Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sauce for the gander: Just what did Macaulay read?

In the comments, CIP remarked:
I try not to have opinions on books I haven't read at least a little of.
Excellent point.  Macaulay had an opinion of an entire literature.  Actually, more than one literature, because he commented on both Sanskrit and Arabic in his infamous minute of 1835.
I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed, both here and at home, with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.
Fine, Macaulay claims to have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanskrit works, and all seems well.  The question arises, which translations of which works?  

As per Wiki, Macaulay knew English, Greek, Latin, French, German, Dutch and Spanish.  So the question arises, which translations of the celebrated Arabic and Sanskrit works might have been available to him in any of these languages, on or before 1835?

As an example, let us look at the Valmiki Ramayana.  This is one of the most celebrated works in Sanskrit.  What did Macaulay read of the Valmiki Ramayana?

The earliest translation to English seems to be "The Ramayuna of Valmeeki, in the original Sungscrit, with a Prose Translation and Explanatory Notes", W. Carey and J. Marshman, 1806-10.

However! Ralph T.H. Griffith,  a translator of the Ramayana, notes in the introduction to his "Ramayan of Valmiki, translated into English verse", (I have the Benares, 1895 edition, but the work was first published in 1870) , that there are two recensions of the Valmiki Ramayana, that he calls the Bengal recension and the Benares/North-west recension.

(The North-west recension):
In the years 1805-1810 Carey and Marshman, the venerable Missionaries of Serampore, published the text and English translation of two Books and a half or about one third of the entire poem [3], but these volumes have long been out of print and unprocurable, and they  'are very inferior as productions of literary art, though no blame attaches to the excellent men who published their work in the very dawn of oriental studies'.
Footnote [3]:  'The gentlemen who compose the Committee (of the Asiatic Society of Bengal) have made choice of the Ramayan of Valmiki to be the first in the series of translations from the Sanskrit. The reverence in which it is held, the extent of country through which it is circulated, and the interesting view which it exhibits of the religion, its doctrines, the mythology, the current ideas, and the manners and customs of the Hindus, combine to justify their election', Advertisement to Carey and Marshman's edition of the Ramayan.
Chronologically, the next work mentioned by Griffith in his translation is that of Goressio, in Italian, of the Bengal recension, which appears to have been published in 10 volumes, 1843-58, which is some years after Macaulay's 1835 note.  In any case, Macaulay doesn't appear to have known Italian.  Of Goressio's work, Griffith writes:
...there is a magnificent edition by Gorresio, published at the expense of Charles Albert, late King of Sardinia.   The text is published in a style that cannot be surpassed in an [sic] country, and an Italian prose translation of the whole accompanies it 'which may be equalled but not surpassed in any other of the languages of Europe.  In his translation he has carefully preserved a Dantesque idiom and form of expression, free from all local patois; his rendering is most faithful, and his language elegent and spirited.[1]
Footnote [1]: Gorresio says: 'With regard to the merits of this work I will add nothing to the severe but just judgment passed upon it by the illustrious William von Schlegel who found it a work without skill or critical discernment, abounding in faults and worthless in every part.
Griffith then tells us:
In the year 1846 the great William von Schlegel published the text of the first two Books with a Latin translation of the first and part of the second. This edition is to some extent an eclectic one; it is founded on the North-West recension but sometimes admits passages from the Bengal recension when they are recommended by any special excellence.  This work, as Gorresio justly says, 'bears the impress of that critical acumen, of that profound judgment, of that artistic sense, for which he is so renowned'.
Again,  too late for Macaulay's minute.   Griffith next tells us of the
...late M. Hippolyte Fauche, the most intrepid and indefatigable translators from the Sanskrit, has given to the world a French version of the Gorresio's edition. Thus the Bengal recension has been translated into Italian and French; but there is no English version of either recension, and only a small part of the North-West recension has been translated into any European tongue.   This fact alone, will, I trust, be regarded as a sufficient reason or excuse for the present attempt to reproduce the Ramayan in an English dress.
That is the situation as of 1870.

If you search a bit more, you will find on the web, a mention of
English translations: by Kirtee Bass, 5 vols. Serampore 1802.
This must be the Krittibassi Ramayan written in Bengali.   And it isn't in English, the publication is in Bengali, e.g., Catalogue of Bengali printed books in the library of the British Museum, J.F. Blumhardt, 1886, lists under "Ramayana - Bengali" "The Ramayanu, a poem in five volumes, translated from the original Sangskrit, by Kirtee Bass", (the title is then given in Bengali script),  "Serampore, 1802".

Similarly, the "Catalogus Impressorum Librorum in Bibliotheca Bodleina", Volumen Tertium, M.DCCC.XLIII, lists the work as Bengali, but Serampore, 1803, rather than 1802.

This latter also mentions:
Ramayana: id est, carmen epicum de Rama rebus gestis; textum recensuit, interpr. Lat et annott. adjecit Aug. G. a Schlegal; vol I, parts I, Bonnae and Rhen, 1829.
You can find it here.  It is not a translation, it is the Sanskrit text.

And so on.  There is certainly a lot more to search through, including perhaps some mention by Macaulay somewhere of what he read.

The upshot is that perhaps Macaulay never read the Valmiki Ramayana, and if he did, it was an inferior and incomplete translation. 

PS: What about the orientalists that Macaulay might have conversed with?  That is yet more research to be done.  Amusingly I find this in Of Many Heroes": an Indian Essay in Literary Historiography, by G.N. Devy,
After half a century after Sir William Jones began his exploration of the Indian literary past, the British opinion of India's literary wealth had gone through a radical reversal.   In Britain, the Romantic revolution had come to a dead-end, the Utilitarians had taken over the task of forming public opinion, the signs of social unrest had started gaining momentum gathering themselves towards the 'sinister' Chartist Movement, and the British Government had become politically more alert to the affairs of the expanding empire.  It was in this context of social rift at home and political assertion abroad that Lord Macaulay denied the imagery of Indian literature circulated by Jones' researches.   In fact, Macaulay was not alone in this distrust of Jones' imagery of India.  James Mill, his contemporary, had no hesitation in raising doubts about Jone's Sanskrit scholarship.  Mill was convinced that though Jones had praised the Ramayana so lavishly, he had never read it. {There is a footnote that I cannot access on Google Books}
Here: (James Mill , ( 1817 ), THE HISTORY OF BRITISH INDIA. BY JAMES MILL, ESQ. , London , Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, Paternoster Row , p. 393)
Yet Sir William Jones could say, “The first poet of the Hindus was the great Valmic; and his Ramayan is an epic poem on the Story of Rama (or rather of the three Ramas,) which in unity of action, magnificence of imagery, and elegance of style, far surpasses the learned and elaborate work of Nonnus.” See Asiat. Res. i. 258. We strongly suspect that Sir William Jones never read the poem; or more of it than scraps.

PS: Wiki on Nonnus.

PPS: Via James Mill, we get to Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan: its arts and sciences, Volume 2, first published 1795-98, (I'm quoting the 1820 second edition)
I know not whether some of my readers may not be so insensible to the charms of the Indian historic muse, as to rejoice that the Ramayan has not yet been translated; for certainly, inflated accounts of the combats of giants hurling rocks, and darting huge serpents at each other, and of monsters, whose blood, spouting forth in torrents, is formed into considerable rivers, are not very consistent with the sober and dignified page of history; yet, had the Ramayan been translated, those accounts must have engrossed no inconsiderable portion of this volume.
Therefore, per Maurice, as of 1798, there was no translation of the Ramayana available.  The only Ramayana possibly available to Macaulay would be that of Carey and Marshman.