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We have to express our indebtedness to our venerable countryman Mr. R.C. Dutt C.I.E. for his kindness in writing the Introduction. Indeed, the readiness with which he accepted the task will always be gratefully remembered by the present write. As regards the body of the work, our heart felt thanks are due to Babu Behari Lal Sarkar, the veteran author and journalist, from whose excellent biography of Vidyasagar in Bengali, we have got much help in the compilation of this work. His kindness and generosity and the very valuable aid rendered by him all through the course of the writing of this book deserves our most grateful recognition. Without his helps, the work would never been what it is.
Before concluding, we feel it also to be our duty to acknowledge with hanks the help we have received from Pundit Narayan Chandra Vidyasagar in the shape of many anecdotes which he has told us regarding his illustrious father, and this we do accordingly. Thanks are also due to Babu Chandi Charan Banerjee for his kind permission to make extracts from letters contained in his life Vidyasagar in Bengali.
The book is offered to the public in all humility. We shall feel ourselves sufficiently rewarded for our pains if it is accepted in the spirit in which it is offered.
Vidyasagar will always fill a unique place in Indian history. Raja Ram Mohan Roy represented the new aspirations and the earnest work of the first generation of his countrymen in the nineteenth century; Pundit Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar reflected their arduous endeavours in the second. English rule and English education had powerful and far reaching influences which called forth new ideas and new effort from the people. Ram Mohan Roy responded to these influences in the commencement of the century; Isvar Chandra, during the next thirty years.
The lives of these two great Indian workers fit in curiously in respect of dates. The establishment of the Brahmo Samaj, or the Hindu Theistic Society, in 1828, was the crowing work of Ram Mohan Roy's social and religious reforms; in the following year, Isvar Chandra, a gifted and bright-eyed boy, was wending his way from his native village to Calcutta to seek for that education which was to fit him for his life's work. Ram Mohan died in England in 1833; within a few years after that date Isvar Chandra completed his education at the Sanskrit College, passed a brilliant examination, and won the title of Vidyasagar by which he will always be known by his countrymen.
Lord Wellesley had found the Fort William College in 1800 for the education of young civilians on their arrival in India in the vernacular languages; and young Vidyasagar, then only twenty-one years of age, was appointed head pundit of this college in 1841. The appointment had great influence on his life, as it led leant very little before. It was an eventful period of Vidyasagar's life and he came in daily contact with some the best Englishmen in Calcutta and some of the greatest Banerjee (father of our distinguished countryman, the Honorable Surendra Nath Banerjee) to the post of head writer to the fort William College; he learnt English with the young and earnest Raj Narain Basu who subsequently distinguished himself in Bengali Literature; he made the acquaintance of Raja Radha Kant Dev; then the venerable head of the orthodox Hindu community, and he formed that early friendship, which lasted through life, with the talented Akshay Kumar Datta, who subsequently rivaled Vidyasagar himself in his patriotic work, subsequently rivaled Vidyasagar himself in his patriotic work, as in his high literary reputation.
Lord Harding, then governor-general of India, paid a visit to Fort William College in 1844, and had a long talk with Vidyasagar. And when the 101 'Harding schools' were founded in the different districts of Bengal during the two subsequent years, the selection of teachers for these schools was left to Mr. Marshall and to Vidyasagar. It is a remarkable and a characteristic fact that in the exercise of his extensive patronage, Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar was never influenced by personal considerations, and was never untrue to the trust which was reposed on him. A touching instance is recorded of the manner in which he passed over his own claims to appoint one whom he considered worthier, at the time of which we are writing. (Vidyasagar was drawing a poor pay of Rs 50 a month. The appointment which fell vacant was that of teacher of the grammar class in the Sanskrit College, and carries a pay of Rs 90. The post was offered to him on the recommendation of Mr. Marshall. But Vidyasagar refused the appointment because he considered the eminent Tara Nath Tarkavachaspati a more profound grammarian. The appointment was given to Tarkavachaspati, and Vidyasagar walked all the way from Calcutta to Calna to inform him of the appointment. Such a rare instance of disinterestedness astonished Tarkavachaspati himself. 'Glory to you, Vidyasagar', he exclaimed, 'You are not man, but a god in human form!'
The post of assistant secretary to the Sanskrit College fell vacant in 1846. Rossomoy Dutt, one of the most distinguished men of his times, was then the secretary; and he had earlier discerned Vidyasagar's great talents and energy. He requested the Education Council to appoint Vidyasagar to the post on a higher pay than it then carried, which was Rs 50 only. The pay was not increased, but Vidyasagar's appointment was sanctioned. His great energy found a wider vent I this larger field of work, and to bring it more in touch with modern life, and the requirements of modern education. His drastic reforms frightened Rossomoy Dutta himself; and when some of his suggestions were disapproved, young Vidyasagar resigned his appointment and retired from the field of his labours. This was however only for a short time. He was reappointed to the Sanskrit College in 1850 as a professor of Sanskrit literature, and submitted a full and exhaustive report on the reforms which he advocated. Rossomoy Dutta foresaw what was coming, and yielded his place to the enthusiastic young reformer by timely retirement. The posts of secretary and assistant secretary were then combined into one, and that of principle of the college; and Vidyasagar was appointed the first principle of the Sanskrit education for the benefit of his countrymen.
The fame of the young and enthusiastic educationist, then only thirty years off age, spread far and wide. The greatest and most enlightened zamindars of Bengal reckoned him as their friend. Eminent literary men welcome their new colleague. Englishmen inspired with a sincere desire to help the cause of progress in India found in Vidyasagar a worthy collaborator. For Vidyasagar was versed in the learning of his fathers, and the traditional knowledge of the past. He had won high distinction by his Sanskrit learning, and had won high distinction by his Sanskrit College. And more than this, his open mind received and assimilated all that was healthy and life-inspiring outside the range of Indian thought; and with a robust physique and a robust heart he ceaselessly endeavoured for reform. He threw his whole soul in the cause of female education; and the eminent Drinkwater Bethune welcome the talented and tireless college. Sir Fredrick Halliday, the first lieutenant governor of Bengal, appreciated Vidyasagar's labours, and on the death of Bethune, he placed the female school, known as Bethune school, under Vidyasagar's management.
But education work of a yet more responsible kind was in store for Vidyasagar. Lord William Bentinck's scheme of spreading education in India through English language had only partially solved the great problem; the scheme was completed by Sri Charles Wood's famous education dispatch of 1854 which provided for vernacular education, leading up to English education. There was no man in Bengal worthier to give effect to this new scheme than Vidyasagar, them principal of the Sanskrit College. He submitted a masterly report on the subject, and he was appointed a special inspector of Hugli, Burdwan, Midnapur, and Nadai Districts, on a pay of Rs 200, in addition to Rs 300 which he drew as principal of the Sanskrit College. He worked with characteristic energy and zeal; established schools in Calcutta. It is characteristic if Vidyasagar's generous nature that he induced and almost forced his literary rival, the talented Akshay Kumar Datta, to accept the appointment of head teacher of the Normal School.
In the midst of all these labours Vidyasagar never forgot his partiality to literature; and towards the close of 1845 he published his great Bengali work, Sakuntala, an adaptation from the well-known Sanskrit drama of the same name. And three years after that appeared his greatest work, Sitar,-Banabas, a Bengali adaptation of another equally well Sanskrit play. In some respects the position of Isvar Chandra and Akshay Kumar in Bengali prose literature is Unique. The earlier prose of Ram Mohan Roy and his contemporaries was somewhat crude, though forceful and expressive; and it is no exaggeration to state that the modern elegant prose literature of Bengal has been crated under the formative touch of Isvar Chandra and Akshay Kumar. The service they have rendered to their country may be aptly compared to those of the writers of Queen Anne's time, who shaped modern English prose, and made it more elegant and elastic than the style of the Elizabethian Age.
A still loftier andeavour occupied Vidyasagar about this time. With a courage which has seldom been excelled in the history of social reforms, he, a Brahman of Brahmans, and a Pundit of Pundit, proclaimed in 1855 that the perpetual widowhood of Hindu women, who had lost their husbands, was not sanctioned by the sastras; and that the marriage of Hindu windows was permitted. The storm of indignation which this pronouncement evoked was unparallel in the history of the nineteenth century. The discussion was taken up by every town and every village in Bengal. Isvar Chandra Gupta, the veteran Bengali poet, and Dasarathi, the greatest of Bengali bards, hurled their satire on the young reformer. Village sang of the great Pundit's revolutionary opinions in their village gatherings and festivities. The weavers of Santipur wove songs about the remarriage of widows in the borders of saris worn by the women of Bengal. Men and women in every home in Bengal spoke of the great social revolution contemplate. And the venerable Raja Radha Kanta Deb himself petitioned the government against the reform.
Amidst this outburst of indignation, the earnest reformer stood unmoved and paralleled. He issued a second work, replying to the arguments which had been brought against him, replying to them with a wealth of learning and a cogency of reasoning which virtually closed the controversy. More than this, he enlisted the foremost men of the time, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Rama Gopal Ghose, Pratap Chandra Sinha and others, in the cause he had espoused. An appeal was made to the government to declare that the sons of remarried Hindu widows should be considered legitimate heirs, and a law to that effect was passed in 1856.
Education in Bengal received a fresh start with the establishment of the University of Calcutta by Lord Canning nine, of whom only six were Indians, and Vidyasagar was one of the Indian members. But his official connection with education was approaching its end; and it is painful to refer to the unpleasantness which marked its closing. The Council of Education was replaced by a Director of Public Instruction; and the first director, Gordon Young, was a young was a young and inexperienced officer. It is the old story over again; Vidyasagar the reformer of Sanskrit education in Calcutta, the founder of vernacular of education in the Central Districts of Bengal, the promoter of female education, the earnest reformer and distinguished literary man, could not aspire to the highest education appointment in his country because he was an Indian. The young Englishman who was placed above him did not appreciate his labours, and it is even said, sometimes treated him with scant courtesy. They veteran educationist felt himself unjustly treated; and in 1858, before he had reached his fortieth year, Vidyasagar severed his connection with the government, and resigned from his appointments, carrying a pay of Rs 500, without a retiring pension or gratuity for all the work he had done. 'He carries with him the acknowledgements of the Government for his long and zealous service in the cause of Native education,' was the concluding remark in the government letter of 25 September 1858, accepting Vidyasagar's resignation.
It is pleasing to note that the field of Vidyasagar's labours and of his benevolent charities was widened after he retired from service; and that he proved himself a greatest man in retirement than in service. As a literary man he had no equal in Bengal, until the genius of Bankim Chandra came to be recognised at a later date; as a philanthropist and a benevolent helper of the poor and the needy, Vidyasagar stands in the highest rank achieved by any man in any age or country. The princely income derived from his books was devoted to the relief of suffering and distress; hundreds of door widows owed him their education. His name became a household word in Bengal; the rich and poor loved him alike; those who apposed him respected him as much as his colleagues. The richest zamindars of the land delighted to honour the venerable Pundit who lived a simple life, courage was indomitable, whose charity was inexhaustible. Sri Cecil Beadon, the lieutenant-governor of Bengal, often consulted the retired educationist, and rejoiced in his company and conversation. And twenty years after his retirement, the Government of India honoured itself by bestowing a decoration of the Order of the Indian Empire on the greatest Indian living.
I met the venerable pundit sometimes, and corresponded with often, during the last twenty years of his life, 1871 to 1891. he still spoke with animation of his earlier work, of his struggles, his success, and his failures. He spoken of men with whom he had worked, and the list included all the true workers of the generationPrasanna Kumar Tagore Ram Gopal Ghose Harish Chandra Mukerji Kristo Das Pal, Mahanmoshan Tarkalankar Madhusudas Datta, Digambar Mitra Rejendralal Mitra , and others of equal eminence. The history of our national work in the nineteenth century is full of encouragement and hope; and that history connects itself with the story of Vidyasagar's life more intimately than with the life of any other man.
It was often my privilege to accompany Vidyasagar on his early morning walks; and sometimes I saw him in his house and was permitted to inspect the splendid collection of books, Sanskrit and English, which the Pundit possessed. Vidyasagar's conversation was as rich in anecdotes as his experience was varied, and was lighted up by his native wit which never failed him to the last days of his life. He often sent me a collection of his books whenever I established a circulating library in the districts where I was employed; and when in 1885 I commenced my Bengali translation from a section of my orthodox countrymen, the generous-hearted Vidyasagar gave me his support and help.
His health was already failing about this time; and he often retired from Calcutta to the more bracing climate of Karmatar where he had country-seal; and crowds of simple villagers came to see him there, and to receive the help which he never denied to the needy. He distributed simple medicines to the poor, and attended to their needs with a kindness which touched them. The end came at last; and in 1891, the greatest man in Bengal passed away from among us, at the full age of three score and ten.
I have ventured to glean these facts from Mr. Subal Chandra's 'Life', in the hope that the entire book may be studied by our young countrymen with the care and attention it deserves. To assign to Vidyasagar his character, and the influences which he himself created and left behind him; to delineate the true nature of his work and the endeavours of those who lived and worked around himin one word to point out how the times called forth the man, and the man fulfilled the mission entrusted to himall this requires a linger preparation and a work a larger proportions. Mr. Subal Chandra has not attempted such a task. His simpler object is to collect in a readable from the main facts of Vidyasagar's life, and to place before his readers some important documents which ought to be preserved.
Among these documents the portion of Vidyasagar's autobiography which has been quoted in the opening chapter is deeply interesting. Other man anxiously trace their descent from a ancestors of rank and wealth; it is characteristic of Vidyasagar that he proudly traced his descent from men who were, poor, beyond our modern conceptions of poverty. There is nothing more touching in the autobiography of any man that I have ever read than Vidyasagar's simple account of the almost appalling poverty in which his father Thakurdas lived and was brought up. One day, pressed by the pangs of hunger, Thakurdas sat faint and speechless, before a shop where fried rice was sold. The woman, who sold the rice, enquired of the boy what he needed, and the hungry boy ventured to ask for a little water to drink. With the kindliness of her race, the poor women not only gave him to drink, put also supplied him with some curd and sweetened rice, and even asked the boy to come again to the shop whenever he went without his daily food. And she was true to her word, poor Thakurdas came again and again to the kind hearted woman who had helped him in hits need. There is a touch of true Hindu life in this simple story.
|1.||Birth and Ancestry||1|
|2.||Childhood and Early Instruction||14|
|3.||Advent to Calcutta||21|
|4.||Admission into Sanskrit College||30|
|5.||Marriage and Subsequent Studies||44|
|6.||Further Studies Conclusion of School Life||55|
|7.||Entrance into the World: first Appointment||62|
|8.||Continuance in Fort William Collage||79|
|9.||His First Bengali Work: The Vasudeva-Charita||97|
|10.||First Appointment in Sanskrit College||115|
|11.||Vetala-Panchavingsati, His first Published BookRe-Entrance into Fort William College||123|
|12.||Re-Entrance into Service of the Sanskrit College||133|
|13.||Principal of Sanskrit College||158|
|14.||Principal of the Sanskrit Collegefemale Education||171|
|15.||Principal of The Sanskrit College and Special Inspector of Schools||186|
|16.||Re Marriage of Hindu Widows||200|
|17.||Retirement from Public Service||256|
|18.||The Sanskrit Press Depository||280|
|19.||The Hindoo Patriot||291|
|20.||Micheal M. Datta||302|
|22.||The Metropolitan Institution||345|
|24.||The Great famine||380|
|25.||Disaster and Troubles||393|
|26.||Labour of Love in Burdwan||413|
|27.||Desertion of Ancestral Home||421|
|28.||Loss of Mother||430|
|31.||The Shoe Question||465|
|32.||Loss of Father||471|
|33.||Loss of Consent||500|
|34.||The Age of Consent Bill||516|
|35.||Departure from the World||522|