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Sir William Jones (1746-1794) was a distinguished scholar of Oriental languages and poet. He was born in London and at a young age learned Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew and some Chinese. He was educated at Oxford University where he graduated as an M.A. in 1773. His first publication was Histoire de Nader Chah (1770), a translation of a Persian text by Mirza Mehdi Khan Astarabadi, made on the request of the Danish King Christian VII. After studying law, he was in 1783 appointed as a judge in the court of Fort William in Calcutta. In 1784 he founded the Asiatic Society in Calcutta and he continued improving and expanding his knowledge of Oriental languages, including Sanskrit (Nadiya Hindu University). His essays cover subjects ranging from Islamic law, literature, music, botany and geography, and he translated several historical and literary texts from several languages. His work contributed to the European interest in Indian religion and languages, and he contributed to the discussion about the relationship between Indian and European languages, within the Indo-European family of languages.

The fragments:

In his youth, Jones practised his language skills by translating Galland’s Mille et une nuit back into Arabic. His interest in the Orient was also aroused by his French tutor Madame Fauques-de Vaucluse. The fragment presented here is the poem ‘The seven fountains’ is an allegorical poem built around the motif of the forbidden door, well-known from several stories of the Thousand and one nights, such as the story of ‘Janshah’ and the story of the ‘Third qalander’.



Garland H. Cannon, Oriental Jones: a biography of Sir William Jones, 1746-1794, Asia publishing House/ Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Bombay 1964.

Garland H. Cannon, Sir William Jones: a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, Benjamins, Amsterdam 1979.

S.N. Mukherjee, Sir William Jones: a study in eighteenth-century attitudes to India, Cambridge University Press, London 1968.

Michael J. Franklin, Orientalist Jones; Sir William Jones, poet, lawyer, and linguist, 1746-1794, Oxford university Press, Oxford etc. 2011.

Ulrich Marzolph/ Richard van Leeuwen (eds.), The Arabian nights encyclopedia, 2 vols., ABC-Clio, Santa Barbara etc. 2004.