The earliest Indian literary histories

Peter Wyzlic pwyzlic at UNI-BONN.DE
Sun Aug 19 22:07:39 UTC 2012

Am 19.08.2012 um 22:24 schrieb Ulrich T. Kragh:

> Dear Indology List members,
> I am trying to identify the earliest literary histories of Indian literature, in particular the nineteenth-century publications. By "literary history," I mean a history that either attempts to cover Indian literature as a whole or within a particular language, e.g., Sanskrit literature. I do not mean publications that deal exclusively with merely a single or just a few Indian works, since what I am interested in is the writing of broader literary histories per se.
> So far, my list includes F. Max Müller's "The History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature" (1859, though limited to Vedic literature), Robert Watson Frazer's "A Literary History of India" (1898), and Arthur A. MacDonell's "A History of Sanskrit Literature" (1899). In his preface, MacDonell refers to Weber's "Academical Lectures on Indian Literature" (1852-1878) (I haven't yet looked up the original German title, as MacDonell refers only to the book's English translation) and L. von Schroeder's "Indiens Literatur und Kunst" (1887).

The first edition of Weber's work appeared under this title: "Akademische Vorlesungen über indische Literaturgeschichte : gehalten im Wintersemester 1851/52". - Berlin : Dümmler, 1852. - VI, 284 p.

In 1859 a French translation came out under the title: Histoire de la littérature indienne : cours professé à l'université de Berlin (Trad. de l'allemand par Alfred Sadous.  Paris: Durand, 1859); the English translation appeared as The history of Indian literature / by Albrecht Weber. Transl. from the 2nd German ed. by John Mann and Theodor Zachariae with the sanction of the author. - London : Trübner, 1878 (American ed.: Boston : Houghton, Osgood, & Company, 1878). This version is based upon the second enlarged German edition of 1876 (Berlin: Dümmler [et al.], 1876). You will find digital copies of all of them.

Perhaps one of the earliest works of this kind was Friedrich Adelung's "Versuch einer Literatur der Sanskrit-Sprache" , published in St. Petersburg: Kray, 1830. Actually, it is more like a commented bibliography by someone who did not read Sanskrit by himself. An English translation appeared in 1832 under the title "An historical sketch of Sanskrit literature : with copious bibliographical notices of Sanskrit works and translations" (Oxford 1832). A second enlarged edition was published under the title "Bibliotheca sanscrita : Literatur der Sanskrit-Sprache" (St. Petersburg: Kray, 1837).

A misleading title is: August Hennings (1746-1826): Versuch einer ostindischen Litteratur-Geschichte : nebst einer kritischen Beurtheilung der Aechtheit der Zend-Bücher / von August Hennings. - Hamburg und Kiel : Bohn, 1786; it is really a large work (more than 760 pages), however, it does not provide a history of literature in the sense of belles-lettles, written  by Indian authors. It is, indeed, a survey of what European travellers, missionaries, geographers and so on had written on East India to this date. Hennings was an official in Danish service (but not in the colonial service in the Danish dominion in India), so his interest lies more in practical matters like trade and so on.

One of the first histories of the literatures of Hindustani / Urdu / Hindi done in an European tongue is probably by Joseph Héliodore Garcin de Tassy: "Histoire de la littérature hindoui et hindoustani", the first volume of which appeared in 1839 (the last version of it was a three-volume edition published in 1870-1871).

By the way, there is a collective volume edited by Hans Harder on writing the literary history of the Indian vernaculars:

Literature and nationalist ideology : writing histories of modern Indian languages / ed. by Hans Harder. - New Delhi : Social Science Press,  2010. - xii, 387 p. - ISBN 978-81-87358-33-6

Hope it helps
Peter Wyzlic

Institut für Orient- und Asienwissenschaften
Universität Bonn
Regina-Pacis-Weg 7
53113 Bonn

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