Who 'founded Persian studies in Britain'? The son of Pii

William Jones (philologist) - Wikipedia

Does the name Sir William Jones ring any bells to you? It wouldn't be surprising if your answer was 'no'. But here is a person who should be given all the respect and recognition in British and Persian history - and be honoured as the first adopted Cymranian on this planet.

Jones was born with big shoes to fill. His father, Anglesey-born William senior, invented Pii - yes, the 3.14 figure which is defined as a ratio of a circle's circumference from its diameter. He died when William junior was just a toddler but if he was alive to see his son grow into a linguistic prodigy, I'm sure he'd have been super proud.

William junior knew a total of at least eight languages fluently - Farsi being one of them. And it was Farsi to which he became a household name for, with one source crowning him as "the founder of Persian studies in Britain". By the age of 25, he published a French translation of 'The History of Nader Chah', a book translated directly from Persian - commissioned by King Christian VII of Denmark no less. He also published Persian Grammar, a reference title which Edward FitzGerald - the author of Rabaiyat of Omar Khayyam - used in order to learn the language almost a century after its publication. This book was such a success, he was given the nickname 'Persian Jones'.

Perhaps most significantly, Jones was the first person to have translated Hafez in its entirety in English, as well as some of Khayyam's work and Ferdowsi.

Jones's interest in the Persian language is astounding. It came from learning Arabic and it was then when he became fascinated by the linguistic connection between Arabic and Persian. This enthusiasm accelerated when he was acquainted to the work of 13th Century poet Sa'di. Despite this interest earlier in his life, Jones's career took him to India, where he became a judge on the Supreme Court in Bengal.

Sadly, Jones didn't live a full life (he died in 1794, aged 47, in Calcutta, India), and reportedly never visited Persia, which is a pity considering his vast interests in the Persian language during his 20s. But he certainly lived life to the fullest.

Big thank you to Dr Robin Darwell-Smith, archivist at University College, Oxford for supplying some truly insightful information on Sir William Jones, which helped complete this feature.


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