« PreviousContinue »
pliance 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, The 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 on him by the law of justice and gratitude to point out, 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.' P. 39.
To the value of these high and flattering honours our ingenuous translator could not be insensible; but whether, unaccompanied as we yet believe them to have been with more solid proofs of esteem, they were altogether sufficient, in the estimation of the translator himself, to repay him for the labour of a whole twelvemonth upon a subject on many accounts irksome to him, his biographer does not undertake to inform us; we therefore, influenced by the same profound respect for royal patrons as himself, shall not venture a suggestion. Money, however, is what he expressly declared he did not wish for; but he certainly aspired at some profitable as well as honorary marks of royal approbation.
It was about this time that he became acquainted with the baron Reviczki, a name dear to every lover of oriental literature, who was now in England in the character of Imperial ambassador; and who, in consequence of a former diplomatic engagement at Constantinople, had acquired a correct knowledge of Persian, Arabic, and Turkish. The acquaintance was soon converted into a close and durable friendship, and appears to have been productive of as much literary utility to Mr. Jones as it was of private pleasure. The letters which passed between them were numerous, and many of them are preserved in the volume before us they are chiefly upon oriental subjects, and highly as well as mutually, complimentary. The greater part of those which are furnished by Mr. Jones are written from situations calculated, as one would suppose, to afford him other topics of intercourse than oriental poetry; for they are dated from different parts of Italy, France, and Germany, during a tour over the continent in company with the family of his noble pupil; yet we have scarcely the slightest observation on the nature of the countries through which he passed, or on the customs and characters of the different manifests nations: all is oriental literature, every passage an intolerable listlessness to the beautiful scenery by which he must of necessity have been often surrounded, and a long and unceasing desire to return to the dark and dusty retreat of the Bodleian library.
His friends, however, were not satisfied with his pursuits; they were not satisfied with the narrow sphere to which, as tutor in a family, his splendid and commanding talents were circumscribed: they wished to behold him abandon the unprofitable haunts of the Persian muses for a lucrative proission, and to exchange the contracted employments of a private tutor for the high road of public honour. The law was seriously proposed and pressed upon him, and he at Jength acquiesced. Yet he acquiesced with reluctance: and
his feelings are thus freely unbosomed to his confidential friend Reviczki in a letter written to him at this period.
On my late return to England I found myself entangled, as it were, in a variety of important considerations. My friends, companions, relations, all attacked me with urgent solicitations to banish poetry and oriental literature for a time, and apply myself to oratory and the study of the law; in other words, to become a barrister, and pursue the track of ambition. Their advice in truth was conformable to my own inclinations; for the only road to the highest stations in this country is that of the law, and I need not add how ambitious and laborious I am. Behold me then become a lawyer, and expect in future that my correspondence will have somewhat more of public business in it. But if ever it should be my fortune to have any share in administration, you shall be my Atticus, the partner of my plans, the confidant of my secrets. Do not, however, suppose that I have altogether renounced polite literature. I intend shortly to publish my English poems; and I mean to bring my tragedy of Soliman on the stage, when I can find proper actors for the performance of it. I intend also composing an epic poem, on a noble subject, under the title of Britanneis; but this I must defer until I have more leisure, with some degree of independence. In the mean time I amuse myself with the choicest of the Persian poets; and I have the good fortune to possess many manuscripts, which I have either purchased or borrowed from my friends, on various subjects, including history, philosophy, and some of the most celebrated poetry of Persia,' P. 92.
In another letter to the same correspondent, written three quarters of a year afterwards, we find him thus equally a prey to his passion for oriental studies.
What news from Turkey? no mention of peace? Whenever the war with Russia is at an end, I propose making an open and direct application for the office of minister at Constantinople; at present I can only privately whisper my wishes. The king is very well disposed towards me; so perhaps are the men in power; and the Turkish Company wish much to oblige me: all that I have to apprehend is the appearance of some powerful competitor, who may drive me off the stage. If I should succeed in my wishes, how shall I bound for joy! First, I shall enjoy your company at Vienna, then I shall drink deep of Asiatic literature, and shall explore the Turkish manners in their most hidden sources. If I am disappointed, philosophy remains: the bar is open, and I shall not, I trust, want employment; for the harvest of litigation is always abundant. I shall apply to the study of eloquence, to poetry, history, and philosophy; each of which, if properly cultivated, would occupy a complete life of
"Such men as live in these degenerate days."
I could say much more, but I yield to the imperious summons (not of Proserpine I hope, but) of the goddess, if there be one, who presides over our tribunals'. P. 101.
It was to some such mark of honourable distinction as is here referred to that we believe Mr. Jones had his eye directed when he requested it might be communicated to his majesty of Denmark, that it was not a pecuniary recompence of which he was by any means solicitous, as a reward for his translation of Mirza's Life of Nadir Shah. He had all the hopes and confidence of an ingenuous young man, and, like too many of the same age and disposition, he soon found them terminate in disappointment. We know that the public thought him ill used on this occasion; and from the views and wishes of his heart, thus openly developed to his most intimate friend, he appears to have thought the same himself, although he had prudence enough to restrain his chagrin within his own bosom. The talents of Mr. Jones would soon have qualified him for any post to which the favour of government might have appointed him: yet, if, from his not having studied diplomacy as a distinct profession, he was not conceived altogether competent to take the lead in the embassy in question, he might at least have been very advantageously employed as secretary, which would just as well have answered his purpose, and sufficiently gra
tified his ambition.
In the mean time he persevered in his legal studies; and in April, 1772, was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, to which, however, it does not appear that he ever contributed any literary production; and in the Easter term of the en-suing year took his master's degree at Oxford. Having already published, and with much typographic elegance, his Persian Grammar, a book that reflects equal credit on his taste and judgment; on his taste in selecting those exquisite examples with which it is enriched, and on his judgment in systematizing the Persian language by a plan to which, from having early studied it, we may perhaps be too partial, but which we cannot cease to regard as occupying the just mean between the diffuseness of Mr. Gladwin and the unsatisfactory simplicity of Mr. Gilchrist; he now introduced to the public his Commentaries on Asiatic Poetry, which left the press in 1774, and were dedicated to his alma mater, "This work," observes lord Teignmouth in a character of it which it is impossible to do otherwise than approve,
was received with admiration and applause by the oriental scholars of Europe in general, as well as by the learned of his own country. It was perhaps the first publication on Eastern literature which had an equal claim to elegance and erudition. This work was begun by Mr. Jones in 1766, and finished in 1769, when he was in his twenty-third year; but with the same solicitude which he had exhibited on other occasions to lay his compositions before the public i
the greatest possible perfection, he had repeatedly submitted the ma nuscript to the examination and critical remarks of his learned friends. Their approbation of it was liberal and general; but the opinion of Dr. Parr on any subject of literature is decisive, and I select from a letter, which he wrote to Mr, Jones in 1769, some passages, in which he expresses his admiration of the work.' P. 112.
In these passages the learned writer, at the same time that he pays the highest compliments to the author of the Commentaries, performs the better office of pointing out a few defects which blemished their style, and which, as the letter was received some time previous to their being sent to the press, were amply amended before an appeal was made to the tribunal of the public.
At the conclusion of the Commentaries, we find an elegant address to the Muse, in which Mr. Jones expresses his determination to renounce polite literature, and devote himself entirely to the study of the law. He was called to the bar in January 1774, and had discovered, as he writes to an intimate friend, that the law was a jealous science, and would admit no partnership with the Eastern muses. To this determination he appears to have inflexibly adhered for some years, notwithstanding the friendly remonstrances and flattering invit ations of his learned correspondents. He had about this time an intention of publishing the mathematical works of his father, and with this view circulated proposals; but, for what reason I know not, he abandoned it.' P. 117.
Though called at this period to the bar, he declined practising; "he seems," continues his biographer,
to have been fully sensible of the necessity of devoting himself exclusively to his legal studies. The ambition of obtaining distinction in his profession could not fail to animate a mind always ardent in the pursuit of the objects which it had in view; nor was he of a temper to be satisfied with mediocrity, where perfection was attainable. His researches and studies were not confined to any one branch of jurisprudence, but embraced the whole in its fullest extent. He compared the doctrines and principles of ancient legislators with the later improvements in the science of law; he collated the various codes of the different states of Europe, and collected professional knowledge wherever it was to be found. If the reader recollects the enthusiasm displayed by Mr, Jones in the prosecution of his Oriental studies, the extent and depth of his attainments in the literature of Asia, and the high reputation which he had acquired from them, he will readily applaud his resolu tion and perseverance in renouncing his favourite pursuits. That he acted wisely will be admitted; but the sacrifice of inclination to duty affords an example of too great use and importance to pass without particular observation.
In 1775, for the first time, he attended the spring circuit and sessions at Oxford; but whether as a spectator, or actor, on that occas