THE year 1808 may be fixed on as the year of the discovery of Sanskrit. Now what do we mean by the discovery of Sanskrit ? We mean that up to this time there had appeared to be an absolute distinction of race and sympathy between the inhabitants of Hindo-stan and the whole world of Western civilisation, when suddenly attention was drawn to a certain dead language in which were enshrined the sacred Vedas of the Brahmins, and which, though it had been dead for more than three thousand years, was obviously the direct source of all the main modern dialects of the Hindoos; and it was found that this language presented the closest and most remarkable affinities, not only to the Persian, which was conterminous with it, but even to all the main languages of Europe, from the volcanic plains of Iceland and the bleak fiords of Norway down to the sunny bays of Italy and Greece. At first this appeared so unaccountable, so absolutely incredible, so subversive of all that had hitherto been believed, that the fact was either stoutly denied, or it was asserted that any coincidences between Greek for instance and Sanskrit were simply due to a few accidental words which had got currency after the conquests of Alexander. But after the year 1808 it was impossible for any candid mind to be contented with so inadequate an explanation of the known facts. In that memorable year—which was also the year of Porson's death—Colebrooke published his edition of the Amara-kosha, Wilkins his Sanskrit Grammar, Schlegel his Essay on the Language and Wisdom of the Indians, and Prichard his work on The Varieties of the Human Race. The torch of knowledge was now well alight, and it was snatched eagerly by many hands.
The discovery of Sanskrit brought the intellect of Europe face to face with the intellect of Hindostan. Hitherto the education and culture of Europe had been almost solely Hellenistic, but now the modern world was to receive a new impulse from its contact with the grandeur, profundity, and calm of Oriental thought. The rapture of Goethe—the subtlest and most cultivated intellect of Europe—on perusing the Sakuntala, will show how little I exaggerate—
Willst du die Bluthe des fruhern, die Fruchte des spateren Jahres, Willst du was reizt und entzuckt, willst du was sattigt und nahrt,
Willst du den Himmel, die Erde mit einem Namen begreifen, Nenn' ich Sakontala dir und so ist alles gesagt.
The devotion to classical literature had, at the beginning of this century, been too long continued and too exclusive ; it gave to the mind of Europe a development onesided and therefore injurious. We had learnt to confine the very meaning of the word " antiquity " to the history of Greece and Rome; but the discovery of Sanskrit revealed to us a wholly new chapter in the history of the world's youth : it enabled us to study the infancy of our race in the first gorgeous bloom of its imaginative passions.
Then again the discovery of Sanskrit was fraught with results which may become unspeakably important to the English race. With all our energy and resourcefulness it must, I think, be confessed that as a colonising nation we have not shown that suppleness of accommodation, that sympathy of tact, which gave such marvellous stability to the conquests of Alexander and the dependencies of Rome. Wherever we have gone—strong, self-confident, defiant—we have too often carried with us our in tensest prejudices, and either ignored or trampled on the profoundest and most cherished convictions of the conquered races. And the result has been that, Christians though we are, and animated as thousands of our sons have been with a sincere desire to elevate and ameliorate the condition of the people we govern,—and chivalrous as have been the isolated acts of beneficence which not unfrequently we have bestowed on them, we have not succeeded in securing the loyalty, the affection, even the devotion, which pleasure-loving Greece and iron-handed Rome were often able to gain for themselves in a space of time so much more brief. It was in the very year of the hundredth anniversary of that memorable battle of Plassy which laid the corner-stone of our Indian Empire, that the whole splendid edifice was rocked and shaken to its foundations by the horrors and violences of the Indian mutiny. We conquered, indeed, but we conquered by fire and sword; and every burning hamlet, and every devastated field, though it seemed but a just retribution exacted on murderers of women and boys and little children and grey-haired old men, was yet a fatal proof that we had not understood the character, and still less had we won the affections, of the race whose hatred against us after 100 years of domination blazed no less fiercely than our indignation against them. Oh ! if, instead of calling them and treating them as " niggers;" if, instead of absorbing with such fatal facility the preposterous notion that they were, with few exceptions, an abject nation of cringing liars, to be despised and kicked, our young officers would but have learnt from the first the noble spirit of Sir John and Sir Henry Lawrence, and of Sir Herbert Edwardes, of Outram, the Bayard of India, and of him whose nickname of Clemency Canning will one day prove his most splendid memorial—if our missionaries had but tempered sometimes their righteous fanaticism of hatred against idolatry with a deeper historical knowledge of the religions of the world, the great ideas which they conceal under weird mythologies, and the traditions of hoary antiquity which they inshrine; if they could but have carried with them into their disputes with learned Brahmins that breadth of noble reverence and tender sympathy which characterised a Heber, a Martyn, and a Cotton : nay, that thorough appreciation for the sacred sensibilities of others which was shown by the great Apostle of the Gentiles, when, in the forefront of his argument with Athenian idolaters, he appealed to their altar "To an unknown God;" if our scholars had but earlier been enabled to discover, as they have now discovered, that the glorification of Brahmins, and the degradation of Sudras, and the infamous institution of suttee, and the iron network of caste, which for so many centuries has cramped the development of India, derive no sanction from the Vedas, and were no part of the ancient religion, but the invention of an arrogant and usurping sacerdotalism,—then, indeed, a military despotism would long ago have been needless for the government of India ; then, indeed, the Hindoos no less than ourselves would have recognised the bond of unity between us because of the common ancestors from whose loins we both alike are sprung, and we no less than they should have seen that in coming to Hin-dostan with our advanced civilisation, we were returning home with splendid gifts, to visit a member of one common family, and that the meeting between us was but the meeting of Esau and Jacob after long years of separation,—who met each other with mutual affection and the kiss of peace, although from the womb it had been prophesied respecting them that " the elder should serve the younger?