The Mégha Dúta;
Or, Cloud Messenger; a Poem, in the Sanscrit Language. Translated into English Verse, with Notes and Illustrations. By Horace Hayman Wilson. Published under the Sanction of the College of Fort William.Calcutta: printed by P. Pereira, at the Hindoostanee Press, 1813 Stock Code: 122308
First edition of the first translation into any European language of one of the most influential poems in the Sanskrit canon. Kalidasa has been described by Edwin Gerow, a noted authority on Sanskrit poetics, as "probably the greatest Indian writer of any epoch" (Britannica). From internal evidence it has been suggested that he was a Brahman during the reign of Chandra Gupta II, the powerful emperor of Northern India who reigned through the latter part of the fourth century/early part of the fifth century. "During his reign, art, architecture, and sculpture flourished, and the cultural development of ancient India reached its climax...The most convincing but most conjectural rationale for relating Kalidasa to the brilliant Gupta dynasty is simply the character of his work, which appears as both the perfect reflection and the most thorough statement of the cultural values of that serene and sophisticated aristocracy".
The Mégha Dúta tells the story of an exiled yaksha or nature spirit who persuades a cloud to carry a message back to his wife in the Himalayan city of Alaka. Interspersed in the message are "an extraordinary series of unexcelled and knowledgeable vignettes, describing the mountains, rivers, and forests of northern India". The poem is also technically important for its adaptation of the short lyric love poem to a more sustained narrative purpose. The central conceit of the Mégha Dúta spawned a genre of sandesha kavya or messenger poems, and was also the inspiration behind Schiller's play Maria Stuart, and Holst's Op. 30, "The Cloud Messenger".
Horace Hayman Wilson, the translator, was for many years the assay master at the Bengal mint, but having begun his Hindustani studies on his voyage out, he "devoted much of his attention to the study of Indian languages, especially Sanskrit" (ODNB). For over two decades he was secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, assiduously promoting Indological learning, the acquisition of native texts for the society library, and profitable interaction between English orientalists and Indian intellectuals in Calcutta. In 1832 Wilson was appointed to the first professorship in Sanskrit at Oxford University, a position that he took up in 1833 and retained until his death in 1860. In 1836 he became librarian to the East India Company: "during his tenure Wilson supervised the cataloguing of major collections...and systematically arranged the materials for subsequent use by scholars and colonial administrators. During this period he continued his scholarly pursuits...visiting Oxford for a part of each term; he also served as an examiner in Indian languages at the East India Company's training college at Haileybury, and as director of the Royal Asiatic Society from 1837 until his death". Wilson wrote extensively on the Sanskrit literature, Hindu religion and Indian history, the present work being one of the most widely known and influential of his productions, though commercially uncommon, with just five copies traced at auction since 1906.
Quarto in half-sheets (277 x 215 mm). Contemporary half vellum, relined, grey paper sides. Housed in a custom made black cloth slipcase with matching chemise.
Parallel English and Devanagari types.
20th-century ownership inscription (W. F. Stauffer) to front free endpaper. Rubbed and marked overall, a few shallow chips and surface abrasions to paper sides, tips bumped and a little worn, small hole to slightly soiled half-title (the text unaffected), faint tide-mark to upper outer corner of title page, a few ink-spots to p. 70, contemporary marginal correction to the Sanskrit on p. 89, very small nicks or chips to top edges of a small number of leaves, otherwise only a few other trivial spots and marks. A very good copy, internally clean and fresh, the paper thick and strong. Complete with the half-title, errata leaf and 2 advertisement leaves.
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