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propriety for opinion and action in our own modes of life, and equally all appeals to our revealed tenets of religion and moral duty. He would exact from every reader the allowance of obfcurity, abfurdity, barbarous habits, and a perverted morality. With thefe deductions he hesitates not to pronounce the Geeta a performance of great originality; of a fublimity of conception, reasoning, and diction, almoft unequalled; and a fingle inftance, among all the known religions of mankind, of a theology. accurately correfponding with that of the Chriftian difpenfation, and powerfully illuftrating its fundamental doctrines.
It will not be fair, he fays, to try its relative worth by a comparison with the text of the firft ftandards of European compofition; but let these be taken in the most esteemed of their profe tranflations, and in that equal fcale let their merits be weighed. On this ground he would not fear to place in oppofition to the beft French verfions of the Iliad or Odyffey, or of the 1ft and 6th Books of our own Milton, the English verfion of the Mahabharat.
We have fearched the records of criticifm for precedents, but can find none that can warrant a compliance with the requifitions of Mr. H. The cuftoms of our court are directly oppofite to his propofals, nor do we even wish to recollect a cafe which would juftify us in conferring unmixed praife on a work, abounding, even by the confeffion of its warmeft advocate, with manifelt and palpable abfurdities. If any thing could authorize fuch a conceffion, we might, indeed, difmifs thefe new canons of criticism, without further obfervations. At prefent we would fubmit it to the candour of Mr. H. whether there be not fome degree of inconfiftency, we will not fay of abfurdity, in his remarks. When he requires us to exclude every rule drawn from the ancient or modern literature of Europe, would he imply, that they are not what others have fuppofed them to be, the refult of good fense and experience? If this implication be not intended, it is furely a bad compliment to the Geeta, to deprecate the examination of it before the tribunal of reafon. But Mr. Haftings tells us, that the Geeta is a performance of aftonishing fublimity of conception, reafoning, and diction. Why then does he plead fo earnestly for the allowance of obfcurity and abfurdity? Occafional inftances of both have ever been excufed, even according to the ftricteft rules of European criticifm. Mr. H. must therefore fuppofe them to be more than occafional, when he would exact a particular indulgence in their favour. Befide, if the Geeta be really, as he informs us, a single inftance among all the known religions of mankind, of a theology accurately corresponding with the Chriftian difpenfation, why are we forbidden to compare it with our revealed tenets of religion? If it fo powerfully illustrate the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, what need is there of conceffions
REV. March, 1786.
conceffions in favour of barbarous habits and perverted morality? We will not do Mr. H. the injuftice to fuppofe, that he ferioufly means to draw a parallel between the Geeta and the facred records of Chriftian faith. The futility, as well as the impiety, of fuch a parallel will, we truft, be fufficiently evinced by the analyfis which we mean to give of the work, and by the remarks which it will be our duty to make on it. In the mean while, we beg leave to explain the principles on which our judgment will be formed.
In delivering our opinion of oriental compofitions, we have ever thought it neceffary to diftinguish the merit of the writer from that of his work. The former will always depend on circumftances, on the ftate of learning and civilization in the age and country in which he wrote, and on the peculiar advantages of education which he himself enjoyed. The fairest flowers of genius have too often been cramped by national ignorance and abfurd prejudices, by barbarous habits and perverted morality. In this cafe, we have only to admire thofe tints, which, had they been the offspring of a more kindly foil, and been cultivated by the foftering hand of art, might have glowed with tenfold luftre, and triumphed in unrivalled beauty. But the merit of a compoAtion fhould be estimated without any reference to its author, or to the difficulties he encountered. It is to be tried, not indeed by arbitrary rules, which have no foundation in reafon, but by thofe founded in nature and the relation of things, those, to the propriety of which, when they are fairly and explicitly proposed, every rational mind will affent. Of this kind, we conceive, are thofe general rules which nature dictated to the critics of Greece and Rome. If now, as we proceed in the examination of the Geeta, we take thefe critical axioms for our guides, they will oblige us to vindicate the cause of European literature from comparifons which tend to degrade it; but they will not diminish the value of the work, or prevent our beftowing all due praife on it, when confidered as a curious fpecimen of the ancient Hindoo learning and mythology.
The Bhagvat Geeta is an epifodical extract from the Mahabharat, a voluminous poem, affirmed to have been written above 4000 years ago, by Kreefhna Dwypayen Veias, a learned Brahman, and ftill venerated by the Hindoos as a work of divine inspiration and authority.
The Mahabharat contains the genealogy and general history of the house of Bhaurut, fo called from Bhurrut its founder; the epithet Maha, or Great, being prefixed in token of diftinction: but its more particular object is to relate the diffentions and wars of the two great collateral branches of it, called Kooroos and Pandoos; both lineally defcended in the fecond degree from Veecheetraveerya, their common ancestor, by their refpective fathers Dreetrarashtra and Pandoo.
The Kooroos, which indeed is fometimes used as a term comprehending the whole family, but most frequently applied as the patronymic of the elder branch alone, are faid to have been one hundred in number, of whom Dooryodun was efteemed the head and reprefentative even during the life of his father, who was incapacitated by blindness. The fons of Pandoo were five; Yoodhifhteer, Bheem, Arjoon, Nekool, and Sehadeo; who, through the artifices of Dooryodun, were banished, by their uncle and guardian Dreetrarashtra, from Haftenapoor, at that time the feat of government of Hindoftan. The exiles, after a series of adventures, worked up with a wonderful fertility of genius and pomp of langage into a thousand fubTime defcriptions, returned with a powerful army to avenge their wrongs, and affert their pretenfions to the empire in right of their father; by whom, though the younger brother, it had been held while he lived, on account of the difqualification already mentioned of Dreetrarashtra.'
At this period the epifode opens, in the form of a dialogue, fuppofed to have paffed between Kreefhna, an incarnation of the Deity, and his pupil and favourite Arjoon, one of the five fons of Pandoo above mentioned. It is divided into eighteen chapters, or, as the Tranflator calls them, lectures.
The title of the firft is, The grief of Arjoon.'-When the two armies of Kooroos and Pandoos are drawn up ready to engage, whilft the clangour of innumerable fhells is heard on all fides, and the weapons of death begin to fly abroad; Arjoon, who is represented as ftanding with Kreefhna in a fplendid chariot drawn by white horses, requefts that he may be driven into the mid fpace in front of the two armies, to take a nearer view of the hoftile ranks. And here, looking around him on all fides, and beholding relations, and brethren, and friends, prepared for mutual deftruction, he is feized with extreme horror and compunction, and at length his grief burfts forth into the following natural and pathetic expoftulations :
Having beheld, O Kreefhna! my kindred thus ftanding anxious for the fight, my members fail me, my countenance withereth, the hair ftandeth on end upon my body, and all my frame trembleth with horror! Even Gandeev my bow escapeth from my hand, and my fkin is parched and dried up. I am not able to ftand; for my understanding, as it were, turneth round, and I behold inaufpicious omens on all fides. When I fhall have deftroyed my kindred, fhall I longer look for happiness? I wish not for victory, Kreefhna; I want not dominion; I want not pleasure; for what is dominion, and the enjoyments of life, or even life itself, when those, for whom dominion, pleasure, and enjoyment were to be coveted, have abandoned life and fortune, and stand here in the field ready for the battle? Tutors, fons and fathers, grandfires and grandfons, uncles and nephews, cousins, kindred, and friends! Although they would kill me, I wish not to fight them; no not even for the dominion of the three regions of the univerfe, much lefs for this little earth! Having killed the fons of Dreetarashtra, what pleafure, O Kreefhna, can P 2
we enjoy? Should we destroy them, tyrants as they are, fin would take refuge with us. It therefore behoveth us not to kill fuch near relations as these. How, O Kreefhna, can we be happy hereafter, when we have been the murderers of our race? What if they, whofe minds are depraved by the luft of power, fee no fin in the extirpation of their race, no crime in the murder of their friends, is that a reason why we should not refolve to turn away from fuch a crime, we who abhor the fin of extirpating the kindred of our blood ?-Woe is me! what a great crime are we prepared to commit! Alas! that for the luft of the enjoyments of dominion we ftand here ready to murder the kindred of our own blood! I would rather patiently fuffer that the fons of Dreetarashtra, with their weapons in their hands, fhould come upon me, and, unoppofed, kill me unguarded in the field.'
When Arjoon had ceased to speak, he fat down in the chariot between the two armies; and having put away his bow and arrows, his heart was overwhelmed with affliction.'
Lecture II. has for its title Of the Nature of the Soul and fpeculative Doctrines.'-Kreefhna here reproves the weakness of Arjoon, as defpicable and unmanly. From a view of the nature of the foul, he teaches him to difregard the body, and by arguments drawn from its immortality, labours to infpire him with a contempt of death, and to convince him that his tenderness for the lives of others is mistaken and abfurd:
Thou grieveft for those who are unworthy to be lamented, whilst thy fentiments are thofe of the wife men. The wife neither grieve for the dead nor for the living. I myself never was not, nor thou, nor all the princes of the earth; nor fhall we ever hereafter ceafe to be. As the foul in this mortal frame findeth infancy, youth, and old age, fo, in fome future frame, will it find the like. One who is confirmed in this belief is not disturbed by any thing that may come to pass. The fenfibility of the faculties giveth heat and cold, pleasure and pain, which come and go, and are tranfient and inconftant. Bear them with patience, O fon of Bharat: for the wife man, whom these difturb not, and to whom pain and pleasure are the fame, is formed for immortality. A thing imaginary hath no exiftence, whilft that which is true is a ftranger to non-entity. By thofe who look into the principles of things, the defign of each is feen. Learn that he by whom all things were formed is incorruptible, and that no one is able to effect the deftruction of this thing which is inexhauftible. Thefe bodies, which envelop the fouls which inhabit them, which are eternal, incorruptible, and furpaffing all conception, are declared to be finite beings; wherefore, O Arjoon, refolve to fight. The man who believeth that it is the foul which killeth, and he who thinketh that the foul may be deftroyed, are both alike deceived; for it neither killeth, nor is it killed. It is not a thing of which a man may fay, it hath been, it is about to be, or is to be hereafter; for it is a thing without birth; it is ancient, conftant, and eternal, and is not to be defroyed in this its mortal frame. How can the man, who believeth that this thing is incorruptible, eternal, inexhauftible, and without birth, think that he can either kill or cause it to be killed? As a man throweth away old garments, and putteth on new,
Even fo the foul, having quitted its old mortal frames, entereth into others which are new. The weapon divideth it not, the fire burneth it not, the water corrupteth it not, the wind drieth it not away; for it is indivisible, inconsumable, incorruptible, and is not to be dried away: it is eternal, univerfal, permanent, immoveable; it is invifible, inconceivable, and unalterable; therefore, believing it to be 'thus, thou shouldft not grieve. But whether thou believeft it of eternal birth and duration, or that it dieth with the body, ftill thou haft no cause to lament it. Death is certain to all things which are fubject to birth, and regeneration to all things which are mortal; wherefore it doth not behove thee to grieve about that which is inevitable. The former ftate of beings is unknown; the middle ftate is evident, and their future ftate is not to be difcovered. Why then fhouldst thou trouble thyself about fuch things as these? Some regard the foul as a wonder, whilft fome fpeak, and others hear of it with aftonishment; but no one knoweth it, although he may have heard it defcribed. This fpirit being never to be deftroyed in the mortal frame which it inhabiteth, it is unworthy for thee to be troubled for all these mortals.'
The doctrine of the metempsychosis is here plainly inculcated. -It is indeed one of the leading doctrines of the Geeta.-But whether India may juftly claim the honour of having given birth to this fantastical opinion, or whether it was originally introduced there from Egypt, or from fome other country, are quel tions which (though they afford room for much curious fpeculation) we prefume not to difcufs. That many of the Egyptian fuperftitions were transplanted into India by the priests who were expelled from Egypt after the conqueft of that country by Cambyfes, is rendered highly probable by the arguments of the learned Kircher. The Indian idols accord in many respects with the hieroglyphic reprefentations of the Egyptian deities, and it has been faid, that fome traces of the worship of Ifis and Ofiris, are ftill vifible in India. But if we could with fafety indulge the fuppofition, that the pretenfions of the Geeta to an antiquity of 4000 years are well founded, it would follow, that this opinion muft have been adopted by the Hindoos long before the time of Cambytes. However this may be, certain it is, that a belief of the tranfmigration of fouls has prevailed in various countries from the most remote antiquity. From the Egyptians, whose fentiments on this fubject are recorded by Herodotus, it paffed through the medium of the Pythagorean philosophy to the Greeks, among whom it feems to have been generally adopted by those who held the foul's pre-existence. The writings of
* Πρωτοι δε καὶ τονδε τον λόγον Αιγοπλοι εισιν ειπούλες, ως ανθρωπο ψυχη αθα νατος εΓν, το σώματος δὲ καταφθινοίος ες αλλο ζων αιει γινόμενον εςδύεται επαν δε περιελθῃ πανία τα χερσαία, και τα θαλασσια, καὶ τα πληνα, αυτές ες ανθρωπε qapıœ ymropera nodur. Herodot. lib. i. c. 123.