Peterson, Peter (DNB01)
PETERSON, PETER (1847–1899), Sanskrit scholar, the son of John Peterson, merchant of Leith, and Grace Montford Anderson, was born in Edinburgh on 12 Jan. 1847. His father and paternal grandfather were natives of Shetland, and hence Peterson was wont to describe himself as a Shetlander. From the high school at Edinburgh he passed to the Edinburgh University, where he graduated with first-class honours in classics in 1867. It was here that he commenced the study of Sanskrit under Professor Aufrecht. After a visit, partly for study, to Berlin, he proceeded in 1869 to Lincoln College, Oxford, in which university he continued Sanskrit under Sir Monier Monier-Williams [q. v. Suppl.] and Friedrich Max Müller [q. v. Suppl.], gaining the Boden (university) scholarship in Sanskrit in 1870, and then joining Balliol College, from which he graduated in 1872. On 2 Jan. 1873 he joined the Indian educational service, and went to Bombay as professor in Elphinstone College. He also held the post of university registrar during the greater part of his career. During his first nine years in India Peterson seems to have done little original work. Indeed in 1881 the Bombay government actually proposed to transfer him to a chair of English, making over the Sanskrit teaching to Professor Bhandarkar of Poona. In 1882, however, he commenced the work for which he will be chiefly remembered, the search for Sanskrit manuscripts in the northern part of the Bombay presidency and circle. Many of his discoveries were of high literary value, and his six reports on the search (1883–99) are in every sense excellent reading. His exploration of Jain literature has been specially appreciated. Most of his editions of Sanskrit texts were issued in the 'Bombay Sanskrit Series,' of which, with Professor Bhandarkar, he was in joint charge. Of these the most important were: 'Kādambari' (1883), with an elaborate introduction containing parallels with the analogous romance literature in Greek, and the anthologies ‘Sārṅgadhara-paddhati’ (1886) and ‘Subhāshitāvalī’ (1888), the latter edited jointly with Pandit Durgāprasād. He also edited, mainly for educational purposes, but with considerable originality, the ‘Hitopadeśa’ (1887), portions of the ‘Rāmāyana’ (1883), and of the ‘Rigveda’ (1888–92), part of the last-named being accompanied by translations of noteworthy ability as to style, though the notes bear evidence of hasty work. For the ‘Bibliotheca Indica’ he edited (1890) the ‘Nyāyabindu’ with its commentary, a Buddhist text discovered by himself in a Jain library; and he was engaged at the time of his decease for the same series with a Jain Sanskrit text, ‘Upamitibhava-prapañca-kathā,’ three numbers of which have been issued
Peterson, who was master of a fluent English style, wrote constantly for the Bombay daily press, and made some attractive editions of English classics for native use.
As an official and resident in India much of Peterson's success was due to his tact and sympathy with natives of all classes. This is well brought out in the speech made to the Bombay Asiatic Society on the occasion of his death by Professor Bhandarkar, whom he was appointed to supersede, but who remained one of his closest friends. To this also was due his success in unearthing the jealously concealed manuscripts of the Jains at Cambay and elsewhere. In 1883 the university of Edinburgh conferred on him the degree of D.Sc. in philology, and in 1895 he was chosen president of the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, which he had often served as secretary. He was also a popular member of the Bombay municipal corporation.
He died at Bombay on 28 Aug. 1899. Peterson married, on 29 Oct. 1872, Agnes Christall, who died in September 1900. Several children of the marriage survive, one being a member of the India civil service.
[Personal knowledge; private information; Peterson's Works; Journals of the Royal Asiatic Society (London), and of its Bombay branch, 1899; obituaries in Advocate of India and Athenæum.]