George Everest.

A series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. online

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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 6 of 13)
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ments free from slur or objection can be made with the pen-
dulum, yet it will be obvious to your Royal Highness, that,
holding the opinions which I do, I could not, without abusing
the trust confided to me by my masters, recommend to the local
Government of India to make them an object of paramount im-
portance, whilst other matters of more consequence were likely
to be compromised by my so doing ; and this would be the
impulse by which I should be actuated in the present case, even
if I were thoroughly persuaded that the practical method of
making those experiments were sufficiently accurate to warrant
the outlay. Materiel consumes no corn, and may repose in quiet
till it is wanted ; personel must be maintained at a monthly
cost, and can only be provided for by abstracting from some other
source ; but I have already in my capacity as Surveyor-General
of India, acquired for myself the agreeable character of sub-
jecting the Government of this country to the necessity of
violating the rigid rules of economy which the state of their
resources has rendered imperative on all branches of their service,
and this, though I have never required any grant but what was
absolutely indispensable to the respectable existence of the
Great Trigonometrical Survey.

By the term respectable, I mean to imply the establishment of
a system whereby may be ensured not only the able execution
of the work, but its untampered-with and unimpugnable registry
and divulgement ; for rather than allow any deviation from these



62

maxims, rather than sanction by my voice the practices which
Mr. Babbage so ably exposes, and subject aught under my
superintendence to such mortifying stigmata, I would at any
time of my career have resigned all further connexion with my
honourable situation, and certainly should now be least of all
prepared to abide by it.

Better is it to do one thing effectually than many things imper-
fectly. Pendulum experiments cannot be superintended by me,
because I have too many calls on my time. The person who is
to execute them must learn his business, and learn it well too, or
I will have nothing to do with the matter; yet the task of
instruction and surveillance too must be mine. Where are
persons to be found on whom I, who have been taught by expe-
rience to be chary of relying on mankind in general, can repose
confidence to do as I would do if I were myself present ? Such
persons there are : the gentlemen whose names I have mentioned
once already to your Royal Highness as our brother masons are
entitled to and possess my full and unbounded confidence, both
in their candour, their high and honourable feelings, their subor-
dination, and their discretion ; but such persons are rare indeed :
the few that I have been able to meet with are wanted for the
Great Trigonometrical Survey ; they have other duties of a
harassing nature, such as the thirty-eight learned Fellows can
hardly form a conception of, to perform, which they execute
satisfactorily ; and I would not for the world distract them from
pursuits where they are so eminently useful, by imposing on
them the additional duty of watching the vibrations of an inter-
loper pendulum, which I know by experience that they have not
leisure to attend to.

On my head then rests the blame, if blame there be. The two
pendulums will remain in quiet repose and preservation, until
the time arrives when I can, in my opinion, honourably retire,
and leave my successor to occupy my vacant seat. Major
Jervis may then have the full and undivided merit of completing



63

his course of experiments ; and I only hope, as a sincere friend
to science, that he will attend to the principle which has been
the prevailing characteristic of my pilotage, to do nothing in
matters connected with the exact sciences imperfectly, or in such
wise as to derogate from the spotless fame of the Great Trigono-
metrical Survey of India.

I have the honour to be, &c. &c.

GEORGE EVEREST.



LETTER VII.



" Heureux au moins les gens de lettres, s'ils reconnoissoient enfin que le
moyen le plus stir de sefaire respecter, est de vivre unis, s'il leur est possible,
et presque renfermes entre eux ; que par cette union Us parviendront sans
peine a donner la loi au reste de la nation sur les matieres de gout et de philo-
sophie ; que la veritable estime est celle qui est distribute par des hommes dignes
d'etre estims eux memes, que la charlatanerie enfin est une farce qui
degrade le spectateur et Vacteur ; et que la soif de la reputation et des richeses
est est une des causes qui contribueront le plus parmi nous a la decadence des
lettres." D'ALEMBERT ESSAI SUR LES GENS DE LETTRES.



MAY IT PLEASE YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS,

IT is remarkable that in the long list of desiderata enumerated
in the Address of the thirty-eight learned Fellows, all mention
should have been omitted of both Meteorology and Botany ;
and though I do not mention this omission as a reproach, be-
cause in truth the list is not deficient in length, yet it serves to
confirm the impression which is conveyed by the general tenor of
the Address, that the learned Fellows either concluded those
branches of science to be worthless, or that they were effectually
provided for already.



64

I should certainly be sorry to be obliged to adopt the formei*
solution, for it would argue that the skilful application of the
actual cautery by Mr. Daniel, in his valuable Meteorological
Essays, had already been cicatrized and forgotten ; and I shall
therefore, as the choice seems open to me, conclude that the
latter consideration was uppermost, in which case, as the points
touched on in the Address are chiefly those entrusted by the
Court of Directors to my management, I certainly feel the full
weight of the compliment implied.

Just in the same way that whenever it was practicable with-
out compromising my more important duties and professional
objects I have lent a helping hand to Geological pursuits, so
likewise Meteorology has been the subject of my care ; and pur-
suing the train of reasoning for which I am mainly indebted to
Mr. Daniel's suggestion, I have invented and constructed an
instrument called a barometer pump, whereby barometer tubes
may be tilled without the slightest apprehension of breakage.

This instrument is no longer the subject of mere theory, for it
has been practically applied with great success to filling several
tubes belonging to my department into which the air had obtained
admittance, in presence of Dr. Falconer, Lieutenant Waugh,
and myself, besides several other scientific gentlemen of my de-
partment and acquaintance : in fact, it is a handy and simple
apparatus which any body can use, under any circumstances, who
will consent to give sufficient attention to the packing and valves,
and has two hours' leisure. I had intended, when my time
allowed, to construct a duplicate of this apparatus for the ac-
ceptance of the Royal Astronomical Society, or at all events to
communicate such a description as would render it a subject of
familiar acquaintance in the work which I have of late been, and
shall still for some months be occupied in preparing ; but my
volunteering this explanation in this place, where the total ab-
sence of a dictatorial summons is so manifest, will, I hope, be
attributed to its right cause, an earnest desire to afford all the
little information I may possess, whenever I can do so without
compromising what I conceive to be my due.



65

In the same manner that I am indebted to Mr. Daniel for the
original suggestion of filling tubes in vacuo, I must own my
obligation to Dr. Falconer for having first shown me the practi-
cability of dispensing with the close cistern in the mountain
barometer ; and thus I have been enabled to approach very
nearly to the solution of the difficulty which that most original
and able of modern inventive geniuses, my friend Mr. Babbage,
once expressed in my hearing, namely, to construct a barometer
such, that it may be conveyed with a traveller in a carriage, put
up instantly on the stopping of the vehicle, observed, registered,
dismantled and repacked whilst the horses are being changed.

But why do I mention Dr. Falconer and Lieutenant Waugh
and other scientific gentlemen, though one of them should bear
the classic and endeared name of Edgeworth ? The scene was in
India, in the Himalaya mountains, at the Great Trigonometrical
Survey station of Hatipaon ! What can the thirty-eight learned
Fellows expect of such a place, with such an outlandish name
too, enacted moreover by persons who are either absent or whom
nobody knows and none of the dominant coterie ever heard of!

As in the fulness of time perhaps more will be said on this
interesting subject, I will, with your Royal Highness's leave, pass
on to the next theme which I purpose selecting for discussion,
namely, that of a uniform system of Orthography; in relation
whereto, I must premise that this is a question in which, as
parties run high in India, it is easier to offer a peremptory call
of accomplishment, than to show the mode of adjustment by
bringing men's minds to agree as to what is best.

The thirty-eight learned Fellows apparently imagine, if indeed
they ever gave the subject a thought, that all the natives of
India either speak or write English, or at least use the English
written character and type ; but when the actual amount of
knowledge of the advocates of a scheme is so indeterminate, it
is difficult to know where to begin ; and therefore, to the better
understanding of first principles, I will proceed to communicate
the facts of my own experience, on which I intend to reason.

F



66

India is about thirteen times as large in respect to area as
Great Britain and Ireland combined, and the English written
character is in no more use than the Hebrew character is in
England. The inhabitants of India do not speak a common lan-
guage, but several languages, which do not seem, from the
accounts given of them by grammarians, to have even a common
origin : thus, the Shanscrit is the basis of the Hindi, or Nagri,
which is the prevalent language of the rustic population on the
banks of the Ganges ; but it does not seem to be the basis of the
Telinga or Telugu, and other languages to the south of the
Tapti. There are several different languages spoken between Cape
Comorin and the Himalaya mountains, all of which are as dis-
tinct from each other in the minimum as English and French,
and in their maximum as English and Hottentotty : each lan-
guage has its own written character, except that of the wild
tribes inhabiting the elevated tracts of Central India, who, unless
I am misinformed, have no written character at all. This state
of things existed prior to the invasion of the Mohammedans, who
scattered the Persian character over the surface of the languages
of India, in a manner analogous to that in which the inundations
of the Nile are said to cast a slimy film indiscriminately over the
surface of the various formations through which that great river
pursues its course. Besides the difference generally pervading
the language of India considered as a whole, there are several
local and peculiar distinctions which cause a total dissimilarity :
thus, the Banias, or traders, use a character which none can
read but those of their own tribe. The character commonly
called " Nagri," which is in more familiar use than any other
amongst cultivators in Upper India, is not the same in one pro-
vince as in another ; and though there is in truth a character
called the " Devanagri," or " Shanscriti," which is urged by
those best informed to be free from this objection, in tracts to the
north of the Narbada, yet it must be remarked at the same time
that this unobjectionable character is only known to the learned,
just as Greek is known to scholastics. Of all known written



67

characters, Persian and Arabic are perhaps precisely the unfittest
in the world for any language but their own kindred, because
they have several guttural sounds ; because they want several
consonants, and have no short vowels, which latter they express
by accents ; because many of their consonants are only defined
by the number and position of dots placed above or beneath,
which dots and accents are commonly omitted in writing, and
rarely in the finest writing ever occupy their true places ; because
the words of a sentence are never written in continuous lines, it
being considered graceful rather than otherwise to give the pen-
manship an easy sans souci wave, analogous to that of flounce
or fringe, or flowing drapery, to which Asiatics are so partial ;
because, for these reasons, and others of a like kind, the Persian
is in truth a defective species of stenography, more liable to in-
terpolation and forgery than any other. The Hindi, on the
other hand, is a very soft, and, as I think, an exquisitely beau-
tiful language, in its grammar, structure, and pronunciation : it
is full of vowel sounds, and its written character is sufficiently
well adapted to express its different intonations , and though as
to short vowels it is hardly better off than the Persian, yet the
continuity of the lines, which is preserved altogether unbroken,
gives it immense advantage over the Persian. With all these
advantages, however, on its side, it so happens in practice, that if
a villager from one part of the country, who happens to be em-
ployed in another part, desires to address a letter to his nearest
relations at his home respecting affairs of the utmost domestic
privacy, he almost invariably applies to a Persian writer to write
and indite it for him in the foreign language of Persia ; and the
letter, when it comes to hand, has to be read for the receiver by
another Persian writer before its meaning can be unfolded. Such
is the little avail of the Devanagri as a general medium, and so
true is it that there is no known character in prevalent use at all
competent to express the different intonations of the vernacular
language of any part of India.

It is not my design to enter minutely into this question, but



68

rather to convey a sort of general idea of its bearings. When
thirty-eight learned Fellows talk to the Court of the propriety
of introducing a well-digested and uniform system of Ortho-
graphy, if they really mean nothing more than that such a
result is desirable, they are only telling their readers what nobody
doubted, and what, in fact, all men have been long agreed on.
It is well enough, no doubt, for Mr. Cocker to teach youth that
two and two make four; but when that sublime truth is once
clearly received by the mind, as an indisputable fact, it is useless
to be constantly announcing the same truth with the pomp and
pride of learning; or, in the words of the Edinburgh Review,
* to get warm and cackling over the little truism ;' and in the
present case, it seems hardly consistent with decorum, or be-
coming the dignity of the Royal Society, to stalk thus uncere-
moniously into an arena which has been honoured by the
presence of Sir William Jones.

If, on the contrary, it be really the intent of the thirty-eight
learned Fellows to bring about the accomplishment of what
they urge as proper, or even to do aught to advance it, the field
is certainly ample before them, and the good they will bring
to pass, in case of success, is such as, in my opinion, will tend
to advance the civilization of India by a stride of a century at
least ; so that, if the search for truth be the object, perhaps it
may not be deemed out of place for me also to venture to offer
a few of the data on which I found my own views of the case,
which are as follow :

First : The difficulty of acquiring a knowledge of a foreign
language is greatly enhanced by a want of familiarity with its
written character; wherefore, if there were an affinity between
the written character of Indian words and those of Europe, the
literary stores of the latter would thereby become accessible to
those who speak the former, more or less in proportion as the
resemblance approached more nearly to perfection.

Second : Of all European languages the English seems subject
to the acknowledged reproach of its orthography being most



69

discrepant from its pronunciation (unless, indeed, the French be
the very language that goes one step further than the English,
which I am disposed to think is the case) ; whilst of all languages
in the world, the Italian seems to be that which bears off
the palm of consistency and accordance between these two
essentials.

Third : There is in many points a resemblance between the
intonations of the Hindi and Italian ; and but for the perpetual
occurrence of aspirates, the nasal n, and the short u of our
words cut, but, &c. in the former, and their total absence in the
latter, we might at times all but imagine that the one is a
dialect of the other.

Sir William Jones's system seems, then, to have been, to intro-
duce the Italian vowels into his system of orthography ; and this
is the method adopted since his day by the Asiatic Society of
Calcutta, and, I believe, by all scientific societies which are
connected with Indian affairs.

Fourth : But Dr. Gilchrist, who was the Dr. Johnson of what
is called Hindustani (which is truly a sort of lingua Franca, or
alloyed language, the result of the Mohammedan invasion), intro-
duced a system of orthography of his own, which has many
advocates, and which has to a great extent eradicated Sir
William Jones's system in all but matters connected with
erudition.

Thus stands the case at present, and whilst the two parties
who thus espouse each an opposite system are constantly aiming
the shafts of ridicule at each other, I appeal to your Royal
Highness to say what profitable end is to be answered by the
delivery of the opinion of the thirty-eight learned Fellows, in a
disputed point, with the merits of which they have taken no
pains to make themselves acquainted ? I have scrupulously kept
aloof from all discussions of the sort, because of the angry feeling
and personality which is displayed by some, and by the inter-
ested desire to immortalize themselves in connection with the
system they advocate, which is apparent through the exertions



70

of others ; but I have my opinions nevertheless, and if I saw any
good end likely to be attained, I too would enter as a disputant,
and put in my little proposals, which are founded on the follow-
ing arguments :

Maps, if printed in an Asiatic character, would not be read in
Europe, and as the market in India is limited almost to nullity,
therefore they would not be bought therefore they would not
pay the expense of publication.

The fewer letters by which we can spell the names of places the
better ; because the maps become less crowded, and furnish room
for so many more names.

The sounds should be as distinct and determinate as possible,
so as to leave no doubt of how a written name is to be pro-
nounced.

Keeping these desiderata in view, I am consentient to adopt
any system of orthography whatever ; for though I have a theory
of my own on the subject, I am quite ready to abandon it as
soon as any system shall come forward which is better calculated
to promote my fundamental principles.

In the present conflicting state, however, of opinions, as I
have been compelled to make a choice, I have thought it best to
follow in the train of Sir William Jones, and those whose pur-
suits are most akin to mine ; and , though I do not mean to
commit myself to any existing system as being faultless, or the
best that can be, or even such as the confiding people com-
mitted to our guardianship by Providence, have a right to ex-
pect from the generous and disinterested character of English-
men, yet I have strenuously patronized the introduction of the
principle of Italian vowels with English consonants into the or-
thography of all maps ; and in those of the Great Trigonometrical
Survey, which has been under my more immediate control, have
effectually succeeded in attaining this end.

I am not certain that this has met with the sanction of the
Honourable Court of Directors ; indeed, I confess that I have
taken upon myself to act without ascertaining their wishes on



71

the matter, wherein perhaps I am to blame ; but they are very
lenient and forgiving, and I dare say they will, as usual, give me
credit for doing right, at least quite as often as I am entitled to
expect. Neither have I the smallest clue to guide me as to the
tendency of the propositions, if any, made in this matter by
Major Jervis to the Royal Society, which, in common with others,
it may be presumed, have called forth the Address signed by the
thirty-eight learned Fellows ; and though it would be a sin to
doubt that the ideas must have been more than usually lumi-
nous which prompted so much sleeping wisdom to shake its
mane, and take so decided a part in a question which might,
perhaps, more properly belong to the Royal Asiatic Society of
London, yet it may, perhaps, qualify this brilliant display of
ardour and zeal to learn that, if the system advocated by the
Major in reality differ from mine, some years' labour more than
was calculated on will have to be swept away to make room
for it.

Your Royal Highness and the thirty-eight learned Fellows
will, I hope, forgive me for saying that I do not thoroughly
comprehend the meaning conveyed in the expressions of the
Address. " Not that it is contemplated that it would be
necessary to begin the work de novo, but merely to examine it
in order to render it more complete, and to combine it effectively
with future labours." If by this sentence the thirty-eight learned
Fellows mean to imply that an examination is all that is requisite
to be made, with the sole view of detecting deviations and errors,
it seems to an unlettered man like myself, who have only the
rules of plain common sense to guide me, that such a process
would of itself have the double disadvantage of being not only
very tedious and harassing, but of involving a very fruitless
expenditure of time.

Let it be supposed, for example, that any individual who had
a natural taste and fitness for that sort of examination, were,
after fulfilling this desideratum, to convey to the chairman or the
secretary a list of errors, the result of his patient labour ; the



72

examination might then be considered more or less complete,
and though, according to the practice of the Great Trigonome-
trical Survey of India, the document would need the signatures
of two persons at least who were known to labour unconnectedly,
yet we will set aside that peculiarity in this case, under the notion
that it is pedantic and affected ; and we will admit that the
examination is complete, the examiner s bill paid, and that the
precise situation where each error lies is absolutely registered in
writing.

Now, what are we to do with and how to apply this informa-
tion which it has cost us some time and money to obtain ? The
Address distinctly eliminates all necessity of doing the work de
novo ; but in many maps of districts the system of orthography
which has been adopted by the Surveyor is totally different from
what it is in others ; and perhaps there is hardly one instance, if
indeed there be one, in which any geographical data of India
have the very sort of orthography which the protege of the
thirty-eight learned Fellows may have been pleased to pronounce
as most orthodox. Either then we must resort to a table of
errata, or change the orthography in toto ; which latter, to my
poor sense, differs about as much from doing the work de novo,
as the knives which the farmer boasted he had had for forty
years, except now and then a new blade and now and then a
new handle, approached in identity to the original instruments.

This argument, though it has been used in reference to ortho-
graphy alone, yet applies with equal force to every other species
of alteration : if, for example, as may probably be expected from
Major Rennell's Memoir, wherein a discrepancy of seven minutes
of longitude is spoken of as a trifling error, there be many
portions of the Atlas which would require not only the whole of
the meridians and parallels drawn in them to be shifted, but also
endless changes of relative and internal position to be introduced,
to make their elements conform to the sweeping exposures which
the irresistible accuracy wielded by the Great Trigonometrical
Survey of India sheds unsparingly over the land where it pro-



73

gresses, making error vibrate to its centre, and baring the lurking


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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 6 of 13)