I couldn’t be grateful enough for starting off my study of Romanticism with Sir William Jones. The rich and contemplative ideas in his key essays, “On the Poetry of Eastern Nations,” “On the Arts, Commonly Called the Imitative,” and “The Third Anniversary Discourse,” have opened up many venues of discussion concerning the major themes and questions for the Romanticists. With further explanations in class, the idea that intrigued me the most was the one concerning linguistics and etymologies, which greatly underlies the phenomenon of privileging one language over the rest, especially in a discipline like English literature.
In his “On the Poetry of Easter Nations,” William Jones asserts in the humblest way that the “Asiatick” poets are of the same intelligence level as the European Classicist poets, including himself. Through this assertion, Jones carefully proposed the idea that poetry can be something local, private, and liberated, instead of the commonly assumed notion of European poetry that merely imitates itself over and over again. Proposing such idea, Jones is up against the widely admired Aristotle and the monarch’s ego that is fed upon the colonized “inferiorities.” Jones’s revolutionizing idea and his establishment of Asiatick Society in India greatly paved the liberation of poetic expression, from what was called “imitative” to what is now called “expressive.” Poetry, instead of the mere public voice of reason and intelligence, is now a conversation with oneself; although the latter was not realized until Jones’s intensive studies on Eastern Poetry.
The revolutionary poetic form is not the only thing Jones learned from Eastern Poetry: he also valiantly believed that the language of the Eastern Nations are closely connected with the most privileged Greek and Latin language. By suggesting a common linguistic family of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and English, Jones affirms that these languages deserve to be treated with the same degree of admiration, and should share a common resonance within the reader–even though they appear drastically different at the moment. With our extended discussion on this topic in class, it is confirmed that more than one languages in this family have the term of a tower that reaches up to God; the same word is created before the birth of the Christ. It is wildly speculated that the world shared the same language at one point, and splitted in expressions for some reason that remains unknown to us.
However, at the end of “On the Arts, Commonly Called the Imitative,” Jones makes a brilliant connection between music and language. Maybe, music is what is left from the common language we all share, and we still share today?
To see the entire class notes on Sir William Jones, please refer to this link.