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Sir William Jones

Sir William JonesPortrait of Sir William Jones, "From the picture in the Hall of University College, Oxford."
Sir William Jones was a scholar, traveler, and barrister in the early Romantic period. Although he is not renowned for the quality of his literary works like Wordsworth or Coleridge, his attitude and scholarship regarding the Indian subcontinent is perhaps unrivalled. After learning Sanskrit during his time as an administrator in India, he created a groundbreaking cross-referential analysis of Sanskrit with German, and English. He also translated many traditional Hindu sacred texts into English.

Jones' Hindoo Hymns were some of the first popular incarnations of Eastern mythology made available to the increasingly literate British people in printed form. Although some of the more sexually charged content was edited so as not to offend the sensibility of his prudish English audience, Jones made the cultural heritage of Britain's largest and most profitable colony readily accessible to the public. His work could be considered an early example of what Byron came to term "Orientalism". Jones is also credited with a proto-feminist sympathy to Indian conceptions of female identity. His works are some of the first in English which assign agency to the female character, due to their direct translation from the gender-liberal Hindu scripture.

While Jones exemplifies the imperial agent who sympathizes with and finds value in the heritage of the colonial "other," his role as the defendant of the corrupt governor in the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, the Governor of Bengal, was significantly more aligned with standard policy. Jones' legacy as a linguist and scholar of native myth, however, is one example of the shifting nature of colonial relations during the Romantic era, which showed a greater sense of respect for indigenous culture than the attitudes of earlier periods.

Jody Dunville

Select Bibliography

Franklin, Michael J. "Accessing India." in Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire 1780-1830. Tim      Fulford and Peter J. Kitson, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.