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The Mission College, established by the late Lord Bishop of Calcutta, in the neighbourhood of that metropolis, may be expected to render very considerable aid towards the accomplishment of the important design. That learned and zealous prelate, in laying down the plan of the Institution, has particularly specified the translations of the Sacred Scriptures into the languages of Hindostan, as one principal object which the College would embrace. "In the third place,"
Dr. Middleton states, "I would make the Mission College subservient to the purpose of translations. Much has been done, or attempted in this way; but by no means, as I have reason to believe, so much and so well, as to make this department of missionary labour superfluous or unimportant. We still want versions, which, instead of being the work of one or two individuals, should be the joint productions of several, taking their allotted portions of Scripture, submitting their tasks to approved examiners, and sending the whole into the world- under the sanction of authority."
This intimation is greatly calculated to strengthen the expectation of the Christian public, that in due time the Indian translations of the Holy Scriptures will attain a sufficient degree of accuracy and maturity, to constitute them standard versions of the Sacred Volume.
There is now to be noticed a second principle maintained by the Abbé, of so strange as well as erroneous a nature, that if it were not gravely avowed, the reader would probably suppose him to be in jest. "A translation of the Holy Scriptures," says the Abbé," in order to awaken the curiosity, and fix the attention of the learned Hindoo, at least as a literary production, ought to be on a level with the Indian performances of . the same kind among them, and be composed in fine poetry, a flowery style, and a high stream of eloquence, this being universally the mode in which all Indian performances of any worth are written." (p. 41.)
The reader will judge whether the Abbe's censure, founded upon such a principle of translation, is not in effect a praise instead of a discredit to the versions under consideration.
I anticipate that now my own opinion of the Indian versions of the Sacred Scriptures may be demanded; and I shall be free, as far as my competency extends, to give it. My testimony must, however, be confined to the versions in the Bengalee language; for, except in a very slender degree, I am not acquainted with any other of the Indian dialects.
There exist two versions of the New Testament in Bengalee; one by Dr. Carey, and the other by the late Mr. Ellerton, of Malda, both of
them admirably acquainted with the vernacular idiom of the Hindoos inhabiting Bengal.
Both of these versions are of great and acknowledged merit, each possessing excellencies peculiar to itself. That by Dr. Carey has more of the attractions resulting from Sanscrit stores, and a learned modification of the sacred page. That by Mr. Ellerton excels in many happy renderings of a familiar and idiomatic kind. Whilst capable of improvement in subsequent editions, they are, in their present state, of incalculable value to the Christian teacher in Bengal. They have been of essential service to myself, and are so to every missionary labouring among the Hindoos of that province. They are perused by many hundreds of Hindoo youths in different schools, and by many adult Hindoos, both converted and unconverted; and they are the means of imparting a variety of important and essential benefits, both temporal and eternal, to Bengal; and if the author should insinuate that they are "spurious versions," "ludicrous, vulgar, and almost unintelligible," and looking like "forgeries of some obscure, ignorant, and illiterate individual;" I trust that such insinuation will altogether be deemed unwarranted.
With respect to the various other versions of the Scriptures which have been made in India, I am, as I have already intimated, unable to give
any positive opinion. If I were nevertheless required to state what is my impression as to the probability of the several versions being adequately executed, I should say, that I apprehend all the versions are not of equal merit. The gradations in the experience and skill of the translators, I presume, will naturally lead to gradations in the excellencies and defects of their respective versions. I would add, that I should presume, that in every version in its first stages, there would probably be found many stiff and unidiomatic expressions, and a multitude of renderings capable of much improvement. In this sentiment I am countenanced by one of the Serampore missionaries, the late Mr. Ward, who does not attempt to represent the numerous versions executed by himself and colleagues as having no or few defects. Every first version of such a book as the Bible," says Mr. Ward, "in any language, will require in future editions many improvements, and all the aids possible to carry those versions to perfection." I would add, that I apprehend the worst executed version that can be found in India, contains a sufficiency of what is plain and intelligible, to make the Hindoo reader, acquainted with the dialect in which it is written, wise unto life eternal. If he be of an humble, teachable disposition, he will, I apprehend, discover enough to guide him to honour,
glory, and immortality; and if he be of a proud, supercilious, cavilling turn of mind, then his contempt of an imperfectly executed translation of the word of God, made for his benefit by a benevolent stranger who loves him, and longs for his felicity, is a fault chargeable, not on the version, but on the proud, ungrateful individual who thus spurns it.
A physician deems it his duty to do his best for his patient, and to take care that he be free from the charge of indifference and inattention, lest, upon the patient's death, he justly reproach himself, and be reproached by others, for his negligence. On this principle let every Christian act: he is to love his neighbour as himself; he is to shew this love in deed as well as in word. He is possessed of a medicine which is calculated to heal his neighbour of a direful disease, the disease of sin, which, if not cured, will issue in the pains of everlasting death. He must therefore use every possible means to make his dying neighbour acquainted with the remedy; and he had better make the effort, though in the broken accents of one imperfectly acquainted with the idiomatic vehicle of communication, than not at all.
It is further worthy of observation, that the Hindoos are peculiarly indulgent to strangers who commit colloquial blunders, and they are in the