First direct translation in to English from Sanscrit

WILKINS, Charles (1750-1836). The Bhăgvăt-gēētā : or, Dialogues of Krĕĕshnă and Ărjŏŏn (London, 1785)

Provenance: Signature of Robt Adair; Thomas Phillips, 1846


"Wilkins's contributions to Orientalism began with the leading role he played in establishing, in 1778, a printing press for oriental languages, for which he was (in the words of Halhed) ‘metallurgist, engraver, founder, and printer’ of types for Bengali and Persian. In 1784 Wilkins was one of a small band of Easr India Company servants who founded the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, with Sir William Jones as president.

His publications in the first volume (1788) of the society's journal, Asiatic Researches, comprised three articles translating ancient inscriptions of India, which launched the modern study of Indian epigraphy, and a brief description of the Sikh religion; the second volume (1790), published after his departure from India, contained translations of two more inscriptions.

Besides his contributions to Indian typography and epigraphy, Wilkins undertook three projects which, though not fully realized, were to provide the foundations for Orientalism: a Sanskrit grammar, a Sanskrit dictionary, and a translation of the great epic, the Mahabharata.

The first of these projects to appear was his translation of a part of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad gita, an important text of Hindu devotionalism, which was published in London (as The Bhagvat-Geeta) by the East India Company in 1785. He had sent it to Warren Hastings who, apparently without consulting him, forwarded it to the court of directors with a recommendation to publish, and who supplied a preface for it. It enjoyed a great response in Europe and in America (especially among the transcendentalist writers of New England), and was much translated, French and Russian versions appearing more or less immediately, in 1787." (ODNB)