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Colebrooke
Colebrooke
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language coined by priests to conceal their impositions.

Colebrooke's apposite appearance upon the scene dispelled these doubts. His honesty, learning, and extreme caution were apparent to all who were competent to examine the question ; he treated the literary problems with which he dealt as though they were problems of physical science, and made a point I of under- rather than over-stating his case. Precision, scientific sobriety, absolute accuracy and truthfulness were his characteristics. He could say exactly, and in precise terms, what the Sanskrit writers had to tell about astronomy, or contracts, or prosody, or religion, and the very dryness and moderation of his tone carried with it the conviction of his accuracy. He had read the Vedas through with the help of the scholiasts, and to a thorough knowledge of Sanskrit he added what was almost as important for the scientific matters he also discussed, a competent knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. The result was that he restored the Vedas to their rightful place, demolished the absurd speculations which ignorance, or worse, a partial knowledge, had induced, and showed what Indian science really was worth when divested of the fanciful excrescences of learned Europeans. The estimate was arrived at not without disappointment, for he had conceived great hopes of what the scientific writings of the Hindus might contain. The essay on the Vedas was written when Colebrooke was at the zenith of his reputation, and soon after its publication he was elected president of the Bengal Asiatic Society.

At the same time Colebrooke had not abandoned his juristical studies. In 1810 he was at work at a supplement to the 'Digest,' which was to recast the imperfect section on inheritance, and to add others on criminal law, evidence, pleadings, &c. The task was abandoned, like several others, for he had always more on hand than he could finish ; but his translation of two treatises on inheritance, published in 1810, fulfilled in part his object, and he also issued the beginning of a great treatise on contracts. 'By the collection and revision of the ancient texts, which would probably have been lost without his intervention, he became in some degree the legislator of India' (Max Müller).

The highest honour to which the civilian aspires was reached in 1807, when Colebrooke attained his seat on the council; and his five years of office corresponded very nearly with Lord Minto's administration. Among the multifarious questions that came before the council, he showed a special activity in regard to reforms in the internal administration, which the governor-general's pacific policy fostered in a marked degree, and, as might be expected, Colebrooke lost no opportunity of stimulating oriental studies not only Sanskrit, but other Eastern tongues, in many of which he was proficient and notably encouraged the excellent work of the Serampur mission press. In 1810 he married Miss Elizabeth Wilkinson, by whom he had three sons, and after the conclusion of his term on the council he prepared to return to England, and take the leisure which the fortune he had amassed during his thirty-two years' service would now enable him to enjoy. On the eve of their departure, however, in October 1814, his wife died, and he returned home alone.

After his return, Colebrooke presented his valuable collection of Sanskrit manuscripts to the India House, where they have proved a priceless treasure to all succeeding scholars; and abandoning to some extent the literary studies which had made his name famous, devoted himself principally to scientific pursuits and experiments. He finished, however, some of the works which he had begun in Calcutta such as the inheritance and contract treatises, and his volume on Hindu mathematics, and wrote his well-known papers on Hindu philosophy for the ' Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society,' which he had helped to found in 1823, and of which, as he declined to be president, he was elected to the specially constituted office of director. He also contributed to the ' Transactions of the Astronomical Society ' (of which he became president in 1824), as well as to the Linnean and the Geological, of both of which he was a member. Ten papers from his pen also appeared in the 'Quarterly Journal of Science.' With the exception of the translation of the 'Sánkhya Kárika,' which was published after his death by H. H. Wilson, Colebrooke's literary labours came to an end with his paper on the ' Hindu Courts of Justice,' 1828. He had much to harass him in his latter years ; the property which, on his homeward voyage from India, he had purchased at the Cape of Good Hope proved unremunerative ; and he was forced to make a journey thither in 1821 to look after it ; the charge of two nieces under chancery involved litigation ; and the death of two of his sons, both promising young men, served to break down much of his remaining health and spirits. Cataract reduced him to total blindness, other sufferings supervened, and some years of bodily helplessness, borne bravely, ended in his death on 10 March 1837, in his seventy-third year. At the time of his death he was a foreign member of the French Institute and the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg.