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The Zoffany evening happening

The Zoffany evening didn’t go quite as expected – nevertheless with a generous audience, Penny showed her slides and talked about Zoffany – while I interjected short bits about how I met Penny during an Indian trip and I was able to talk a little about Sir William Jones (1746-1794). He was reciting Shakespeare at 4, at 13 wrote down Tempest from memory. At Harrow the classics master gave up – saying Jones knew more than him! He went to Univ. College, Oxford where he was an Oriental scholar and linguist learning Hebrew, Arabic, Persian. In 1771 – he accused France’s leading Persian scholar of fraud – which was very popular in England – so he was called ‘Oriental/Persian Jones’. In 1772 – he was elected to the Royal Society. In 1773 he joined Samuel Johnson’s circle who met at the Turk’s Head, Gerrard St, – Soho every Monday.

In 1774 he was called to the Bar and was

  • offered seat in Supreme Court Bengal
  • In 1783 he was knighted and married and sailed on the Crocodile (with 2 sheep, meant for eating but who became pets) – His list of ambitions included– poetry, medicine, laws etc. Warren Hastings – Gov Gen – knew him. Hastings had critics but wanted ‘shared humanity’ and encouraged members of the East India Company  to learn languages and Muslim studies
  • Jones wanted to ‘know India better than any other European ever knew it.”
  • Eventually he learnt Sanskrit at his ‘country retreat’ north of Calcutta. Discovered it had kinship with Greek & Latin ‘of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either.’
  • The Asiatick Society was conceived – modeled on the Royal Society – only needed ‘a love of knowledge and zeal for promotion of it’ Jones was the first President but did everything, including editing the journal for which he wrote 29 papers.
  • Jones wore Indian dress – encouraged European  women to throw away corsets and wear saris
  • His wife was sickly – they were due to return to England – but he died aged 47 – of a liver tumour
  • Goethe, Schiller, Schubert, Schopenhauer were ALL impressed by him but not so in England where his promotion of Indian culture condemned.
  • He is buried in South Park Cemetery in Calcutta and it was my paintings of the cemetery which sold well.IMG_3135
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