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With Arabic he was already familiar, and he therefore required no assistance in his studies of Mahommedan law; but for the purpose of mastering the virtually unknown language in which the Hindu law was contained, he found it necessary to visit during his vacations several of the decaying and decayed seats of learning in which knowledge of it was still professed, and he organised a staff of Hindu scholars to aid him in his Sanscrit studies, and to record their results.
The book was actually extant, and the translation of it which he gave to the world, with the title ‘Institutes of Hindu Law, or the Ordinances of Menu, according to the Gloss of Cullúca,’ was the first-fruits of his labours on the Digest which he had planned.
He seems, in fact, to have regarded it as standing to this projected Digest much in the same relation as the Roman Institutes to the celebrated Digest of the Emperor Justinian.
For Manu, though it contains a good deal of law, is essentially a book of ritual, of priestly duty and religious observance; and to this combination of law with religion the whole family of Hindu writings, to which the book of Manu belongs, owe some remarkable characteristics on which I am desirous of dwelling.
It is not at the same time to be supposed that the combination is peculiar to the Hindus.
He seems rather to have sought the key to Eastern knowledge in two spoken and highly-cultivated languages—Arabic and Persian.
But he accepted a Judgeship in a Court of Justice newly established in Bengal, under an Act of Parliament which reserved to native litigants the application of their own laws and usages in all questions of inheritance and contract; and, from a much earlier period, it had been the practice of all the Indian Courts to attach to themselves Moolvies and Pundits—that is, native professors of Mahommedan and Hindu law—for the purpose of advising them on the legal rules, of which these experts represented themselves to be the depositaries.It does not seem to me possible to doubt that the account which Sir William Jones gave of the Book of Manu in his Preface to his translation was a rationalised version of the statements made to him by his native teachers, who seem all to have belonged to one particular school of Hindu learning, accustomed to hold Manu in especial honour.Sir William Jones considered this personage, who, in the treatise called after him, sits ‘reclining on his arm, with his attention fixed on one object, the supreme God,’ as a real individual human being, and the personal author of the legislation attributed to him.But Sir William Jones was even more of a jurist than a scholar, and nothing seems to have surprised and interested him more than the assurance of his teachers that, in the ancient language he was learning, there survived legal writings asserted to be of sacred origin, of vast antiquity, and of universal obligation among Hindus.The oldest of them was said to have been dictated by Manu, a divine being who had been mysteriously associated with the creation of all things; and it was described as the acknowledged basis of all Hindu law and Hindu institutions, the fountain of all civil obligation to more than a hundred millions of men.The correspondence of Sir William Jones repeatedly expresses his suspicions (perhaps not always quite just) of the fidelity and honesty of the native advisers of the tribunals.‘I can no longer bear,’ he writes in September 1785, ‘to be at the mercy of our Pundits, who deal out Hindu law as they please, and make it at reasonable rates when they cannot find it ready-made.’ He therefore formed a determination to acquaint himself personally with the sources of the law from which they pretended to draw their opinions.has already appeared in the ‘Fortnightly Review,’ and the bulk of Chapter VIII.in the ‘Nineteenth Century;’ and the Author has to express his thanks to the proprietors of those periodicals for their permission to republish his contributions.Much to their honour, the Indian Government of the day, formed of Lord Cornwallis and his Council, accepted his offer to preside over the undertaking, and his staff of native experts, considerably increased, was taken into the Government service.On his monument by Flaxman, in the chapel of University College at Oxford, he sits surrounded by his company of native literates, amid conventional Indian foliage, bareheaded, in the open air.