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have any partnership with the Eastern Muses, I must absolutely renounce their acquaintance for ten or twelve years to come.”
Sir William Jones was not a poet; he had the poetic taste, but not the vision and the faculty divine, not the creative gift, or the soaring sweep of the poet's imagination. But an accomplished student of polite letters, he wrote with ease and elegance, and his translations are admirably executed. From a volume which he published in 1772 I quote a few stanzas, “A Persian Song of Hafiz,” the
A smoothness of which not unfairly represents the liquid fluency of the original :
“Sweet maid, if thou wouldst charm my sight,
Than all the gems of Samarcand.
And talk of odours, talk of wine,
“Go boldly forth, my simple lay,
This is very graceful, though it is a paraphrase rather than a translation. As an original writer, little of Jones's poetry is now read or remembered; but in one of his lyrics he strikes an unusually elevated note, and exhibits a considerable power of condensed thought. I refer to the “Ode, in imitation of Alcæus:"
“ What constitutes a State ?
Thick wall or moated gate ;
Not bays and broad armed ports,
Not starred and spangled courts,
No; men, high-minded men,
In forest, brake, or den,
Men who their duties know,
Prevent the long-aimed blow,
These constitute a State ;
O'er thrones and globes elate
Smit by her sacred frown,
And even the all-dazzling crown
* A happy line, which has become familiar as household words,
“Such was this heaven-loved isle,
No more shall Freedom smile ?
Since all must life resign,
'Tis folly to decline,
For a few months after he was called to the bar Mr. Jones did not seek to practise, from an idea, it is supposed, that he had not sufficiently mastered the principles of jurisprudence. For he took as comprehensive a view of the study of law as he had taken of his other and lighter studies; and, regarding it as a science, proceeded to investigate it with scientific method, comparing the legal systems of ancient times with those of modern Europe, all of which he carefully examined and compared. In a wider and deeper sense than usually attaches to the words, he was “ learned in the law " when he began his regular attendance at Westminster Hall in 1775. His remarkable acquirements and high character secured him a very easy promotion; for in the following year, Lord Chancellor Bathurst, unsolicited by Jones himself, and uninfluenced by any friend, presented him to a commissionership of bankruptcy, he dedicating to his patron bis translation of “Isæus” (1778). Jones says :
“I cannot let slip this opportunity of informing the publicwho have hitherto indulgently approved and encouraged my labours—that although I have received many signal marks of friendship from a number of illustrious persons, to whose favours I can never proportion my thanks, yet your Lordship has been my greatest, my only benefactor; that, without any solicitation, or even request, on my part, you gave me a substantial and permanent token of regard, which you rendered still more valu
able by your obliging manner of giving it, and which has been literally the sole fruit that I have gathered from an incessant course of very painful toil.”
His noble Alcaic Ode shows that he was animated by a wise and genuine spirit of patriotism; and though he did not interfere actively in political life, his sympathies were all with the cause of enlightenment and progress. He was strongly opposed to the American war, and lifted his voice in favour of the abolition of the slave trade. He appears to have contemplated for himself in the future a parliamentary career, under such circumstances, however, as should secure his independence. His ambition was as high-toned as his character; and it was not personal advancement he sought, but the means and opportunity of contributing to the public welfare. Writing to his old pupil, Lord Althorpe, in 1778, he says — : “I wish to have twenty thousand pounds in my pocket before I am eight-and-thirty years old, and then I might contribute in some degree towards the service of my country in Parliament, as well as at the bar, without selling my liberty to a patron, as too many of my profession are not ashamed of doing; and I might be a speaker in the House of Commons in the full vigour and maturity of my age. It happened, however, that a different channel was opened up to him for the suitable employment of his abilities. His acquirements as an Oriental linguist and a lawyer pointed him out as a man eminently fitted to adorn the Indian judicature; and in 1783, during the Administration of the Earl of Shelbourne, he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court
* It was about this time that he published his “ Essay on the Law of Bailments," of which lawyers still speak highly. He also issued a pamphlet in favour of Parliamentary reform.
at Fort William (Calcutta), in Bengal. This appointment enabled him to offer his hand to a lady who had long enjoyed his esteem and affection, Miss Shipley, the eldest daughter of his friend the Bishop of St. Asaph.
Accompanied by his wife, Sir William Jones—he had received the honour of knighthood as the necessary appanage of the judicial office—embarked for India in April, 1773. On the voyage he addressed a letter to Lord Ashburton, to whose influence he owed his promotion :
“ As to you, my dear Lord,” he said, “ we consider you as the spring and fountain of our happiness, as the author and parent (a Roman would have added—what the coldness of our northern language will hardly admit—the god) of our fortunes. It is possible, indeed, that, by incessant labour and irksome attendance at the bar, I might in due time have attained all that my limited ambition could aspire to; but in no other station than that which I owe to your friendship would I have gratified at once my boundless curiosity concerning the people of the East, continued the exercise of my profession, in which I sincerely delight, and enjoyed at the same time the comforts of domestic life.
“The grand jury of the county of Denbigh have proved, I understand, the bill against the Dean of St. Asaph for publishing my Dialogue ;* but as an indictment for a theoretical essay on government was, I believe, never before known, I have no apprehension for the consequences. As to the doctrines of the tract, though I shall certainly not preach them to the Indians, who must and will be governed by absolute power, yet I shall go through life with a persuasion that they are just and
* He had written a tract entitled "A Dialogue between a Farmer and a Country Gentleman on the Principles of Government,” of which the Dean of St. Asaph published a Welsh edition,