Ramchundra's autobiographical notes

Ramchundra sent some details of his life to August De Morgan. When De Morgan republished Ramchundra's A Treatise of Problems on Maxima And Minima, Solved by Algebra in London in 1859 he wrote a lengthy Preface to the book and included much of the autobiographical notes that Ramchundra had sent him.

For De Morgan's Preface to Ramchundra's book see THIS LINK.

For Ramchundra's Preface to his 1850 edition, see THIS LINK.

For The Calcutta Review of the 1850 book, see THIS LINK.

For The Calcutta Review of the 1859 book, see THIS LINK.

Autobiographical notes

Ramchundra, the author of this work, has transmitted to me some notes of his own life, from which I collect as follows. He was born in 1821 at Panipat, about fifty miles from Delhi. His father, Soondur Lall, was a Hindu Kaeth and a native of Delhi, and was there employed under the collector of the revenue. He died at Delhi in 1831-32, leaving a widow (who still survives) and six sons. After some education in private schools, Ramchundra entered the English Government school at Delhi, to every pupil of which two rupees a month were given, and a scholarship of five rupees a month to all in the first and second classes. In this school he remained six years. It does not appear that any particular attention was paid to mathematics in this school; but, shortly before leaving it, a taste for that science developed itself in Ramchundra, who studied at home with such books as he could procure. After leaving school, he obtained employment as a writer for two or three years. In 1841, changes took place in the educational department of the Bengal presidency; the school was formed into a college; and Ramchundra obtained, by competition, a senior scholarship, with thirty rupees a month. In 1844, he was appointed teacher of European science in the Oriental department of the college, through the medium of the vernacular, with fifty rupees a month additional. A vernacular translation society was instituted, and Ramchundra, in aid of its object, translated or compiled works in Urdu, and also on algebra, trigonometry, &c., up to the differential and integral calculus. "These translations" - I now proceed to quote Ramchundra's words - "were introduced into the Oriental department as class books; so that in two or three years many students in the Arabic and Persian departments were, to a certain extent, acquainted with English science: and the doctrines of the ancient philosophy, taught through the medium of Arabic, were cast into the shade before the more reasonable and experimental theories of modern science. The old dogmas such as 'that nature abhors a vacuum,' and 'that the earth is the fixed centre of the universe,' were generally laughed at by the higher students of the Oriental, as well as by those of the English departments of the Delhi College. But the learned moulwees, &c., who lived in the city and had no connection with the college, did not like this innovation on their much beloved theories of the ancient Greek philosophy, which from centuries past had been cultivated among them.

"I, with the assistance of the higher students of the English and Oriental departments, formed a society for the diffusion of knowledge among our countrymen. We were ambitious enough to imitate the plan of the Spectator. We first commenced a monthly, and then a bi-monthly periodical, called the Fawáedánnâzireen (i.e. useful to the reader) at the cheap price of four annas a month, in which notices of English science were given, and in which not only were the dogmas of the Mohamedan and Hindu philosophy exposed, but also many of the Hindu superstitions and idolatries were openly attacked. The result of this was that many of our countrymen, the Hindus, condemned us as infidels and irreligious; but as we did not advocate Christianity, but only recommended a kind of deism, and as we never lost our caste publicly, by eating and drinking, all our free discussions did not much alarm our Hindu friends. When in private meetings our friends seeing us so warmly advocating English science and knowledge, taunted us by saying we will become Christians, as such and such pundit had become, then we considered this as an insult, and stated in reply, that the pundit referred to had not received any English education, and that he was ignorant, and was therefore deceived by the missionaries, whom we considered as ignorant and superstitious as our own uneducated friends. We went so far as to challenge our Hindu friends to bring any Christian missionary to us, and see whether he can persuade us. It was then my conscientious belief that educated Englishmen were too much enlightened to believe in any bookish religion except that of reason and conscience, or deism. Sometimes when the late Baptist missionary, Mr Thompson, stopped me in the bazaar, and required me to think of my eternal concerns, and gave me some tracts, &c. in Persian and Urdu, I did not speak to him much, - received parts of the New Testament, &c., and when I returned home I put them in a corner, and never read them.

"Once a learned Mohamedan came to me with a copy of the New Testament in Urdu, and having read some portion of St Paul's epistles, spoke greatly against the apostle, and the missionaries in general, because St Paul teaches that circumcision is of no use for salvation. His object in reading this to me was to get an English scholar and a teacher of English science to agree with him in saying how absurd Christianity and Christians were. Though what he read was in my mother tongue, still it was wholly Greek to me; I did not understand the question. In order to put a stop to this talk, in which I had then no interest, I briefly told him that, for my part, I considered not only Christianity, but also Mohamedanism, and all bookish religions, as absurd and false. Upon this all Hindus and Mohamedans present paid me the compliment of being a philosopher, and departed with marks of approbation and goodwill.

"A respectable and learned Mohamedan, secretly assisted by some other celebrated moolwees of the city, published a treatise in Urdu in refutation of the motion of the earth, on the principles of Aristotelian philosophy; the whole train of reasonings being copied almost verbatim from a metaphysical work in Arabic, called Myboodee. But no sooner was this publication made over to us, than a moolwee, and some higher students of the Arabic department, got up a sharp reply, and published it; to which no answer was returned. Afterwards in addition to the bi-monthly periodical, we commenced a monthly magazine, called the Moohib-i-Hind, or the Friend of India. But it must be confessed that we did not receive sufficient support from the native public, and it was principally through the patronage of English authorities, as Sir John Lawrence (the magistrate of Delhi), Mr A A Roberts (ditto ditto), Dr A Ross, Mr J F Grubbins (then judge at Delhi), who subscribed for several copies of our periodicals, that we got sufficient money to pay the expenses of our publications. But afterwards, times and circumstances being changed, we were compelled to discontinue them; so that, in 1852, the bi-monthly periodical was also discontinued, after being kept up more than five years.

"In 1850 I published the mathematical work to which this account of my humble life is intended to be attached. As the work was published in Calcutta, I requested a friend of mine there to present copies of it to distinguished men in that city; but the reviews published in some Calcutta papers were generally unfavourable to the publication." In another letter Ramchundra says, "When I composed my work on 'Problems of Maxima and Minima,' I built many castles in the air; but Calcutta reviewers, &c. destroyed these empty phantasms of my brain." He also describes himself as subjected to kind rebukes from some of the best friends of native education in the North-West Provinces, for his ambition in publishing his work in English.

"During the examination vacation in 1851, having obtained three months' leave from the college, I went down to Calcutta, of which I had heard much, and which I was very desirous of seeing. When I arrived there, I happened to read a number of the Calcutta Review, in which a very unfavourable notice was given of my work. My friends then advised me to write an answer to it, which I did, and the editor of the Englishman very kindly published it in his paper.

"Dr Sprenger, who was formerly principal of the Delhi College, introduced me to the Honourable D Bethune, of the Supreme Council, who very kindly received from me thirty-six copies of my work, and paid me 200 rupees as a donation." It should be noted that Ramchundra had published the work entirely at his own expense. "I afterwards learned that he sent a number of these copies to England."

After mention of the correspondence, &c. described at the beginning of this Preface, Ramchundra proceeds as follows:-

"The honourable members of the Court of Directors were pleased to confer honours upon me, and the Government in this country sanctioned a khillut (dress of honour) of five pieces, which I am told I will obtain at Delhi, and also a reward of 2,000 rupees, which I have already received at the hands of Captain Robert Maclagan. I am much thankful to the English Government that they are so bent upon encouraging science and knowledge among the natives of this country, as to take notice of a poor native of Delhi like myself.

"The most important event of my life, at least what I consider to be as such, was, that by God's unsearchable and gracious Providence I was brought to the knowledge of the Saviour. After I had finished my mathematical work, and before I went down to Calcutta on leave, I had become a believer in the Gospel. Before this belief had taken possession of my heart, there were two erroneous notions in my head (and which I believe must ever be in the heads of nearly all native youths educated in Government colleges and schools, as long as the system of instruction continues to be pursued as it is till now)." The first of these notions was that the English themselves did not believe in Christianity, because they did not, as a Government, exert themselves to teach it. The second was that a person who believes in one God stands in need of no other religion. I omit the details of Ramchundra's reasoning, because this publication is expressly intended for India as well as England, and because I do not feel authorized to introduce into a work published by the late and present Government of India, what might originate a discussion on a most difficult question of Indian policy. Ramchundra proceeds thus:-

"Both of these erroneous notions were dispelled in the following manner. Once a Brahmin student was sent by an English officer from Kotah to the Delhi College, and was recommended to the principal's notice. This stranger in Delhi waited to see the church during divine service. The principal, Mr Taylor, also requested me to go with the Brahmin student to see the divine service in the church, if I liked. And thus, out of mere curiosity, we went there, and saw several English gentlemen whom I respected as well-informed and enlightened persons. Many of them kneeled down, and appeared to pray most devoutly. I was thus undeceived of my first erroneous notion, and felt a desire to read the Bible. Mr Taylor recommended me first to go through the New Testament. I commenced it, and read through it with attention; and thus I became aware that salvation is not merely in knowing that there is one God, and that polytheism and idolatry are false, but that it is in the name of our most blessed Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; and in this manner I was cured of my second error. I afterwards read the English translation of the Koran, by Sale, the Geeta in English, and had conversations and discussions with those who knew these books in the original languages; and at last I was persuaded that what is required for man's salvation was in Christianity, and nowhere else. I then read many Christian books, together with some treatises of Hinduism and Mohamedanism and had frequent discussions with the professors of each of them, but particularly with the latter. But the final step of baptism was difficult for me to take; for by this I was sure to lose caste and dissolve all family connection, &c. and therefore I wished to believe that baptism, and a public profession were not necessary for becoming a Christian. When I went down to Calcutta, Mrs -- very kindly gave me a letter to the late Professor Sturt, of the Bishop's College there; and when by means of this letter I was introduced to him, though he gave me reasons for the necessity of baptism according to the Gospel, I very obstinately did not agree with him. Near the end of March, 1851, I returned to Delhi, and for more than a year, I remained in great distress of mind, until the 11th of May 1852, when I and the late Sub-Assistant Surgeon Chimmun Lall, who had formerly obtained some Christian knowledge in Calcutta, were, by God's special grace, brought to submit to baptism by the late Rev - Jennings, chaplain of Delhi."

Ramchundra continued as teacher at Delhi College, the principal of which was Mr F Taylor, of whom he speaks in terms of the highest gratitude and respect. Mr Taylor was one of the victims of the mutiny, as was also Chimmun Lall, just mentioned. "The mutineers also inquired after me; but my younger brothers, who are as yet Hindus, concealed me in the female apartments of my family's house, in a lane, and my neighbours and acquaintances were kind enough not to betray me. On the evening of the third day, that is, on 13th May, 1857, when it was dark, I escaped out of the city, accompanied by two faithful servants, who took me to the village of Mátola, about ten miles distant from Delhi. I remained in this village about a month, in great danger of being betrayed by those who were opposed to the zemindar who had very kindly lodged me in his house. Here I daily used to persuade the zemindars that it was wrong that the English were gone for ever, by telling them the vast resources, the power, and the knowledge of the English nation. On 10th June, 1857, a body of mutineers passed by this village, and some one told them that a Christian was living in it; but my old servant was warned of this a few minutes before: he awakened me and told me of my danger. At first I hid myself in the zemindar's cottage, expecting to be found out and killed; but a very prudent Brahmin zemindar advised me and my servant to fly to the jungles before the mutineers could arrive. We did so; but before we could run three quarters of a mile, we heard a great noise in the village, bullets were whistling about us, and horsemen appeared to be in our pursuit, for the noise of galloping was distinctly heard. I then rushed into a thorny little bush, not minding the thorns that went into my flesh. By God's merciful providence the mutineers, after plundering and giving a good beating to the zemindars, &c. with whom I lived in the village, did not penetrate into the jungle, but went their way towards Delhi. When there was quiet towards the village, I and my old Jaut servant traversed the whole jungle, and with great difficulty reached the English camp on the 12th June, 1857. Here I was employed as an English translator of daily news from Delhi, for the information of the general and other commanders, and remained in the camp till the capture of Delhi on the 20th September, 1857. In January, 1858, I was appointed as native head master in the Thomason Civil Engineering College at Roorkee, on 250 rupees a month; which situation I held for eight months, and in the beginning of the present month, September, 1858, I was appointed as head master of the school (not a college) which is being organized at Delhi."

Having thus given the reader the account which he will naturally expect of the reasons for this publication, and of the author of it, I leave those reasons to his attentive consideration, and that author to his kindly criticism, and to the interest which must be excited in the mind of any one who is capable of feeling curiosity about the history of human progress, by the revival in India, fostered by Europeans, of speculation on one of the sciences for which Europe is indebted to India.

Last Updated April 2016