irrecoverable, or remain content with despair in preference to examination. We cannot, amidst unexplored libraries and unsought MSS., consent to believe that all traces are lost and perished, because they are not obtruded on the eye; or that the connected succession of events, that stamped the East with their living traces, are now vanished and must be for ever a mystery, whilst so many documents are unknown, and whilst even the historical treasures we possess remain uncompared, or at best collated imperfectly. When, as in the case before us, fresh materials are offered, to embrace them without examination is neither more nor less unreasonable than to reject them in the same summary mode. If they supply statements merely, such may be considered, and confronted with others from other channels; the collation may elicit agreement or uniformity, thus form