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The works which are here presented to the public cannot fail to excite much interest, from the circumstances and character of the author. He has been for several years well known by name and reputation, both in India and England ; but he has been known only as a learned and philanthropic Brahmin, the expounder of the religion, and the reformer of the institutions of his Hindoo countrymen. He now appears as a Christian professor, advocate, and controversialist,
Rammohun Roy was born about the year 1780, at Bordouan, in the province of Bengal. The first elements of his education he received under his paternal roof, where he also acquired a knowledge of the Persian language. He was afterwards sent to Patna to learn Arabic; and here, through the medium of Arabic translations of Aristotle and Euclid, he studied logic and the mathematics. When he had completed these studies, he went to Calcutta, to learn Sanscrit, the sacred language of the Hindoo Scriptures ; the knowledge of which was indispensable to his caste and profession as a Brahmin. About the year 1804 or 1805, he became possessed, by the death of his father and of an elder and younger brother, of the whole of the family property, which is understood to have been very considerable. He now quitted Bordouan, and fixed his residence at Mourshedabad, where his ancestors had chiefly lived. Shortly after his settlement at this place, he commenced his literary career by the publication of a work in the Persian language, with a preface in Arabic, which he entitled, Against the Idolatry of all Religions.” The freedom with which he animadverted on their respective systems, gave great umbrage both to the Mahomedans and the Hindoos, and created him so many enemies, that he found it necessary to remove to Calcutta, where he again took up his residence in the year 1814.
Two years previously to this period, he had begun to study the English language, but he did not then apply to it with much ardour or success. Being some years subsequently appointed Dewan, or chief native officer in the collection of the revenues, and the duties of his office affording him frequent opportunities of mixing 'with English society, and of reading English documents, he applied to it with increased attention, and very soon qualified himself to speak and write it with considerable facility, correctness, and elegance. He afterwards studied the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages: of his proficiency in the two last of these he has given very decisive evidence in the tracts which are here published.
From his first work, “ Against the Idolatry of all Religions,” it is evident that he had been led at an early period of his life to regard with disapprobation the monstrous and debasing system of Idolatry which was embraced by his countrymen. A careful study of the Sacred Writings of the Hindoos had also convinced him, that the prevailing notions respecting the multiplicity of Deities, and the superstitious devotion to the licentious and inhuman customs connected with them, were grounded upon an utter ignorance, or gross perversion of their religion. These original records appeared to him to inculcate a system of pure Theism, which maintained the existence of one sole God, infinite in his perfections, and eternal in his duration ; and that it required from its professors a mental rather than a corporeal worship, accompanied by strict and exemplary virtue. Having embraced these views of the Hindoo theology and morals, he became anxious to reform the creed and practice of his countrymen, and determined to devote his talents and his fortune to this important and honourable undertaking.
The body of Hindoo theology is comprised in the Veds, which are writings of very high antiquity. On account of their great bulk, and the obscurity of the style in which they are composed, Vyas, a person of great celebrity in Hindoo literature, was induced, about two thousand years ago, to draw up a compendious abstract of the whole, accompanied with explanations of the more difficult passages. This digest he entitled “ The Vedent," or « The Resolution of the Veds,” and it is generally esteemed as of equal authority with the original writings. This work Rammohun Roy translated from the Sanscrit into the Bengalee and Hindoo languages, for the information of his countrymen. He also printed an abridgment of it in the same languages, which he distributed gratuitously as extensively as circumstances would admit. The abridgment he afterwards translated into English, in the expectation, as he states in the Preface, of proving to bis European friends, “ that the superstitious practices which deform the Hindoo religion, have nothing to do with the pure spirit of its dictates." Towards the conclusion of the same preface, he explains the reasons of his proceedings, and intimates the personal inconveniences to which he had exposed himself by his benevolent zeal.
My constant reflections,” he writes, “on the inconvenient, or rather injurious rites, introduced by the peculiar practire of Hindoo idolatry, which, more than any other Pagan worship, destroys the texture of society, together with compassion for my countrymen, have compelled me to use every possible effort to awaken them from their dream of error; and, by making them acquainted with the scriptures, enable them to contemplate, with true devotion, the unity and omnipresence of nature's God. By taking the path which conscience and sincerity direct, I, born a Brahmin, have exposed myself to the complainings and reproaches even of some of my relations, whose prejudices are strong, and whose temporal advantage depends upon the present system. But these, how.