Carey and Marshman's Ramayuna Reviewed

Classical Greece produced the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Classical Rome inspired Virgil to compose the Aeneid.  But classical India boasts two epic poems of influence and attraction.  One is called the Mahabharata.  The other is the Ramayana.

Composed in Sanskrit, the sacred language of India, the Ramayana ("Romance of Rama") contains about 24,000 couplets divided into seven books.  It tells the story of Rama, who rescues his wife Sita from the demon-king Ravana.  Sita bears Rama's two sons, but (after undergoing in one version a trial by fire to prove her fidelity) she is eventually swallowed up by the earth.  

Working under the auspices of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, William Carey and Joshua Marshman translated the Ramayuna of Valmeeki [usually rendered now as the Ramayana of Valmiki] into English in 1810.  

Reviews of the Serampore translation included Sharon Turner's contribution to the Quarterly Review in 1810.  Turner (1768-1847) practiced law and befriended Quarterly Review publisher John Murray.  But Turner thrived upon his avocations of history and philology.  He studied Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic and devoted many hours of research to manuscripts at the British Museum.  

Turner's History of England (1839) traced English history from the earliest times to the death of Elizabeth I.  Godfather to future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Turner concocted his blend of enlightenment and Christianity in Sacred History of the World as Displayed in the Creation and Subsequent Events to the Deluge, Attempted to be Philosophically Considered in a Series of Letters to a Son (8th ed., 1848).

Turner's extensive summary of the Ramayana and favorable pronouncements on the labors of Marshman and Carey must be considered in light of his rejection of the harsh reviewing tactics of the rival Edinburgh Review and his lack of demonstrated knowledge of the imposing nuances of Sanskrit.  His estimate, therefore, does not offer the verdict of authoritative scholarship.  Certainly his rather dismissive critical evaluation of the Ramayana would not be entertained by scholars or readers today. 

Turner's appreciation reveals a European "Orientalist" mind at work as it appropriates and classifies the riches of Indian culture.  Turner's statements also suggest, however, that the reputation of Serampore missionaries had not suffered overmuch as a result of the East India Company's restrictions upon their activities or the rhetorical lashings of the Anglican essayist Sydney Smith

Below is Turner's review presented in its entirety from [Sharon Turner]. "ART. VII. The Ramayuna of Valmeeki, translated from the original Sungskrit, with explanatory Notes. By William Carey and Joshua Marshman. 4to. Vol. I, containing the first Book. pp. 449," The Quarterly Review 3, no. 6 (May, 1810): 379-388. 












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Created: May 14, 2001         Updated: November 7, 2002