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Memoirs on the History, Folk-lore, and Distribution of the Races of the N. W. Provinces of India


THE above work dates from the time of the old East India Company, bearing ample witness anew to that glorious fertility of genius produced in the full flow of an activity directed seemingly to the development of a purely mercantile policy of the most practical kind—the utilising of a distant continent for the enrichment of a handful of merchants sitting at home at their ease. Such, at least, was the repute enjoyed by the Honourable Court of Directors in their day, and it required no less a change than the transfer of power to as methodical a form of government as that which rules India nowadays to make us see matters in their true light, and bless the memory of John Company. This remark is made, of course, from a scientific point of view,for in every other respect, doubtless, India has at large been the gainer. The Company had served its term, and had to give way to a more central power in the interest of the empire generally. One cannot help contrasting, however, the times that are gone by, when upon the horizon shone such stars of first magnitude in science and literature as Sir Charles Wilkins, Sir William Jones, Gilchrist, Lumsden, Colebrooke, Wilson, Ballantyne, Charles Philip Brown, Roer, Sprenger, with the days that be, when examination tests of the severest kind are in the ascendant, but followed, alas ! by no apparent results as far as growth of scientific knowledge is concerned, whatever advantage the service generally may be found to derive from them. Men there are, no doubt, who in the proper spirit, and with no less self-devotion, have continued the work of the past. Such names as Cowell, Nassau Lees, Buehler, Burnell, need only be mentioned to give us hope in the future. But what encouragement have their efforts met with? Unsupported as they are by any government aid, will not such efforts go sadly to waste? We do not mean to insinuate that the State should constitute itself a “Bureau de Surintendance,” for the better direction and advancement of science and learning. It may be all very well in its way if the “Ministère de l'Instruction Publique” appoints a “Commission pour l'exploration scientifique de l'Algérie,” but in a country of parliamentary government, where most things are left to individual initiative, such a state of things is supposed to be anomalous. A great deal might meanwhile be achieved if the range of knowledge required of an Indian civil servant were narrowed, and if he were plied more amply with knowledge of more immediate use for his future career. Instead of being obliged, as now, to occupy himself de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis, let his attention be directed to such knowledge as will more immediately concern him, and which, if properly followed up, could not but add greatly to our acquaintance with India. Practically speaking, indeed, such a course seems to be not only advisable, but absolutely necessary. That our authority throughout that region is diminishing according as our military power is less displayed, it would be useless to deny. The greater, consequently, seems the necessity for drawing closer the bonds of union, by employing ourselves more fully with the concerns of the people—not in the carping spirit too often assumed by missionaries, but with the unprejudiced mind of scholars. Occasion has been given to these remarks by the perusal of Sir Henry Elliot's book on Indian races, which, although cast in a form anything but grateful to the ordinary student, teems with most interesting information, not to be met with elsewhere in so condensed a form or backed up by such reliable authority. The work resulted from an order issued by the then Government to the Sudder Board of Revenue, N.W.P., bearing date 14th Dec., 1842, and directing them to compile a glossary of Indian terms in accordance with a comprehensive scheme which comprised not only terms relating to the revenue, but also to matters mythological, and to geographical nomenclature. The plan being but insufficiently carried out by his subordinates, Sir Henry of his own accord took it upon himself, in 1844, to complete the parts submitted to the Government, and reaching down to the letter J, without waiting for the completion of the whole—which, indeed, never seems to have been published—limiting his attention mainly to “tribes, customs, fiscal and agricultural terms.” He not only added a great many new headings, but enriched the whole with contributions from his own vast store of historical knowledge, compiled from Mohammedan sources, principally from the “Ayin-i-Akbari,” the work of the well-known Minister of the Emperor Akbar, who was the founder of a new era in Indian administration. So far as it goes, it is the nearest approach to an encyclopædia of modern Hindooism we can think of. But to contend that it is anything more than a most convenient book of reference in practised and skilful hands, would be going beyond the mark. In spite of the more practical arrangement adopted by the present editor, one must have struggled for some time with the difficulties which haphazard transcription of native words into English has put in one's way, in order to know where to find what is sought for, or to identify it if one has come across it by chance. This is the first attempt at a rational way of transcription; but, just because it is the first, it is not yet so consistently carried out as might be wished.

Memoirs on the History, Folk-lore, and Distribution of the Races of the N.W. Provinces of India.

By the Sir Henry M. Elliot. Edited by J. Beames. (2 vols. Trübner and Co.)

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Memoirs on the History, Folk-lore, and Distribution of the Races of the N. W. Provinces of India. Nature 2, 43–45 (1870).

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