William Jones

On the Poetry of the Eastern Nations
  • Asian poets are as genius as British
  • Arabia
    • pastoral poetry, great manners and climate
    • speak Arabic (expressive, strong, sonorous)
    • comparisons and phrases in their language would seem forced in English
    • Poets regarded very highly in the community
    • Highly regarded poems hung in temple as a challenge to others
  • Persia
    • known as Iran by natives
    • Variety of climate because it is a large area
    • frequently allude to the sun
    • general nature of softness, love of pleasure, effeminacy, docile
    • Jones thinks they could produce such volumes of poetry because they live such a leisurely lifestyle
  • India
    • imitate the Persians
    • Soft, voluptuous, artful, insincere
On the Arts, Commonly Called Imitative
  • he aims to prove that while poetry and music have power of imitating manners of men, their greatest effect is found in the mind
  • Poetry grew from expression of emotion on God, to love, to moral poetry
  • Music resembles poetry
Third Anniversary Discourse
  • Delivered February 1786 on the Hindus
  • etymology: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history
  • Poses that Jacob Bryant’s extensive use of etymology weakens his argument because it has no strong meaning or connection
  • 5 Principal nations of Asia: Indians, Tartars, Arabs, Persians, Chinese – he seeks to find their origins and possibly make connections between them
  • India – inhabited by Britain
    • “primitive” religion and languages of the Hindus prevail
    • people do not share resemblance to surrounding peoples and have lost little of their original character despite being occupied many times (Orme)
    • Have abundant natural resources
    • Goes on to describe the language and characters (thinks Sanskrit has European origins), religion and philosophy (thinks it is based on Greek and Italian gods), architecture and sculpture (sees connection with Africa), and art (silk weaving)
      • “all these indubitable facts may induce no ill-grounded opinion, that Ethiopia and Hindustàn were peopled or colonized by the same extraordinary race;” (41)
    • Inventions: instruction by apologies, decimal scale, Chess
 Response

I found Jones’ suggestion of a “mother tongue” in his Third Anniversary Discourse to be very intriguing. As a Christian, I also found this related to the story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible. It was refreshing to see a European scholar take up the notion that the society which he was observing was culturally autonomous and independent, as the common suggestion is that these colonized societies can be one-dimensional and “savage.” Similarly, in On the Poetry of Eastern Nations, his efforts to recover the greatness of Hindu culture were surprising. I did find it problematic, however, that he chose to exclude the 800 years of Muslim influence. It weakens his argument because he does not consider the influence of another culture’s reign or their colonizing power. On the Arts Commonly Called Imitative gave me a better understanding of the Romantic goal to express true and raw emotion, instead of the try and replicate or regurgitate it. Instead, it seems, they are attempting to relate a common feeling which all readers may be able to relate to and to revive a past emotion in not only themselves, the author, but also the reader.

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