A story-book from the Sanscrit
at least possesses the minor merit of novelty. The "perfect language" has
been hitherto regarded as the province of Scholars, and few of these even
have found time or taste to search its treasures. And yet among them is
the key to the heart of modern India—as well as the splendid record of
her ancient Gods and glories. The hope of Hindostan lies in the intelligent
interest of England. Whatever avails to dissipate misconceptions between
them, and to enlarge their intimacy, is a gain to both Peoples; and to
this end the present volume aspires, in an -humble degree, to contribute.
The Hitopadesa is a work of high
antiquity, and extended popularity. The prose is doubtless as old as our
own era; but the intercalated verses and proverbs compose a selection from
writings of an age extremely remote. The Mahabharata and the textual
are of those quoted; to the first of which Professor M. Williams (in his
admirable edition of the Nala (1860) assigns a date of 350 B.C.,
while he claims for the Rig-Veda an antiquity as high as B.C. 1300.
The Hitopadesa may thus be fairly styled "The Father of all Fables";
for from its numerous translations have come Esop and Pilpay, and in later
days Reineke Fuchs. Originally compiled in Sanscrit, it was rendered,
by order of Nushiraván, in the sixth century, A.D., into Persic.
From the Persic it passed, A.D. 850, into the Arabic, and thence into Hebrew
and Greek. In its own land it obtained as wide a circulation. The Emperor
Acbar, impressed with the wisdom of its maxims and the ingenuity of its
apologues, commended the work of translating it to his own Vizir, Abdul
Fazel. That minister accordingly put the book into a familiar style, and
published it with explanations, under the title of the Criterion of
Wisdom. The Emperor had also suggested the abridgment of the long series
of shlokes which here and there interrupt the narrative, and the Vizir
found this advice sound, and followed it, like the present Translator.
To this day, in India, the Hitopadesa, under other names (as the
retains the delighted attention of young and old, and has some representative
in all the Indian vernaculars. A work so well esteemed in the East cannot
be unwelcome to Western readers, who receive it here, a condensed but faithful
transcript of sense and manner.
As often as an Oriental allusion, or
a name in Hindoo mythology, seemed to ask some explanation for the English
reader, notes have been appended, bearing reference to the page. In their
compilation, and generally, acknowledgment is due to Professor Johnson's
excellent version and edition of the Hitopadesa, and to Mr. Muir's
A residence in India, and close intercourse
with the Hindoos, have given the author a lively desire to subserve their
advancement. No one listens now to the precipitate ignorance which would
set aside as "heathenish" the high civilization of this great race; but
justice is not yet done to their past development and present capacities.
If the wit, the morality, and the philosophy of these "beasts of India"
(so faithfully rendered by Mr. Harrison Weir) surprise any vigorous
mind into further exploration of her literature, and deeper sense of our
responsibility in her government, the Author will be repaid.