Friday, July 15, 2011


Arthur William Ryder

I'm grateful to Ian Jackson for introducing me to Arthur William Ryder's Original Poems, together with Translations from the Sanskrit (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939), from which I've been posting selections. On pp. xvii-xxxix of the book is a sketch of Ryder's life by George Rapall Noyes. Here are some excerpts.

p. xviii:
Ryder went to Germany, partly at least, to study comparative philology. But during a semester's work with Brugmann he discovered—or thought he discovered—that Brugmann, the acknowledged master of linguistic science, "could speak only one language and could understand none."
p. xviii, footnote, quoting Ryder's introduction to the Bhagavad-gita, p. x:
"Suppose I plan a long walk, and find a pebble in my shoe. Its removal is a necessary condition of success in my plan, yet of itself does not further that plan; hinders it indeed, if I imagine this action to be of itself meritorious, and become attached thereto. The same reasoning applies to the acquisition of the grammar of a language by one whose object is the enjoyment of poetry written in that language."
pp. xx:
[H]e thought that he could do better and more useful work in other ways than in technical scholarship. In an unpublished "lay sermon" he writes: "We know how in the universities the fetish of scholarship is held before the eyes of young men, and is used to pervert and crush all disinterested love for intellectual things." In the introduction to his translation of The Ten Princes he says (p. x): "Let us pay homage to the unknown artist of chapters i-v, who was zealous for art, not for self-exploitation; who stands a silent rebuke—needed, if unheeded—of any age greedy for scholarship and other stultifying self-advertisement." And again (ibid.): "Dismal studies in influences and sources may be securely left in the hands of those who have no love for literature, since the result is always the same. A great author uses what fits his purpose, and in using it, so transforms it as to make it his own." In his translations Ryder never used footnotes; the text, he thought, should speak for itself, without commentary.
p. xxiii:
He said to a student that if he were confined for life to a single book he should certainly choose the Mahabharata. He read for his own instruction and amusement, not merely as an aid to teaching or publication. He roundly condemned an eminent Sanskritist because he "never read any Sanskrit for fun."
p. xxiv, quoting Ryder's introduction to his volume of translations from Kalidasa:
"Here there shall at any rate be none of that cold-blooded criticism which imagines itself set above a world-author to appraise and judge, but a generous tribute of affectionate admiration."
p. xxvi:
For students who seemed to have a genuine interest in Sanskrit literature and to be worth while in themselves Ryder would do anything. He enjoyed reading Sanskrit privately with students or ex-students more than he did the conduct of formal classes.
p. xxvii:
Ryder believed that the only foundation for a general education was a knowledge of Greek, Latin, and mathematics.
p. xxix:
He castigated whole departments of study: economics was "vile," public speaking "not worth damning."
p. xxxv, quoting Ryder on the Bhagavad-gita:
"Why do one's duty, in such a world as the present? How is it possible, in such a world, to see any profit or joy in duty done? Partial answers may be found in Homer, Ecclesiastes, Lucretius, the New Testament, and elsewhere; the full answer, satisfying both intellect and spirit, is given in the Song of the Blessèd One."

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