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An Account of the Life and Writings of RAMMOHUN Roy, a learned
Brahmin, and of the New Sect in India, of which he is the Founder. We have already introduced the bably the nature of those works, and Hindoo Reformer to our readers, XIII. the intimacy which he formed at an 299 and 512, and XIV. 561-569. early age with Mahometans whom he We now lay before them a further seems to have esteemed, contributed account of this interesting man, trans- both to shake his faith in the Brahmi. lated from a French pamphlet, lately nical religion, and to lead him to the sent to us from Paris, by the Abbé design and the means of examining Gregoire, formerly Bishop of Blois. other religious systems. It is not creThis pamphlet has been since inserted dible that his masters intended to give in the Chronique Religieuse. The such latitude to his mind; for although biographical part of the article is a there are in India many intelligent and communication to the Abbé from well-informed Mahometans, yet there Bengal, drawn up in French by M. is not one of them who, with respect d'Acosta, an Asiatic well versed in the to religion, is otherwise than intolerant. languages, history and antiquities of At nineteen or twenty years of age, India, and the present Editor of The Rammohun Roy was not a believer in Tmes, at Calcutta : the concluding any one of the three religions which remarks upon Rammohun Roy's sys- came under his observation, that is to tem and writings are by the Abbé say, the Mahometan, the Christian, or himself. Our translation is literal, the Hindoo. At that time he knew which we premise, as a matter of jus. very little of the English tongue, and tice to ourselves, should any of the that little he had taught himself. The statements appear questionable. We awe with which his father inspired him have reason to believe that the Monthly prevented the open acknowledgment of Repository is read in India, and we, his scepticism; but from some indirect therefore, take this opportunity of re- reproaches which he received, he imaquesting communications from our gines that he had fallen under his susreaders in that part of the world on picion; the father, however, was too this subject, or any other within the sincerely a Hindoo to conceive the exprovince of our work.' Ed.]
tent or the cause of his son's incredu
lity, and he undoubtedly attributed the D AMMOHUN ROY BANOUD. young man's apparent irregularities N JIA is the son of Ram Hant merely to the thoughtlessness of youth. Roy, and the grandson of Roy Bry We may here remark, that the educaBinad. The latter resided at Mour- tion which he gave to his son was, for shedabad; he filled some important the country in which he lived, of a very offices under the Moguls, but was ill- superior kind. Brought up himself in used by those despots towards the end the midst of a Mussulman court, he of his life, which circumstance led his was inclined to give the young man son, Ram Hant Roy, to take up his those qualifications that would recomabode in the district of Bordouan, mend him to the ancient conquerors of where he rented land of the English India, rather than to the more recent, government. Rammohun Roy was in whose language even he did not have born in Bordouan about the year 1780. him instructed: the Sanscrit, which he He there beneath his father's roof re- caused him to learn, could be intended ceived the elements of education, and only to support his Brahminical rank. also acquired the Persian language; he. Ram Hant Roy died about the year was afterwards sent to Patna to learn 1804 or 1805, after having divided his the Arabic, and lastly to Calcutta to property, two years before this period, obtain a knowledge of the Sanscrit. His among his three sons, in order to premasters at Patna gave him Arabic vent all disputes on the suhject. The translations of some of the writings of eldest son died shortly after; RammoAristotle and of Euclid to study. Pro- hun Roy then became the elder, and in VOL. XV.
a short time the only survivor. From have prevented his losing caste, a spethis period, he appears to have con- cies of excommunication, that his ceived his plans of reform ; he thought countrymen would gladly have subit expedient to quit Bordouan, where jected him to; which would be a dreadhe had resided but little, and removed ful punishment, since it would deprive to Mourshedabad; he there published, him of the society even of his wife and in Persian, with an Arabic preface, a his only son. To the causes enumework, entitled Against the Idolatry of rated for his exemption from this puall Religions. No one undertook to nishment, we should add the entertainrefute this book ; but the host of ene- ment he gives daily (actuated by prumies which it raised up against the dence, equal to his ardour for reform) author, among the Mahometans and to a certain number of Brahmins, who Hindoos, obliged him to retire to Cal- are thereby led to take a personal incutta in the year 1814. This step points terest in the defence of him; for if out the limit of British influence in In- they had once eaten at his table, they dia; for though all the places hitherto would be all involved in the excominhabited by him were equally under munication deserved by him. This the authority of the English govern- proves how impotent, under certain ment, they were not equally influenced circumstances, those institutions beby English manners. At Calcutta, come which are not founded on nature Rammohun Roy applied himself more and reason; and how their contrivances seriously to the study of the English may be turned against themselves. If tongue, both by reading and conversa this be true respecting the Hindoo tion. He learnt a little Latin of an En- system, which of all the ancient instiglish schoolmaster, named Pritchard ; tutions has preserved most of its priand a German, of the name of Makay, mitive harshness, how much more is it a man of a philosophic turn of mind, applicable to all the others! instructed him in the mathematics. Whatever be the abstract merit of He purchased a garden, with a house Rammohun Roy, there is, probably, constructed in the European mode, in throughout India no Brahmin who is the Circular-Road, at the eastern ex- less a Brahmin and less a Hindoo than tremity of the town.
he; and thousands of dupes who have Rammohun Roy found means to re- suffered the loss of their caste have commend his religious opinions to a been less offenders against the peculidozen of his countrymen, all distin- arities of their religion than he. guished for their rank and opulence; Rammohun Roy, considering that and with their aid he has founded a youth is the period most adapted to sect, which may comprise a thousand the reception of novelties, either good disciples. To conciliate the Europeans, or bad, has established a school at his he has not only given the appellation own expense, where fifty children are Unitarian to this sect, but likewise taught Sanscrit, English and Geogradeclares, that his morality is no other phy. How slender soever these atthan that of the gospel. The members tempts at reform may appear, they of the sect unite every Sunday at the will, probably, more or less rapidly dwelling of Rammohun Roy, where attain their object; aided as they are they eat, drink, and sing hymns in by European influence, and, above all, Sanscrit and Bengalee to the honour by the art of printing. It is against of the only true God. Rammohun the division of his countrymen into Roy is the most respectable individual castes that Rammohun Roy's correcting amongst them; the only one, perhaps, hand is turned, and in that the strength who is really so: the rest are little of his judgment is evinced. The disknown, with the exception of one tinction of castes may be regarded as named Kamo, a man of great wealth, the cement of the polytheism and the and excessively fond of spirituous li- other errors prevalent in India : let quors. We may easily imagine, that that distinction disappear, and all the the Hindoos, from their attachment to Hindoo superstitions will crumble bethe Vedas, earnestly set themselves neath the touch of human reason. It against innovation: Rammohun Roy is the division into eastes, carried to a has been attacked in various ways; but frightful excess, which consolidates the his intelligence, his firmness, his know- Hindoo system, by incorporating it ledge, joined to the affluence he enjoys, with the daily habits of domestic life. In fact, European institutions them- European books equal to the scholastic selves are not altogether exempt from philosophy of the Hindoos. the influence of this vicious principle : We may easily imagine that a man. legitimacy, taken as an absolute rule; who has raised himself so much above hereditary nobility, and the privileges the level of his countrymen by his inof the first-born, are the same thing; tellectual attainments, cannot exactly or rather, are remnants of it, which resemble them in his conduct. He cannot without difficulty be destroyed. not only refrains from their supersti
Rammohun Roy, adapting his mea- . tious practices, (which is not saying sures to the place and the times in much in his favour, since he might do which he lives, as well as the sort of so from various causes not highly laumen he is attempting to enlighten, does dable,) but, what is much more im-not oppose the institution of castes by portant, all his conversation, his actions abstract reasonings, (for they would be and manners evince a powerful sentiuseless,) but by the authority of the ment of individual dignity; whilst, in Vedant, which he is careful not to bring general, meanness and feebleness of into disrepute, and of which he pro- mind are characteristic of the Hindoo. fesses to be but the commentator. The Influenced, like those around him, with discretion which regulates his conduct the spirit of order, economy and knowprevents any action revolting to the ledge of the value of money, acquired prejudices of his fellow-sectaries, or by their mercantile education, Ramcapable of affording an excuse for his mohun Roy does not view the augexclusion. He has, nevertheless, risen mentation of property as the most above many littlenesses : he scruples important object : his fortune consists not to seat himself with an European of the wealth he received from his anwho is eating; sometimes he even in- cestors : he does not give his mind to vites Enropeans to his house, and treats any kind of commercial speculation.'' them according to their own taste. He would consider that mode of life Far, however, from wishing to lose his beneath his station and the duties of Brahminical dignity, it is upon that he a Brahmin. He derives no pecuniary founds his enterprise ; asserting that advantage from his works; and, in all it is his duty, as a Brahmin, to instruct probability, desirous as he may be of his countrymen in the sense and in the power and distinction, he would not real commands of their sacred books. accept of the Government any place His efforts are directed towards the that should be merely lucrative; to destruction of that prejudice which solicit one of any description he would presents the different castes from eat- not condescend. It is not likely, howing together. He considers that this ever, that the Government will make amelioration is the most essential, and trial of his inclination : it would not will effect every other, even the poli- suit the policy of the present masters tical amelioration of his country-and of his country to give encouragement this is an object to which he is not to a subject whose soul is so lofty, and indifferent. Every six months he pub- whose ingenuous conversation often lishes a little tract, in Bengalee and in shews, in a strain half serious and half English, developing his system of the- jesting, all that he wishes to be able to ism ; and he is always ready to answer do for his country. He cultivates a the pamphlets published at Calcutta friendly connexion with many Euroor Madras in opposition to him. He peans, distinguished by their rank or takes pleasure in this controversy; but their merit; he appears not to seek although far from deficient in philo- connexions of any other kind. Within sophy, or in knowledge, he distinguishes the last year or two he has been less in himself more by his logical mode of society than formerly. reasoning than by his general views. Rammohun Roy, as has already He appears to feel the advantage which been shewn, is not yet forty years old ; it gives him with the Methodists, some he is tall and robust; his regular feaof whom are endeavouring to convert tures and habitually grave countenance him. He seems to have prepared him- assume a most pleasing appearance self for his polemical career from the when he is animated. He appears to logic of the Arabians, which he regards have a slight disposition to melancholy. as superior to every other; he asserts The whole of his conversation and likewise, that he has found nothing in manners shew, at first sight, that he is:
above mediocrity. He frequently talks usage obtains, an extensive circulation of going into Europe, but apparently has been given to this little anonymous considers it desirable first to mollify tract, whose author is undoubtedly so far the prejudices of his countrymen, Rammohun Roy. His name is in the that he may not by that voyage, which title-page of the other writings about is regarded as unlawful, expose him- to be mentioned, published in Benself to excommunication. It is very galee and Hindoostanee, and then in doubtful whether he will succeed in English: in all of them his object is to this attempt; the hope, however, which combat the polytheism of his countryhe cherishes, is a decided proof of the men from their sacred books; to concharacter of his mind. It may here vince them of the unity of God, and be remarked, that almost every man to detach them from idolatry, and who has done more in this world than from the prejudices of the castes. come into life, exist a time, and die, The first of these is entitled “Transhas proposed to himself some object lation of the Ishopanishad, one of the of this nature; not chimerical, yet dis- Chapters of the Yajur Veda ; which tant and difficult of attainment, which proves the Unity and Incomprehensimay continually impel him to exertion, bility of God, &c. By Rammohun support him through his arduous ca- Roy. 8vo. Calcutta. 1816.” There reer with the ennobling conviction of is a long and well-written preface to not living in vain, and invigorate hiin, this tract. The author puts under reand charm away the pain of occasional quisition the sacred books which condisappointments, with the certainty of tain the doctrines, the history, and the leaving at least some worthy object of literature of the Hindoos, the Veds, pursuit for a future generation.
and all the writings of the most celeIt is singular that this philosophic brated authors, the Puranas, the TunIndian, who, as has been shewn in this tras, and the Shasters; and, by a great little sketch, has enlarged views re- variety of quotations, proves that they specting the amelioration of the men have all admitted the unity of God. of his country, has not the least idea Some of these works, indeed, appear of improving the females; of whom he to contradict themselves, by speaking avoids even the mention. We must of many gods and goddesses; but this suppose that this sort of prejudice, is reconciled by their declaring freinspired by the Shasters, though ge- quently that homage paid to material neral amongst the Hindoos, has been beings is allowable only for persons perpetuated in so enlightened a mind incapable of elevating their minds to only by the circumstances of Rammo- the idea of a supreme, invisible Being ; hun Roy's domestic life: it is known that this mode of worship, gross as it that every member of his family verifies is, may form a bridle to vicious desires, the proverb, by opposing with the but that idolatry should be despised by greatest vehemence all his projects of all whose understanding is more cultireform. None of them, not even his vated. wife, would accompany him to Cal- Many well-informed Brahmins are cutta ; in consequence of which, he convinced of the absurdity of polyrarely visits them in Bordouan, where theism ; but its rites and festivals being they reside. They have disputed with a source of wealth to them, a means him even the superintendence of the of turning the credulity, the weakness education of his nephews; and his fa- and the patience of the Hindoos to natical mother shews as much ardour their own profit, they desire not to put in her incessant opposition to him, as an end to superstition ; on the conhe displays in his attempts to destroy trary, they encourage it, and keep the the idolatry of the Hindoos.
people from the knowledge of the Calcutta, Nov. 8, 1818.
truth. Their adherents also feel satis
faction in the idea that the divine nature Amongst the works sent over from dwells in living men, whom they transBengal is an English translation, printed form into gods; yet that they resemble in December 1818, of a conference, other men in their birth, outward aporiginally written in Bungla, against pearance and passions. This false the custom of burning widows alive on notion, pleasing to the senses, is dethe funeral pile of their husbands. Instructive of the principles of morality. the countries in which that detestable A Hindoo who makes or purchases an