In one of the letters which bear the title of EDIFYING, though most of them swarm with ridiculous errours, and all must be consulted with extreme diffidence, I met, some years, ago, with the following passage : " In the north of India there are many books, called Nátac, which, as the Bráhmens assert, contain a large portion of ancient history without any mixture of fable ; " and having an eager desire to know the real state of this empire before the conquest of it by the Savages of the North, I was very solicitous, on my arrival in Bengal, to procure access to those books, either by the help of translations, if they had been translated, or by learning the language in which they were originally composed, and which I had yet a stronger inducement to learn from its connection with the administration of justice to the Hindûs ; but when I was able to converse with the Bráhmens, they assured me that the Nátacs were not histories, and abounded with fables ; that they were [366] extremely popular works, and consisted of conversations in prose and verse, held before ancient Rájás in their publick assemblies, on an infinite variety of subjects, and in various dialects of India : this definition gave me no very distinct idea ; but I concluded that they were dialogues on moral or literary topicks ; whilst other Europeans, whom I consulted, had understood from the natives that they were discourses on dancing, musick, or poetry.  At length a very sensible Bráhmen, named Rádhácánt, who had long been attentive to English manners, removed all my doubts, and gave me no less delight than surprise, by telling me that our nation had compositions of the same sort, which were publickly represented at Calcutta in the cold season, and bore the name, as he had been informed, of plays.  Resolving at my leisure to read the best of them, I asked which of their Nátacs was most universally esteemed ; and he answered without hesitation, Sacontalá, supporting his opinion, as usual among the Pandits, by a couplet to this effect : " The ring of Sacontalá, in which the fourth act, and four stanzas of that act, are eminently brilliant, displays all the rich exuberances of Calidása's genius. " I soon procured a correct copy of it ; and, assisted by my teacher Rámalóchan, began with translating it verbally into Latin, which bears so great a resemblance [367] to Sanscrit, that it is more convenient than any modern language for a scrupulous interlineary version : I then turned it word for word into English, and afterwards, without adding or suppressing any material sentence, disengaged from the stiffness of a foreign idiom, and prepared the faithful translation of the Indian drama, which I now present to the publick as a most pleasing and authentick picture of old Hindû manners, and one of the greatest curiosities that the literature of Asia has yet brought to light.

        Dramatick poetry must have been immemorially ancient in the Indian empire : the invention of it is commonly ascribed to Bheret, a safe believed to have been inspired, who invented also a system of musick which bears his name ; but this opinion of its origin is rendered very doubtful by the universal belief, that the first Sanscrit verse ever heard by mortals was pronounced in a burst of resentment by the great Válmic, who flourished in the silver age of the world, and was author of an Epick Poem on the war of his contemporary, Ráma, king of Ayódhyà ; so that no drama in verse could have been represented before his time ; and the Indians have a wild story, that the first regular play, on the same subject with the Rámáyan, was composed by Hanumat or Pávan, who commanded an army of Satyrs or Mountaineers in Ráma's expedition [368] against Lancà : they add, that he engraved it on a smooth rock, which, being dissatisfied with his composition, he hurled into the sea ; and that, many years after, a learned prince ordered expert divers to take impressions of the poem on wax, by which means the drama was in great measure restored ; and my Pandit assures me that he is in possession of it. By whomsoever or in whatever age this species of entertainment was invented, it is very certain, that it was carried to great perfection in its kind, when Vicramáditya, who reigned in the first century before Christ, gave encouragement to poets, philosologers, and mathematicians, at a time when the Britons were as unlettered and unpolished as the army of Hanumat : nine men of genius, commonly called the nine gems, attended his court, and were splendidly supported by his bounty ; and Cálidás is unanimously allowed to have been the brightest of them. ---A modern epigram was lately repeated to me, which does so much honour to the author of Sacontalá, that I cannot forbear exhibiting a literal version of it :  " Poetry was the sportful daughter of Válmic, and, having educated by Vyása, she chose Cálidás for her bridegroom after the manner of Viderbha : she was the mother of Amara, Sundar, Sanc'ha, Dhanic ; but now, old and decrepit, her beauty faded, and her unadorned [369] feet slipping as she walks, in whose cottage does she disdain to take shelter? "

        All the other works of our illustrious poet, the Shakespeare of India, that have yet come to my knowledge, are a second play, in five acts, entitled Urvasí ; an heroic poem, or rather a series of poems in one book, on the Children of the Sun ; another, with perfect unity of action, on the Birth of Cumára, god of war ; two or three love tales in verse ; and an excellent  little work on Sanscrit Metre, precisely in the manner of Terentianus ; but he is believed by some to have revised the works of Válmic and Vyása, and to have corrected the perfect editions of them which are now current : this at least is admitted by all, that he stands next in reputation to those venerable bards ; and we must regret, that he has left only two dramatick poems, especially as the stories in his Raghuvansa would have supplied him with a number of excellent subjects. ---Some of his contemporaries, and other Hindû poets even to our own times, have composed so many tragedies, comedies, farces, and musical pieces, that the Indian theatre would fill as many volumes as that of any nation in ancient or modern Europe : all the Pandits assert that their plays are innumerable ; and, on my first inquiries concerning them, I had notice of more than thirty, which they consider as the flower [370] of their Nátacs, among which the Malignant Child, the Rape of Ushá, the Taming of Durvásas, the Seizure of the Lock, Málati and Mádhava, with five or six dramas on the adventures of their incarnate gods, are the most admired after those of Cálidás.  They are all in verse, where the dialogue is elevated ; and in prose, where it is familiar : the men of rank and learning are represented speaking pure Sanskrit, and the women Prácrit, which is little more than the language of the Brámens melted down by a delicate articulation to the softness of Italian ; while the low persons of the drama speak the vulgar dialects of the several provinces which they are supposed to inhabit.

        The play of Sacontalá must have been very popular when it was first represented ; for the Indian empire was then in full vigour, and the national vanity must have been highly flattered by the magnificent introduction of those kings and heroes in whom the Hindûs gloried ; the scenery must have been splendid and beautiful ; and there is good reason to believe, that the court at Avanti was equal in brilliancy during the reign of Vicramáditya, to that of any monarch in any age or country. ---Dushmanta, the hero of the piece, appears in the chronological tables of the Brámens among the Children of the Moon, and in the twenty-first generation [371] after the flood ; so that, if we can at all rely on the chronology of the Hindûs, he was nearly contemporary with Obed, or Jeffe ; and Puru, his most celebrated ancestor, was the fifth in descent from Budha, or Mercury, who married, they say, a daughter of the pious kind, whom Vishnu preserved in an ark from the universal deluge : his eldest son Bheret was the illustrious progenitor of Curu, from whom Pándu was lineally descended, and in whose family the Indian Apollo became incarnate ; whence the poem, next in fame to the Rámáyan, is called Mahábhárat.

        As to the machinery of the drama, it is taken from the system of mythology, which prevails to this day, and which it would require a large volume to explain ; but we cannot help remarking, that the deities introduced in the Fatal Ring are clearly allegorical personages. Maríchi, the first production of Brahmá, or the Creative Power, signifies light, that subtil fluid which was created before its reservoir, the sun, as water was created before the sea ; Casyapa, the offspring of Maríchi, seems to be a personification of infinite space, comprehending innumerable worlds ; and his children by Aditi, or his active power (unless Aditi mean the primeval day, and Diti, his other wife, the night), are Indra, or the visible [372] firmament, and the twelve Adityas, or suns, presiding over as many months.

        On the characters and conduct of the play I shall offer no criticism ; because I am convinced that the tastes of men differ as much as their sentiments and passions, and that, in feeling the beauties of art, as in smelling flowers, tasting fruits, viewing prospects, and hearing melody, every individual must be guided by his own sensations and the incommunicable associations of his own ideas.  This only I may add, that if Sacontalá should ever be acted in India, where alone it could be acted with perfect knowledge of Indian dresses, manners, and scenery, the piece might easily be reduced to five acts of a moderate length, by throwing the third act into the second, and the sixth into the fifth ; for it must be confessed that the whole of Dushmanta's conversation with his buffoon, and great part of his courtship in the hermitage, might be omitted without any injury to the drama.

        It is my anxious wish that others may take the pains to learn Sanscrit, and may be persuaded to translate the works of Cálidás : I shall hardly again employ my leisure in a task so foreign to my professional (which are, in truth, my favourite) studies ; and have no intention of translating any other book from any language, [373] except the Law Tract of Menu, and the new Digest of Indian and Arabian laws ; but, to show, that the Bráhmens, at least, do not think polite literature incompatible with jurisprudence, I cannot avoid mentioning, that the venerable compiler of the Hindû Digest, who is now in his eighty-sixth year, has the whole play of Sacontalá by heart ; as he proved when I last conversed with him, to my entire conviction.  Lest, however, I should hereafter seem to have changed a resolution which I mean to keep inviolate, I think it proper to say, that I have already translated four or five other books, and among them the Hitópadésa, which I undertook, merely as an exercise in learning Sanscrit, three years before I knew that Mr. Wilkins, without whose aid I should never have learnt it, had any thought of giving the same work to the publick.


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