William Robertson (historian)

British historian, minister of religion, and principal of the University of Edinburgh (1721-1793)

William Robertson (19 September 172111 June 1793) was a Scottish historian, minister in the Church of Scotland, and Principal of the University of Edinburgh.

William Robertson

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  • Commerce tends to wear off those prejudices which maintain distinction and animosity between nations. It softens and polishes the manners of men. It unites them, by one of the strongest of all ties, the desire of supplying their mutual wants.
    • The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V, Vol. I (1769), Sect. I, p. 81
  • In order to complete the history of the human mind, and attain to a perfect knowledge of its nature and operations, we must contemplate man in all those various situations wherein he has been placed. We must follow him in his progress through the different stages of society, as he gradually advances from the infant state of civil life toward its maturity and decline.
    • The History of America, Vol. I (1777), Book IV, pp. 281–282
  • The Glasgow historian, William Robertson, in his An Historical Disquisition Concerning Ancient India (1791) stated, “Many facts have been transmitted to us, which, if they are examined with proper attention, clearly demonstrate that the natives of India were not only more early civilised, but had made greater progress in civilization than any other people…” It was from their ancient writings, he said, that they derived “the most liberal sentiments which they entertain at present, and the wisdom for which they are now celebrated has been transmitted to them from ages very remote.”
    • quoted in Jain, S., & Jain, M. (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. vol 4. Introduction
  • Without descending farther into detail, or attempting to enumerate that infinite multitude of deities to which the fancy or the fears of men have allotted the direction of the several departments in nature, we may recognize a striking uniformity of features in the systems of superstition established throughout every part of the earth. The less men have advanced beyond the state of savage life, and the more slender their acquaintance with the operations of nature, the fewer were their deities in number, and the more compendious was their theological creed; but as their mind gradually opened, and their knowledge continued to extend, the objects of their veneration multiplied, and the articles of their faith became more numerous. This took place remarkably among the Greeks in Europe, and the Indians in Asia, the two people in those great divisions of the earth who were most early civilised, and to whom, for that reason, I shall confine all my observations. They believed, that over every movement in the natural world, and over every function in civil or domestic life, even the most common and trivial, a particular deity presided. The manner in which they arranged the stations of these superintending powers, and the offices which they allotted to each, were in many respects the same. What is supposed to be performed by the power of Jupiter, of Neptune, of Aeolus, of Mars, of Venus, according to the mythology of the West, is ascribed in the East to the agency of Agnee, the god of fire; Varoon, the god of oceans; Vayoo, the god of wind; Cama, the god of love; and a variety of other divinities.
    …though the faith of Hindoos has been often tried by severe persecutions, excited by the bigotry of their Mahomedan conquerors, no people ever adhered with greater fidelity to the tenets and rites of their ancestors.
    • Robertson, William, An Historical Disquisition Concerning Ancient India, Rare Reprints, 1981, first published 1818. quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter

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