Professor’s inaugural lecture on Sir William Jones – “one of the greatest intellectual navigators of all time”

Please note, this page has been archived and is no longer being updated.

On Monday, October 29, as part of Swansea University’s Research Institute for Arts and Humanities (RIAH) public lecture series, Professor Mike Franklin will give his inaugural lecture on the Romantic poet, cultural pluralist, and celebrity lawyer, Sir William Jones.

The lecture, starting at 7pm, will be held in the University’s Wallace Lecture Theatre, Wallace Building.

Sir William Jones (1746-94), born in Westminster but of Anglesey stock, did more than any other writer to destroy Eurocentric prejudice, reshaping Western perceptions of India and the Orient.  His Persian Grammar (1771) marked the birth of Romantic Orientalism and the beginning of modern comparative literature.

In the tense courtrooms of Carmarthen, Haverfordwest, and Cardigan, barrister Jones fought for the rights of tenant farmers and industrial workers harassed by the oppression of rackrenting squires and their stewards, monoglot-English magistrates and judges.

In brief leisure hours from the Carmarthen Circuit he sang of the beauty of Teifiside damsels against the romantic backdrop of Cilgerran castle.

The lecture given by Professor Franklin, the leading authority on Sir William Jones, is entitled “Re-drawing the map of European thought: Sir William Jones (1746-1794), “the Celt [who] knew the Indian” and will focus on his commitment to the translation of culture.

His multiculturalism, fascinated as much by similitude as difference, profoundly influenced European and British Romanticism, offering the West disconcerting new relationships and disorienting orientations.

In Calcutta, Jones founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1784), with its ambitious Indocentric agenda. Two years later in 1786 – only six months after he had begun to learn Sanskrit – Jones pioneered Indo-European linguistics and revolutionised European language theory by recognising Sanskrit as a more ‘exquisitely refined’ sister of Latin and Greek, and by suggesting that all three ‘have sprung from some common source, which perhaps no longer exists’.

In Bengal, his Sanskrit research inaugurated Indo-European comparative grammar, Indology, and the disciplines of comparative literature, philology, mythology, and law. Attempting to destroy Eurocentric prejudice, he reshaped Western perceptions of India and the Orient.

Professor Mike Franklin said: “Sir William Jones was the foremost Orientalist of his generation, and one of the greatest intellectual navigators of all time; he re-drew the map of European thought.

“An intensely colourful figure, he was elected to Johnson’s Literary Club at the age of 26.  The names of his friends in Britain and India present a roll-call of late eighteenth-century glitterati: Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Edmund Burke, Warren Hastings, Johannes Zoffany, Edward Gibbon, Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Charles James Fox, William Pitt, and David Garrick.

“His translation of Kālidāsa’s Śakuntalā (1789) led to Oriental renaissance in the West and cultural revolution in India.

“Key elements of Jones’s legacy are reflected in his fascination with Indo-Persian linguistic and ethnological affinities and his fervent belief in the Indian tradition of religious toleration and the syncretic co-existence of Hinduism and Islam.

“Jones’s enlightened commitment to an East–West synthesis remains a beacon in a world where ‘intelligence’ is squandered upon missiles, and where the shrines of Sūfi saints are targets of Taleban explosives and of all those seeking to destroy the diversity and plurality of Islam.”

Professor Franklin’s lecture is sponsored by the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities (RIAH), whose mission is to maximise the dissemination of world-class research produced by Arts and Humanities scholars at Swansea University.

Since its inception in 2009, RIAH has improved grant capture, research publication, public engagement and the visibility of Arts and Humanities research.

Professor Chris Williams, Director of RIAH, said: “Wales has many Joneses, but few have had such a profound impact on our understanding of the wider world as Sir William.

“Professor Franklin’s lecture will, I’m sure, allow us to appreciate in full the significance and originality of Sir William Jones’s contribution.”

Admission to the lecture is free and all are welcome. Light refreshments will be available before the lecture from 6.15pm.