Henry Thomas Colebrooke

English linguist (1765-1837)

Henry Thomas Colebrooke FRS FRSE (15 June 1765 – 10 March 1837) was an English orientalist and mathematician. He has been described as "the first great Sanskrit scholar in Europe".

A bust of Sanskrit scholar Henry Thomas Colebrooke created by Henry Weekes in 1837.


  • "In progress of such researches, it is not perhaps too much to expect that something may yet be gleaned for the advancement of knowledge and improvement of arts at home [in Britain]. In many recent instances, inventive faculties have been tasked to devise anew, what might have been as readily copied from an Oriental type; or unacknowledged imitation has reproduced in Europe, with an air of novelty, what had been for ages familiar to the East. Nor is that source to be considered as already exhausted. In beauty of fabric, in simplicity of process, there pos sibly yet remains something to be learnt from China, from Japan, from India, which the refinement of Europe need not disdain."
  • The course of inquiry into the arts, as into the sciences, of Asia, cannot fail of leading to much which is curious and instructive. The inquiry extends over regions, the most anciently and the most numerously peopled on the globe. The range of research is as wide as those regions are vast; and as various as the people who inhabit them are diversified. It embraces their ancient and modern history; their civil polity; their long-enduring institutions; their manners and their customs; their languages and their literature; their sciences, speculative and practical: in short, the progress of knowledge among them; the pitch which it has attained; and last, but most important, the means of its extension.... [I]t is in Asia that recorded and authentic history of mankind commences.
  • The more we study ancient Indian philosophy, "the more intimate will the relation be found between the philosophy of Greece and that of India. Whichever is the type or the copy, whichever has borrowed or has lent, certain it is that the one will serve to elucidate the other. The philosophy of India may be employed for a commentary on that of Greece; and conversely, Grecian philosophy will help to explain Indian. That of Arabia, too, avowedly copied from the Grecian model, has preserved much which else might have been lost. A part has been restored through the medium of translation, and more yet [may] be retrieved from Arabic stores.""
  • "The ancient language of India, the polished Sanskrit, not unallied to Greek and various other languages of Europe, may yet contribute something to their elucidation, and still more to the not unimportant subject of general grammar."'
  • "Connected as those highly polished and refined languages [Sanskrit and Arabic] are with other tongues, they deserve to be studied for the sake of the particular dialects and idioms to which they bear relation; for their own sake, that is, for the literature which appertains to them; and for the analysis of language in general, which has been unsuccessfully attempted on too narrow ground, but may be prosecuted, with effect, upon wider induction."
    • quoted in Ibn, W. (2009). Defending the West: A critique of Edward Said's Orientalism. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books.
  • Colebrooke also expressed the familiar argument of the eighteenth century in behalf of a liberal spirit between cultures. The West, he stated, “owes a debt of gratitude” to the civilizations of Asia for their contributions in the arts and sciences. In fact, “civilization had its origin in Asia.”
    • quoted in [1] "BRITISH ORIENTALISM AND THE BENGAL RENAISSANCE 1773-1835" , and in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857. chapter V

Quotes about Henry Thomas ColebrookeEdit

  • In 1819 he donated his priceless collection of oriental manuscripts to the East India Company library. His precision, patience, insight, and mental poise produced marvellous results in a work that has not become outdated after more than a century of admiration: the Essays on the Religion and Philosophy of the Hindus. Written on topics he had studied thoroughly during the first years of his stay in India, Colebrooke allowed his work to ripen thirty years before publishing it. It exerted a decisive influence in European intellectual circles. Like Anquetil, Colebrooke had a respect for human variety. His constant submission to rational truth, both as a scholar and magistrate, led him to work with positive facts, with equivalent components of a whole, with beliefs different from his own. This kind of integrity is a credit to the English school, which exhibited lofty examples of it, and compensates for the political insensitivities of certain men of action and the blindness of a certain kind of faith. Colebrooke must also be credited, again like Anquetil, with the intransigence that led him to denounce bluntly what he considered faulty or criminal in the colonial methods of his nation. As early as 1795, he did just that in a memorandum on commercial dealings in Bengal, and he continued to do so at every opportunity.
    • R Schwab, quoted in Ibn, W. (2009). Defending the West: A critique of Edward Said's Orientalism. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books.

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