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The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians

book by Henry Miers Elliot

The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians is a book comprising translations of medieval Persian chronicles based on the work of Henry Miers Elliot. It was originally published as a set of eight volumes between 1867-1877 in London. The translations were in part overseen by Elliot, whose efforts were then extended and edited posthumously by John Dowson.

QuotesEdit

  • The translations are in many different hands. Some few are in Sir H. Elliot's own handwriting, others were made by different English officers, but the majority of them seem to have been the work of munshís. With the exception of those made by Sir H. Elliot himself, which will be noted whenever they occur, I have compared the whole of them with the original texts and the errors which I have had to correct have been innumerable and extensive. But with all my care it is to be feared that some misreadings may have escaped detection, for it is very difficult for a reviser to divest himself entirely of the colour given to a text by the original translator.
    • Note of John Dowson in The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians - Volume I, p. xi
    • Quoted in Studies in Indo-Muslim History by S.H. Hodivala Volume I: A Critical Commentary on Elliot and Dowson’s History of India as Told by Its Own Historians (Vols. I-IV) & Yule and Burnell’s Hobson-Jobson by Sanjay Garg; published by Routledge, p. 7

Elliot's prefaceEdit

  • If the artificial definition of Dionysius be correct, that "History is Philosophy teaching by examples," then there is no Native Indian Historian; and few have even approached to so high standard. Of examples, and very bad ones, we have ample store, though even in them the radical truth is obscured by the hereditary, official, and sectarian prepossessions of the narrator; but of philosophy, which deduces conclusions calculated to benefit us by the lessons and experience of the past, which adverts on the springs and consequences of political transactions, and offers sage counsel for the future, we search in vain for any sign or symptom. Of domestic history also we have in our Indian Annalists absolutely nothing, and the same may be remarked of nearly all Muhammadan historians, except Ibn Khaldún. By them society is never contemplated, either in its conventional usages or recognized privileges; its constituent elements or mutual relations; in its established classes or popular institutions; in its private recesses or habitual intercourses. In notices of commerce, agriculture, internal police, and local judicature, they are equally deficient. A fact, an anecdote, a speech, a remark, which would illustrate the condition of the common people, or of any rank subordinate to the highest, is considered too insignificant to be suffered to intrude upon a relation which concerns only grandees and ministers, "thrones and imperial powers"... In Indian Histories there is little which enables us to penetrate below the glittering surface, and observe the practical operation of a despotic Government and rigorous and sanguinary laws, and the effect upon the great body of the nation of these injurious influences and agencies.
    • The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians - Volume I, pp. xix-xx
    • Quoted in The Politics of Secularism: Medieval Indian Historiography and the Sufis, by Venkat Dhulipala; published by University of Wisconsin-Madison, pp. 45-46
  • If, however, we turn our eyes to the present Muhammadan kingdoms of India, and examine the character of the princes, and the condition of the people subject to their sway, we may fairly draw a parallel between ancient and modern times, under circumstances and relations nearly similar. We behold kings, even of our own creation, sunk in sloth and debauchery... Under such rulers, we cannot wonder that the fountains of justice are corrupted; that the state revenues are never collected without violence and outrage; that villages are burnt, and their inhabitants mutilated or sold into slavery; that the officials, so far from affording protection, are themselves the chief robbers and usurpers; that parasites and eunuchs revel in the spoil of plundered provinces; and that the poor find no redress against the oppressor's wrong and proud man's contumely. When we witness these scenes under our own eyes, where the supremacy of the British Government, the benefit of its example, and the dread of its interference, might be expected to operate as a check upon the progress of misrule, can we be surprised that former princes, when free from such restraints, should have studied even less to preserve the people committed to their charge, in wealth, peace, and prosperity?
    • The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians - Volume I, p. xx
    • Quoted in The Dynamics of Cultural Counterpoint in Asian Studies, edited by David Jones and Michele Marion; published by State University of New York Press, p. 93
  • The few glimpses we have, even among the short Extracts in this single volume, of Hindús slain for disputing with Muhammadans, of general prohibitions against processions, worship, and ablutions, and of other intolerant measures, of idols mutilated, of temples razed, of forcible conversions and marriages, of proscriptions and confiscations, of murders and massacres, and of the sensuality and drunkenness of the tyrants who enjoined them, show us that this picture is not overcharged, and it is much to be regretted that we are left to draw it for ourselves from out the mass of ordinary occurrences, recorded by writers who seem to sympathize with no virtues, and to abhor no vices. Other nations exhibit the same atrocities, but they are at least spoken of, by some, with indignation and disgust.
    • The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians - Volume I, p. xxi
  • These deficiencies are more to be lamented, where, as sometimes happens, a Hindú is the author. From one of that nation we might have expected to have learnt what were the feelings, hopes, faiths, fears, and yearnings, of his subject race ; but, unfortunately, he rarely writes unless according to order or dictation, and every phrase is studiously and servilely turned to flatter the vanity of an imperious Muhammadan patron. There is nothing to betray his religion or his nation, except, perhaps, a certain stifihess and affectation of style, which show how ill the foreign garb befits him. With him, a Hindú is "an infidel," and a Muhammadan "one of the true faith," and of the holy saints of the calendar, he writes with the fervour of a bigot. With him, when Hindús are killed, "their souls are despatched to hell," and when a Muhammadan suffers the same fate, "he drinks the cup of martyrdom." He is so far wedded to the set phrases and inflated language of his conquerors, that he speaks of "the light of Islám shedding its refulgence on the world," of "the blessed Muharram," and of "the illustrious Book." He usually opens with a "Bismillah," and the ordinary profession of faith in the unity of the Godhead, followed by laudations of the holy prophet, his disciples and descendants, and indulges in all the most devout and orthodox attestations of Muhammadans.
    • The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians - Volume I, pp. xxi-xxii
  • They will make our native subjects more sensible of the immense advantages accruing to them under the mildness and and equity of our rule... We should no longer hear bombastic Bábús, enjoying under our Government the highest degree of personal liberty, and many more political privileges than were ever conceded to a conquered nation, rant about patriotism, and the degradation of their present position. If they would dive into any of the volumes mentioned herein, it would take these young Brutuses and Phocions a very short time to learn, that in the days of the dark period for whose return they sigh, even the bare utterance of their ridiculous fantasies would have been attended, not with silence and contempt, but with the severer discipline of molten lead or empalement.
  • These considerations, and many more which will offer themselves to any diligent and careful peruser of the volumes here noticed, will serve to dissipate the gorgeous illusions which are commonly entertained regarding the dynasties which have passed, and show him that, notwithstanding a civil policy and an ungenial climate, which forbid our making this country a permanent home, and deriving personal gratification or profit from its advancement, notwithstanding the many defects necessarily inherent in a system of foreign administration, in which language, colour, religion, customs, and laws preclude all natural sympathy between sovereign and subject, we have already, within the half-century of our dominion, done more for the substantial benefit of the people, than our predecessors, in the country of their own adoption, were able to accomplish in more than ten times that period; and, drawing auguries from the past, he will derive hope for the future, that, inspired by the success which has hitherto attended our endeavours, we shall follow them up by continuous efforts to fulfil our high destiny as the rulers of India.
    • The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians - Volume I, pp. xxvi-xxvii
    • Quoted in Early Indian Imprints by Katharine Smith Diehl; published by Scarecrow Press, p. 365

Quotes about the bookEdit

  • The Hindu feels it his duty to dislike those whom he has been taught to consider the enemy of his religion and his ancestors; the Mussalman, lured into the false belief that he was once a member of a ruling race, feels insufferably wronged by being relegated to the status of a minority community. Fools both! Even if the Muslims eight centuries ago were as bad as they were painted, would there be any sense in holding the present generation responsible for their deeds. It is but an imaginative tie that joins the modern Hindu with Harshavardhana or Asoka, or the modern Mussalman with Shihabuddin or Mahmud.
    • Mohammad Habib commenting on the consequences of the work by Elliot and Dowson in Politics and society during the early medieval period: collected works of Professor Mohammad Habib, Volume 1, p. 12
    • Quoted in Identity and Religion: Foundations of Anti-Islamism in India by Amalendu Misra; published by SAGE Publications, p. 210
  • To realize Medieval India there is no better way than to dive into the eight volumes of the priceless History of India as Told by its Own Historians which Sir H. M. Elliot conceived and beganot, and which Professor Dowson edited and completed with infinite labour and learning. It is a revelation of Indian life as seen through the eyes of the Persian court annalists. It is, however, a mine to be worked, not a consecutive history, and its wide leaps in chronology, its repetitions, recurrences, and omissions, render it no easy guide for general readers.
  • Elliot and Dowson's great work, in spite of a chorus of disparagement by some modern Indian historians, still holds the field even now for more than a hundred years, against any translations in Urdu or Hindi. Scholars are still learning from and working on Elliot's meritorious volumes...
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. p. 54
  • The study of medieval Indian history in modem times may be said to have begun about a century ago when, in the eighteen-sixties, and under the patronage of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, the Indo-Persian chronicles of the medieval period began to be printed in the Bibliotheca Indica Series, and in 1867-77 appeared Elliot and Dowson’s History of India as Told by its Own Historians. Elliot’s work contained in eight fairly bulky volumes translations of extracts from most of the then known Persian chronicles, and soon became indispensable for the researcher on medieval history. The original Persian works were so eulogistic of the cruelties of Muslim conquerors and rulers that the great painstaking scholar Elliot and his followers were perforce constrained to be critical of medieval Indian rulers, and this school held the ground for quite some time.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.

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