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William Jones
""Sir William Jones.jpg
A steel engraving of Sir William Jones, after a painting by Sir "Joshua Reynolds
Puisne judge of the "Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in "Bengal
In office
22 October 1783[1]["full citation needed] – 27 April 1794[2]["full citation needed]
Personal details
Born (1746-09-28)September 28, 1746
"Westminster, London
Died April 27, 1794(1794-04-27) (aged 47)

Sir William Jones "FRS "FRSE (28 September 1746 – 27 April 1794) was an "Anglo-Welsh "philologist, a "puisne judge on the "Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in "Bengal, and a scholar of ancient "India, particularly known for his proposition of the existence of a relationship among European and Indian languages, which would later be known as "Indo-European languages. He, along with "Henry Thomas Colebrooke and "Nathaniel Halhed, founded the "Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784.



William Jones was born in London at Beaufort Buildings, "Westminster; his father "William Jones (1675–1749) was a mathematician from "Anglesey in Wales, noted for introducing the use of the symbol "π. The young William Jones was a "linguistic prodigy, who in addition to his native languages English and Welsh,[3] learned "Greek, "Latin, "Persian, "Arabic, "Hebrew and the basics of Chinese writing at an early age.[4] By the end of his life he knew eight languages with critical thoroughness, was fluent in a further eight, with a dictionary at hand, and had a fair competence in another twelve.[5]

Jones' father died when he was aged three, and his mother Mary Nix Jones raised him. He was sent to "Harrow School in September 1753 and then went on to "University College, Oxford. He graduated there in 1768 and became M.A. in 1773. Financially constrained, he took a position tutoring the seven-year-old "Lord Althorp, son of "Earl Spencer. For the next six years he worked as a tutor and translator. During this time he published Histoire de Nader Chah (1770), a French translation of a work originally written in Persian by "Mirza Mehdi Khan Astarabadi. This was done at the request of King "Christian VII of Denmark: he had visited Jones, who by the age of 24 had already acquired a reputation as an "orientalist. This would be the first of numerous works on "Persia, "Turkey, and the Middle East in general.

Tomb of William Jones in "Calcutta

In 1770, Jones joined the "Middle Temple and studied law for three years, a preliminary to his life-work in India. He was elected a "Fellow of the Royal Society on 30 April 1772. After a spell as a "circuit judge in Wales, and a fruitless attempt to resolve the conflict that eventually led to the "American Revolution in concert with "Benjamin Franklin in Paris, he was appointed "puisne judge to the "Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Calcutta, "Bengal on 4 March 1783, and on 20 March he was "knighted. In April 1783 he married Anna Maria Shipley, the eldest daughter of "Dr. Jonathan Shipley, "Bishop of Llandaff and "Bishop of St Asaph. Anna Maria used her artistic skills to help Jones document life in India. On 25 September 1783 he arrived in "Calcutta.

Jones was a radical political thinker, a friend of American independence. His work, The principles of government; in a dialogue between a scholar and a peasant (1783), was the subject of a trial for seditious libel after it was reprinted by his brother-in-law William Shipley.["citation needed]

In the "Subcontinent he was entranced by "Indian culture, an as-yet untouched field in European scholarship, and on 15 January 1784 he founded the "Asiatic Society in "Calcutta[3] and started a journal called Asiatick Researches.["citation needed] He studied the "Vedas with Rāmalocana, a pandit teaching at the Nadiya Hindu university, becoming a proficient Sanskritist.[3] Jones kept up a ten-year correspondence on the topic of "jyotisa or Hindu astronomy with fellow orientalist "Samuel Davis.[6]

Over the next ten years he would produce a flood of works on India, launching the modern study of the subcontinent in virtually every social science. He also wrote on the local laws, music, literature, botany, and geography, and made the first English translations of several important works of Indian literature.

Sir William Jones sometimes also went by the nom de plume Youns Uksfardi (یونس اوکسفردی, "Jones of Oxford"). This pen name can be seen on the inner front cover of his Persian Grammar published in 1771 (and in subsequent editions).

He died in Calcutta on 27 April 1794 at the age of 47 and is buried in "South Park Street Cemetery.[7]

Scholarly contributions[edit]

Jones is known today for making and propagating the observation about genetic relation between the "Indo-European languages. In his Third Anniversary Discourse to the Asiatic Society (1786) he suggested that "Sanskrit, "Greek and "Latin languages had a common root, and that indeed they may all be further related, in turn, to "Gothic and the "Celtic languages, as well as to "Persian.[8] Although his name is closely associated with this observation, he was not the first to make it. In the 16th century, European visitors to India became aware of similarities between Indian and European languages[9] and as early as 1653 "Van Boxhorn had published a proposal for a "proto-language ("Scythian") for "Germanic, "Romance, "Greek, "Baltic, "Slavic, "Celtic and "Iranian.[10] Finally, in a memoir sent to the French Academy of Sciences in 1767 "Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux, a French Jesuit who spent all his life in India, had specifically demonstrated the existing analogy between Sanskrit and European languages.[11][12] In 1786 Jones postulated a proto-language uniting Sanskrit, Iranian, Greek, Latin, Germanic and Celtic, but in many ways his work was less accurate than his predecessors', as he erroneously included "Egyptian, "Japanese and "Chinese in the Indo-European languages, while omitting "Hindi.[10]

Nevertheless, Jones' third annual discourse before the Asiatic Society on the history and culture of the Hindus (delivered on 2 February 1786 and published in 1788) with the famed "philologer" passage is often cited as the beginning of "comparative linguistics and "Indo-European studies.[13]

The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists; there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanscrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family.

This common source came to be known as "Proto-Indo-European.[14]

Jones was the first to propose a racial division of India involving an Aryan invasion but at that time there was insufficient evidence to support it. It was an idea later taken up by British administrators such as "Herbert Hope Risley but remains disputed today.[15]

ones also propounded theories that might appear peculiar today but were less so in his time. For example, he believed that Egyptian priests had migrated and settled down in India in prehistoric times. He also posited that the Chinese were originally Hindus belonging to the "Kshatriya caste.[16]

Jones, in his 1772 ‘Essay on the Arts called Imitative’, was one of the first to propound an expressive theory of poetry, valorising expression over description or imitation: “If the arguments, used in this essay, have any weight, it will appear, that the finest parts of poetry, musick, and painting, are expressive of the passions...the inferior parts of them are descriptive of natural objects”.[17] He thereby anticipated "Wordsworth in grounding poetry on the basis of a Romantic subjectivity.[18]

"Rajiv Malhotra features Oxford artwork depicting Jones imparting wisdom to Hindu pandits as the cover for his book "The Battle for Sanskrit.["citation needed]

Chess poem[edit]

In 1763, at the age of 17, Jones wrote the poem "Caissa, based on a 658-line poem called "Scacchia, Ludus" published in 1527 by "Marco Girolamo Vida, giving a mythical "origin of chess that has become well known in the chess world. This poem he wrote in English.

In the poem the nymph Caissa initially repels the advances of "Mars, the god of war. Spurned, Mars seeks the aid of the god of sport, who creates the game of "chess as a gift for Mars to win Caissa's favour. Mars wins her over with the game.

Caissa has since been characterised as the "goddess" of chess, her name being used in several contexts in modern chess playing.

Schopenhauer's citation[edit]

"Arthur Schopenhauer referred to one of Sir William Jones's publications in §1 of "The World as Will and Representation (1819). Schopenhauer was trying to support the doctrine that "everything that exists for knowledge, and hence the whole of this world, is only object in relation to the subject, perception of the perceiver, in a word, representation." He quoted Jones's original English:

... how early this basic truth was recognized by the sages of India, since it appears as the fundamental tenet of the "Vedânta philosophy ascribed to "Vyasa, is proved by Sir William Jones in the last of his essays: "On the Philosophy of the Asiatics" (Asiatic Researches, vol. IV, p. 164): "The fundamental tenet of the Vedânta school consisted not in denying the existence of matter, that is solidity, impenetrability, and extended figure (to deny which would be lunacy), but in correcting the popular notion of it, and in contending that it has no essence independent of mental perception; that existence and perceptibility are convertible terms."

Schopenhauer used Jones's authority to relate the basic principle of his philosophy to what was, according to Jones, the most important underlying proposition of Vedânta. He made more passing reference to Sir William Jones's writings elsewhere in his works.

Cited by Edgar Allan Poe[edit]

"Edgar Allan Poe's short story ""Berenice" starts with a motto, the first half of a poem, by Ibn Zaiat: Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas. It was taken from the works of William Jones, and here is the missing part (from Complete Works, Vol. 2, London, 1799):

Dixi autem, an ideo aliud praeter hoc pectus habet sepulchrum?

My companions said to me, if I would visit the grave of my friend, I might somewhat alleviate my worries. I answered "could she be buried elsewhere than in my heart?"


Listing in most cases only editions and reprints that came out during Jones's own lifetime, books by, or prominently including work by, William Jones, are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Curley p 353
  2. ^ Curley p 434
  3. ^ a b c Anthony 2010, p. 6.
  4. ^ Said 1978, p. 77.
  5. ^ Edgerton 2002, p. 10.
  6. ^ Davis & Aris 1982, p. 31.
  7. ^ The South Park Street Cemetery, Calcutta, published by the Association for the Preservation of Historical Cemeteries in India, 5th ed., 2009
  8. ^ Patil, Narendranath B. (2003). The Variegated Plumage: Encounters with Indian Philosophy : a Commemoration Volume in Honour of Pandit Jankinath Kaul "Kamal". "Motilal Banarsidass Publications. p. 249. 
  9. ^ Auroux, Sylvain (2000). History of the Language Sciences. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. p. 1156. "ISBN "3-11-016735-2. 
  10. ^ a b Roger Blench Archaeology and Language: methods and issues. In: A Companion To Archaeology. J. Bintliff ed. 52–74. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2004.
  11. ^ Wheeler, Kip. "The Sanskrit Connection: Keeping Up With the Joneses". Dr.Wheeler's Website. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  12. ^ See:
    • Anquetil Duperron (1808) "Supplément au Mémoire qui prècéde" (Supplement to the preceding memoir), Mémoires de littérature, tirés des registres de l'Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres (Memoirs on literature, drawn from the records of the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Belle-lettres), 49 : 647-697.
    • John J. Godfrey (1967) "Sir William Jones and Père Coeurdoux: A philological footnote," Journal of the American Oriental Society, 87 (1) : 57-59.
  13. ^ Jones, Sir William (1824). Discourses delivered before the Asiatic Society: and miscellaneous papers, on the religion, poetry, literature, etc., of the nations of India. Printed for C. S. Arnold. p. 28. 
  14. ^ Damen, Mark (2012). "SECTION 7: The Indo-Europeans and Historical Linguistics". Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  15. ^ Bates, Crispin (1995). "Race, Caste and Tribe in Central India: the early origins of Indian anthropometry". In Robb, Peter. The Concept of Race in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press. p. 231. "ISBN "978-0-19-563767-0. Retrieved 2 December 2011. 
  16. ^ Singh 2004, p. 9.
  17. ^ Quoted in M H Abrams, ‘’The Mirror and the Lamp’’ (Oxford 1971) p. 88
  18. ^ M Franklin, ‘’Orientalist Jones’’ (2011) p. 86


External links[edit]

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