Johann A Schürmann ~ Correspondence
Progress made in Applying the Roman Letters to the Languages of India
At the London Missionary Society (LMS) station in Benares, India, JA Schürmann was involved in translating the Bible into the local vernacular, Urdu.
The reprint of extracts of a letter by his fellow missionary, R. C. Mather to Sir Charles Trevelyan documents the extend in transliterating local languages in the Western Roman alphabet. Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan, 1st Baronet, KCB (2 April 1807 – 19 June 1886) was a British civil servant and colonial administrator. As a young man, he worked with the colonial government in Calcutta, India; in the late 1850s and 1860s he served there in senior-level appointments.[ 1 ]
I am happy to say that our labours have been crowned with a success which, at the beginning, we’ did not dare to anticipate. The Roman character has spread to that extent, that not only those who have learned English prefer to read the vernaculars in it; but, in addition, it is at the present time the Christian character of the North-West Provinces, since it is used by the great majority both of our missionaries and their converts. We have in it a body of general and religious literature of many volumes and of thousands of pages; and the saleableness of works in that character is progressively increasing, and now far exceeds what it was even ﬁve years ago, and much more what it was at the commencement of our efforts.
I am happy to say that our labours have been crowned with a success which, at the beginning, we did not dare to anticipate. The Roman character has spread to that extent, that not only those who have learned English prefer to read the vernaculars in it; but, in addition, it is at the present
time the Christian character of the North-west Provinces, since it is used by the great majority both of our missionaries and their converts. We have in it a body of general and rehgious literature of many volumes and of thousands of pages; and the saleableness of works in that character is
progressively increasing, and now far exceeds what it was even five years ago, and much more what it was at the commencement of our efforts.
As an instance, I may say that we printed a revised and simplified edition of Miss Bird's Geography, as one of our first school-books. That edition consisted of only five hundred copies; but it took ten years to sell them at two shillings each. We have since printed a second edition; and within two years nearly all have been disposed of at the same price. To a person conversant only with the educational book-market at home, this will seem a very small result. It should be understood, however, that in the present state of the Indian mind geography is regarded not as a necessity, but a marvellous luxury ; and that Miss Bird's work is only one out of several compilations used in our schools. So viewed, the fact is important, as showing progress of a sure character; for no native will buy what he does not believe is good and necessary for him. And here it will be well to add, that all our publications in the Roman character, of which I propose to give an account somewhat in detail, have been originated in the bond fide conviction that they would sell, and more than clear the outlay incurred in their preparation. This conviction experience has shown to be well
founded, as, in the case of the Mirzapur printing-office, one important source of support has been the sale of vernacular books printed in the Roman character.
A still more signal proof, however, of the hold the system now has on the minds of our missionaries in the Northwest Provinces of India, who, it should be remembered, form a body of 102 persons, is the resolution adopted at a Conference of Missionaries held at Benares in January of 1857, in respect to the continued use of the character. They say,
"While thankful for what has been done towards providing a literature suited to the wants of native Christians and the Hindi! and Mussulman population at large, the Conference at the same time feels the importance and need of using the utmost endeavours to enlarge and improve it. The Conference is generally of opinion that it is desirable to continue the use of the Eoman character, more especially for native Christians; but at present sees no reason for supplanting the native characters in general use."
It should be noted that in this Conference thirty missionaries and two chaplains of the Hon. East India Company were associated, and, with one exception, all were unanimous in the support of the resolution.
On the day previous to the meeting of the Benares Conference, there were assembled in the same hall 150 native
youths, Hindii, Mussulman, and Christian, who had come from all parts of the Benares division to stand an examination on the Sacred Scriptures, with a view to obtain certain prizes of considerable value, which had been offered to those who should show the most extensive acquaintance with Scripture truth. On that occasion, in a class of 152, 26 prizes were awarded, of the aggregate value of 1,252 rupees.
Of the answers submitted in writing, 76 were written in Urdli-Persian; 12 in Urdli-Koman; 18 in the English language; 46 in Hindi and Nagari. Respecting these comparative results the editor of the Khair-Khwah-i-Hind observes:
"It is worthy of observation, that while the candidates using the English language were few compared with those using the Urdu and Hindi, they have carried off the majority of prizes. The competitors using the Urdu language, but writing the Roman character, come next in the order of success. The only explanation we can give of this remarkable fact is, that on them European teachers had bestowed a larger measure of attention, and that their minds had consequently been better trained. The Urdu and Hindi competitors have, perhaps, as a whole, given a larger measure of fact and quotation; but in original com-
position, in independent thought indicative of an understanding of the subject, in grasp of mind, they have, as a class, been left far behind."
You will be pleased to read this statement, as demonstrating what was long ago asserted as a probable result, — that the Roman character would be an important help in the communication and reception of knowledge in its clearest and most exact forms.
The system of Romanising has been applied amongst us only to the Hindustani as current in the North-Western Provinces : or, if to the Hindi at aU, only in the case of a Hindi Primer. The library of Urdll-Roman schoolbooks, originated by yourself and Messrs. Duff and Yates, formed the basis of the school and general library since issued from the press. Before you left India, Henry Martyn's four Gospels and Acts had been printed in the Roman character by the Bible Society, at your suggestion and under your superintendence. Since then, two separate translations of the entire New Testament have been Romanised and printed. After these had seen the light, the whole Bible appeared iu the Roman character, under the editorial care of the Rev. J. A. Shurman. This edition consisted of 3,000 copies, and has since been exhausted. A second edition of the Old Testament left the press a short time ago, partly under the care of Mr. Shurman, and subsequently under my care. This, too, consists of 3,000 copies. The New Testament, uniform with the Old, is now being completed at Mirzapur under the care of the Rev. M. A. Sherring. The four Gospels and the Acts have also been recently published by the Eev. Mr. Lewis in the language of the inhabitants of the Khasia Hills.
Next to the Scriptures, in. order of time, was commenced our native newspaper, the Khair-Khwdh-i-Hind. This was started in September, 1837; and, up to the time of the mutinous outbreaks of May last, has been regularly printed both in the Persian and Roman characters. The new series alone, commencing with the year 1845, forms a volume of 1,200 closely printed pages. This periodical is taken by all the missions in Northern India, and aims to be the organ of the native Christian community. It has often been suggested to us that it would be well to reprint large portions of the work, that continuity might be imparted to subjects which have been treated in sections written at different periods; and a plan was submitted to the Agra government
to reprint the natural history articles with illustrations, both woodcuts and lithographs ; and it was then estimated that the first volume on the Mammalia would extend to 600 duodecimo pages. The Pilgrim's Progress, abridged by the Rev. W. Bowley,
next appeared in Urdd-Roman ; then a volimie of Hymns in Hindustani by the same author was passed through the press by yourself. Of this little work there have been two or three editions, and it is in universal use by our native Christiana. After this came Miss Bird's Geography, simplified and enlarged by the Rev. Messrs. Mather and Glen, of the Mirzapur mission. What have subsequently appeared I will insert m a tabular form, arranging the publications, not in keeping with the order of time, but similarity of subject, or the classes of persons for whose benefit they have been written.
- History of India. (Marshman.) Duodecimo, about 300 Pages
- Moral Precepts in Verse. (Capt. Paton.). " 150
- Mirzapur Picture-Books, eight Numbers. By Mrs. Mather. " 140
- The Peep of Day. By Mrs. Leupolt. " 150
- Ancient History. By Rev. J. A. Shurman. " 300
- A Treatise on Astronomy. (Paton). " 80
- The Bagh-o-Bahar.
- The Gulistán.
- A Catechism of the Principles of the Christian Religion.
- The Assembly's Shorter Catechism.
- Gallaudet's Book on the Soul. By the Rev. J. Wilson.
The above list contains, I think, aU the works that have been published in Urdli-Roman. Probably the matter would fill 11,000 to 12,000 duodecimo pages, were it all transferred to that form. This is a result wl)ich, were it now only a possibility in the future, instead of an actual fact, would seem to us very important.
Before closing this letter, I will suggest a most practicable mode of rendering the Romanising system popular amongst all classes of the natives of India. It is only necessary that Government should announce its willingness to receive petitions in the vernacular, but written in any character.
The natives naturally wish that their petitions should be read, and their real meaning understood ; and, as they suppose that their English rulers understand their own characters best, they would of their own accord get their petitions written in those characters. How much good such an usage would accomplish in putting a check on the duplicity and frauds of the native officials, it is easy for any one who has been in India to understand. What an amazing benefit would result, also, were all the accounts of Government kept in the Roman character!
(Signed) Robert Cotton Mather.
Williams, Monies. 1859. Original papers illustrating the history of the application of the roman alphabet to the languages of India. London: Longman. Page(s): 202-210 (No 19).
Online: Archive.org. Viewed: 16.11.2014.
(Created: 16.11.2014. Last updated: 25.01.2015.)
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