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controversy called Exegesis—though some old fashioned people maintained that it was only an old one with a new namein the use of which the divines of this country had already attained great dexterity, and pronounced its appellation with exceeding flippancy and emphasis. This last consideration was effectual. We might have faced their Hebrew, their Syriac, their Chaldee, their Ethiopic, and their Coptic, but where is the heart stout enough not to quail at the sound of the strange and fearful word exegesis ?
We are, therefore, reduced to the necessity of regarding the work before us merely in a literary point of view; and, thus considered, it must be admitted to be somewhat curious. It presents us with the spectacle of a learned Brahmin, a man educated under the institutions of an ancient but semi-barbarous people, and in the idolatrous observances of the most complex and superstitious of all religions, discovering and abjuring the errors of his early faith, making himself, by his own industry, master of the learning of the west, and now taking part in the controversies that divide the Christian world. His reasonings may be influenced, perhaps erroneously, by the peculiar bias of his education ; still they are free from those which may be presumed to affect ours; and it is no useless nor uninteresting speculation to observe the views which a mind thus formed and furnished takes of subjects which all allow to be in the highest degree important.
Rammohun Roy Banoudjia, the author of this work, is what is called in India a high-caste Brahmin, and belongs to one of the first families in the country. He was born in the district of Borduan, near Bengal, about the year 1780. His grandfather had filled some important offices under the Moguls, and his father, bred up in a Mussulman court, instead of giving his son such an education as was most likely to recommend him to the English conquerors of India, had him instructed in the Persian language under his own roof, and sent him to Patna to learn Arabic. Here his masters put into his hands Arabic translations of Aristotle and Euclid, and on his becoming familiar with the language, he read the Koran, and conversed with intelligent Mahometans on the subject of their religion. He was at one time somewhat inclined to embrace its doctrines, but as he grew better acquainted with the example and character of its founder, he became more sceptical as to its divine origin. It was enough, as he afterwards said, to remove all his doubts on this subject, that Mahomet had carried off the beautiful wife of his slave, and had attempted to spread his religion by the sword. He perceived, however, a manifest difference
between the belief in which he was educated, with its cruel rites, its fantastic mummeries, and its multitude of deities, and that of the Mussulmans, with its simple and humane observances, and its sublime tenet of the unity of God; and the consequence was, that he was led to doubt, and finally to renounce Hindooism. On leaving Patna, he was sent to Calcutta to study Sanscrit, the sacred language of the Hindoos, the possession of which was necessary to support his Brahminical rank. The study of dialectics seems well adapted to the subtle genius of the Hindoos. Rammohun Roy, who at Patna had made him. self acquainted with the logic of the Arabians, which he still considers as superior to every other, now applied himself to the study of the scholastic philosophy of his countrymen, to which he declares, that he has found nothing equal in the works of the European scholars. It may be that this preference is owing to the prejudices of his education, but the works that have came from his pen do not allow us to impute it to his ignorance of European literature. At Calcutta, he became acquainted with the Christian religion, without, however, at first embracing it. At the age of twenty, his religion was simple theism, and he had adopted the opinion, that the Hindoo superstitions were a corruption of the ancient religion of the nation as contained in their sacred writings, which teach the unity of God, a mental worship, and the practice of a pure morality. During the life of his father, however, he was restrained by awe of him from openly professing his infidelity, and the instances of disrespect which he occasionally showed to the religious observances of the country, were attributed to the levity of youth.
In 1804, or 1805, Ram Hant Roy, his father, died, and soon after the brothers of Rammohun Roy, by which event he became proprietor of the large family estates. He now removed from Borduan to Moorshedabad, the residence of his ancestors. Shortly after his removal, he published a work in the Persian language, with a preface in Arabic, which he entitled, “ Against the Idolatry of all Religions." In this book, of which no English translation has ever been given, he is said to have first advanced and defended his peculiar views of the original and pure religion of India. No answer to this book ever appeared, but it raised up against him a multitude of enemies both among the Hindoos and the Mahometans, whose respective systems he had not spared. He accordingly found himself obliged, in 1814, to retire to Calcutta, where the influence of English manners promised him some exemption from the inconveniences and dangers to which the enmity of these sects Vol. I.
exposed him. Here he applied himself seriously to the acquisition of the English tongue, and being appointed Dewan, or principal native officer in the collection of the revenues, for one of the districts of India, he soon came, by the constant reading of English documents, and by frequent mingling with English society, to speak and write the language with no little readiness and elegance. An English schoolmaster instructed him in the Latin, and a German of the name of Makay, a man of a philosophic turn of mind, taught him the mathematics of Europe. He afterwards studied Greek and Hebrew, and added the French to the numerous list of modern languages with which he was already acquainted.
In 1816 he published, in English, his translation of an Abridg. ment of the Vedant, or Resolution of all the Veds. The Veds are the scriptures, or sacred books of the Hindoos. They are in the Sanscrit language, and are of remote and immemorial antiquity; the veneration of the Hindoos assigns to them the same date with that of the creation of the world. “ These works,” to use the language of Rammohun Roy himself, “ are extremely voluminous, and being written in the most elevated and metaphorical style, are, as it may well be supposed, in many places, extremely confused and contradictory. Upwards of two thousand years ago the great Byas," or Vyas, of whom the author, in another place, speaks as the greatest of the Indian theologists, philosophers, and poets, " reflecting on the perpetual difficulties arising from these sources, composed, with great discrimination, a complete and compendious abstract of the whole ; and also reconciled those texts that appeared to stand at variance. This work he termed The Vedant, which, compounded of two Sanscrit words, signifies the Resolution of all the Veds. It has continued to be most highly revered by all the Hindoos, and in place of the more diffuse arguments of the Veds, eferred to as of equal authority.” This work is also in the Sanscrit language; the Brahmins only are permitted to touch or interpret it, and though perpetually quoted, it is almost unknown to the people. Rammohun Roy translated it into the Bengalee and Hindoo languages for the benefit of his countrymen, and, at the same time, printed an abridgment of it in those languages, which he distributed gratuitously. The English translation of this abridgment was made to vindicate what he calls the true and ancient religion of India, from the dishonour of those superstitions with which the Brahmins, the directors of its worship, had corrupted it. The motive of the translation into the vernacular languages of India, was still more laudable. He wished to reclaim his countrymen from
their gross idolatry, by showing that it receives no countenance from those very books which they regarded as the oracles of their religion, but of whose contents they were suffered to know so little.
Human nature does not seem to be a different thing in India from what we find it in other countries of the world. Every where men defend the abuses by which they profit; and the zeal with which any profession or body of men uphold a system of which they reap the advantages, is no proof either of the sincerity of its supporters, or that it contains in itself even the poor merit of speciousness and apparent utility. Rammohun Roy, in the preface to the book we have just mentioned, thus speaks of the Brahmins. Many learned Brahmins are perfectly aware of the absurdity of idolatry, and are well informed of the nature of the purer mode of divine worship. But as in the rites, ceremonies, and festivals of idolatry, they find the source of their comforts and fortune, they not only never fail to protect idol worship from all attacks, but even advance and encourage it to the utmost of their power, by keeping the knowledge of their scriptures concealed from the rest of the people. Their followers, too, confiding in these leaders, feel gratification in the idea of the divine nature residing in a being resembling themselves in birth, shape, and propensities; and are naturally delighted with a mode of worship agreeable to the senses, though destructive of moral principles, and the fruitful parent of prejudice and superstition.”
Soon after, he published, in English and Bengalee, some of the principal chapters of the Veds, " for the purpose of illustrating and confirming the view he had taken of them," and the next year a Defence of Hindoo Theism. In the introductions prefixed to these translations, as well as in the latter work, besides maintaining his peculiar theological opinions, he attacks the great division of the inhabitants of Hindostan into castes, a system which cements and upholds the errors and superstitions of Hindooism, by incorporating them with the daily and domestic habits of every individual. Upon the downfall of this system it is, that all hopes of improvement in the political and religious condition of his countrymen must depend. Many of the countrymen of Rammohun Roy were convinced by his reasonings ; and a society of Brahmins, many of whom were of considerable rank and opulence, was formed, which soon increased to the number of a thousand disciples, who were accustomed to meet every Sunday at his house for the purposes of religious worship. Here, such parts of the Veds as treat of the nature of the Godhead were explained, and hymns were sung
in Sanscrit and Bengalee. He also founded a school, in which fifty children were instructed, at his own expense, in Sanscrit, English, and geography, and where the first principles of natural religion were instilled into their minds. In 1818 he published his first tract against the practice of burning widows at the funeral pile of their husbands, and this was afterwards followed by several others on the same subject. It is not to be supposed, however, that the mass of his countrymen would look calmly on these attempts to expose and subvert the absurdities and follies of their worship. His life has been twice attempted by the Brahmins; his family have opposed, with the greatest vehemence, his projects of reform; not even his wife would follow him to Calcutta, whither the malice of his enemies had driven him for refuge; and his fanatical mother, whenever he visits her, loads him with reproaches.
One would have thought that the horror with which the adherents of an ancient faith always regard an apostate, would have vented itself through the medium of the press. not appear, however, that the advocates of Hindooism were in haste to take the field of controversy against so powerful a champion, and in defence of a cause for which so little could be said. One tract, however, on the side of Hindoo idolatry, appeared in the Madras Journal, and another came out in the shape of a pamphlet, entitled, an Apology for the Present State of Hindoo Worship. The latter work was answered by Rammohun Roy in a work called a Second Defence of the Monotheistical System of the Veds, printed at Calcutta in 1817. Among the reasonings by which the Brahmins defend their idolatry, it is urged, that the objects of this kind of worship are but the medium through which they address their adorations to the Divine Being. They observe that the nature of God cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind—that he can be worshipped only by his known attributes; and they affirm, that the material objects of their religious veneration are but the symbols of these attributes, employed to direct their thoughts to the supreme and universal deity. Another argument in favour of the practice of idol worship is drawn from its great antiquity, its universal reception, and its incorporation with the customs and habits of the nation, which are supposed to create a necessity of continuing it. These arguments are answered by Rammohun Roy, as well by ample quotations from the scriptures of the Hindoos, as by an appeal to the common sense and reason of mankind. In his Second Defence of the Monotheistical System of the Veds, he exposes more fully the hypocrisy and fraud of the Brahmins.