My article speculating upon the possibility of ` Indian School of Translation Studies' published in New Quest
Rebirth of a text in another language is the birth in a different yoni- in a different vagina, a different species. The translated text is a different animal altogether. But the way of looking at this different animal in relation to earlier one in addition to its place and function in the territory it inhabits in the present birth depends greatly on frames through it is perceived. This framework is usually specific to culture, metaphysics, history, politics, and social institutions of the linguistic community that produces or receives translation. One wonders then, whether there are certain themes and concerns which recur in writings on translation in India, or more fashionably, whether there is some sort of `Indian School' of Translation Studies. As there seems to be a sudden upsurge of interest in translation in English Studies in India, I have attempted in this paper a brief critical survey of major theoretical positions of Indian scholars regarding translation and tried to understand them in the context of Indian cultural history. I have sought to discover shared areas of emphasis and differences in order to find out whether any such school exists. I have also compared major theorists writing in English and those writing in the modern Indian languages in order to highlight the difference rather than similarity between them.
The increased interest seems to be symptomatic of a certain dramatic shift in academic values, concerns, and mindset associated with English Studies in India. This shift has been from uncritical acceptance of literatures in dominant Western languages, their canons, as well as their critical vocabulary, to historical and political contexts in which they are produced, circulated and consumed. There is a distinct attempt to de-colonize its outlook. The emphasis on translation, I feel is one of the cultural strategies for the agenda of decolonialization.
Closely allied with English Studies establishment in India are the Indian writers writing in English, many of them have traditionally been accomplished translators. English Studies has been one of the chief patrons of this species of writing in India. In the case of the earlier generation of writers like Sri Aurobindo or P.Lal, the source language was chiefly Sanskrit and later on, in the case of modernist bilingual poets like Dilip Chitre, A.K.Ramanujan, R. Parthashastry, and Arun Kolatkar, the source language is primarily their first language. The focus of these translators has been largely on medieval bhakti literature. Rabindranath Tagore's translation of Kabir and Sri Aurobindo's translation of Vidyapati are the antecedents of these type of translations. The bilingual poet translators deploy translation as a strategy to de-colonize their souls by translating what is considered as `truly Indian'. A noted poet and translator P. Lal has made a very significant comment about this strategic function of translation:
`I soon realized that an excessive absorption in the milieu and tradition of English was divorcing me from the values that I found all round me as an experiencing Indian, so I undertook the translation of Indian-in practice, mostly Hindu-sacred texts, in the hope that the intimacy that only translation can give would enable me to know better what the Indian "myth" was, how it invigorated Indian literature, and what values one would pick up from it that would be of use to me as an " Indian" human being and as an Indian using a so called foreign language, English, for the purposes of writing poetry. (Cited by St.Pierre, 1997:143-144)'.
In this light one can understand Dilip Chitre's remark, ` Why I felt compelled to translate his (Tukaram’s) poetry: as a bilingual poet, I had little choice, if any. There were two parts of me, like two linguistic and cultural hemispheres, and, as per theory, they were not destined to cohere..(2003:307)’ and ` I have been working in a haunted workshop rattled and shaken by the spirits of other literatures unknown to my ancestors….I have to build a bridge within myself between India or Europe or else I become a fragmented person (2003:311-312).’
Many of these writer and translators grapple with the issue of identity and Indianness in their works and these themes very naturally emerge in their translation theory and practice. AK Ramanujan, who holds a unique place as a poet, translator, and a theorist, had announced the great ambition to translate non-native reader into a native one as one of the main motivation behind translation. Yet he too acknowledged that ` Every one's own tradition is not one' birthright; it has to be earned, repossessed. The old bards earned it by apprenticing themselves to the masters. One chooses and translates a part of one's past to make it present to oneself and may be to others.'(Cited by Dharwadkar, 1999:122-123) Translation becomes a strategy to give oneself one's roots. St. Pierre aptly observes that such an attitude ` arises out of a desire to ground oneself more fully into the Indian source culture.' (1997:143-144) Comparable to what is happening in English Studies, its alienated by products also have desire to de-colonize themselves. However, a significant point is that of shifting notion of what is meant by `truly Indian'. In case of the older generations, Indianness meant pan-Indian Sanskritic heritage and in case of modernists, Indianness means pre-colonial heritage in modern Indian languages. Translation becomes one of the inevitable and creative contrivances of giving oneself the sense of belonging and a nationality.
The main theorists from the English Studies establishment are the reputed scholars like Harish Trivedi, G.N.Devy, Dilip Chitre, Tejaswini Niranjana, and Sujit Mukherjee. They are concerned with colonial history and its impact on practice and reflection on translation in India. They are chiefly concerned about what is called Indian Literature in English Translation, or Indo-English Literature. The English Studies connection of these scholars is reflected in the theorizing and the sorts of concerns typical to this church emerge everywhere in their thinking.
Harish Trivedi (1996) has provided a fourfold division of Indian literature translated into English: i) Indic and Indological works, mainly translations of the ancient and medieval Sanskrit or Pali texts into English, ii) the translations of late ancient and medieval works, largely to do with bhakti, for instance, A K Ramanujan's translations or Rabindranath Tagore's translation of Kabir. Trivedi calls these two trends as neo-Orientalist or post Orientalist trends, iii) fictional works depicting various aspects of modern India realistically like the work of Tagore or Premchand. Trivedi remarks that this category broadly conforms to Fredric Jameson's inadequate description of the Third World national allegory and iv) Modernist or High modernist writers translated into English, a category which Trivedi believes is contrary to Jameson's thesis as it shows that internationalism/universalism cosmopolitanism can flourish in the Third World as well (52)
In Trivedi’s first category can be put works of brilliant Indologists and Sanskrit scholars like Wendy Donniger O Flatthery, Barbara Stoller-Miller, or Lee Siegel who have produced excellent translations of Sanskrit classical texts with erudite and insightful commentaries, forewords, and appendices. Indian scholars like Sri Aurobindo, CC Mehta, and P Lal who have translated from Sanskrit classics into English also can be put under this heading. The list is quite long, but shadow of Orientalism looms large over these translations and so does desire to indulge in the `glories of past'.
AK Ramanujan's translations from South Indian saint-singers and of ancient Sangam classics, and many other works more or less well received belong to the second category described by Trivedi. It is unfair to label these translations as neo- or post- Orientalist as these are by the translators who belong to the colonized cultures and they translate into language of colonizers rather than the colonial translator translating into their first language. Besides, Orientalism worked in tandem with the colonizing project. Nevertheless, the colonial history does play a crucial role in production and reception of these types of translations as mentioned earlier. The desire to relate the East and the West in `positive' manner springs from English educated Indian's conscious or unconscious fear of alienation and of not belonging to the very country he or she is born in. This crisis may be due to historical, or (to use a more fashionable word) `post-colonial' condition, but then this should definitely separate it from translations of orientalists.
The third category as pointed out by Trivedi, and is very well documented by Sujit Mukherjee (1994) who gives an excellent list of various Indo-English realistic fictional works translated into English in his appendix which depict various aspects of modern Indian life. Mukherjee makes a strong case for inclusion of these works in academic study of what is called `Eng.Lit.' The fourth category, that of the Modernist and high modernist poets and writers translated into English features in Mukherjee’s list too. He also provides a list of Indian dramas translated into English. Mukherjee's list is not complete, but it reveals what a great help this kind of effort provides to scholars. Trivedi's schema is useful but the last two categories of his four-fold framework seem to have only polemical relevance in the context of his argument against Jameson's view. The division between the works that deal realistically with India and the more modernist and experimental fiction is controversial. He seems to imply that the latter type of fiction is more `international' and having `universal/global' appeal while the former has only local, regional or national appeal.
Like Trivedi, Devy (1993) is interested in the historical context of translation activity in India. He divides the history of translating Indian literature into English into four phases, namely: the colonial phase (1776-1910), the revivalist phase (1876-1950), the nationalist phase (1902-1929), and the formalist phase (1912- ) (120). Commenting on contribution of emergence and growth of Indian-English literature in growth of Indian literature in English Translation, he remarks that the creative writers writing in English have created `a ready language for the translators' as they have invented modes of ` representing Indian turns of speech, shades of sentiments, ways of feeling and social manners.' Besides, many Indian creative writers in English, who are bilinguals, are translators. This fact also contributes to development of this category (124). However, one wonders whether growth and development of something like German Writing in English (if there is any such thing) is necessary and important for development of German literature in English Translation!
Tejaswini Niranjana's excellent book, apart from a rather unjust attack on Ramanujan, Siting Translation, History, Post-Structuralism, and the Colonial Context (1995) is concerned with complex interrelationship between colonialism, post-structuralist philosophy, and translation. This concern for colonial past and Western theories also characterize most of the contemporary theoretical writing on translation in English in India. One wonders why only the scholars associated with English Studies are so seriously concerned with colonial history and Western critical theory.
" In a post-colonial context the problematic of translation becomes a significant site for raising questions of representation, power, and historicity," she maintains," the context is one of contesting and contested stories attempting to account for, to recount, the asymmetry and inequality of relations between peoples, races, languages". In translation, the relationship between the two languages is hardly on equal terms. Niranjana draws attention to a rather overlooked fact that translation is between languages that are hierarchically related, and that it is a mode of representation in another culture. When the relationship between the cultures and languages is that of colonizer and colonized, "translation...produces strategies of containment. By employing certain modes of representing the other-which it thereby also brings into being--translation reinforces hegemonic versions of the colonized, helping them acquire the status of what Edward Said calls representations or objects without history '(p.3). She points out in the introduction that her concern is to probe `the absence, lack, or repression of an awareness of asymmetry and historicity in several kinds of writing on translation' (p.9). Her theoretical position seems to be more relevant to translations into English and orientalist translations, but the point she has raised about asymmetry and hierarchy very well applies to translations between Indian languages. The lack of systematic theorization about the problems raised by translation between bhashas or modern Indian languages will be dealt later in the paper.
Harish Trivedi (1997) demonstrates how translation of Anatole France's Thais by Premchand was distinctly a political act in the sense that the very selection of a text was that of a one which was not part of literature of colonial power and that it attempted a sort of liberation of Indian literature from the tutelage of the imperially-inducted master literature, English (407).
The postcolonial theory has, indeed, provided a powerful analytical framework for translation studies. Bassnett and Trivedi (1999) believe that the hierarchic opposition between the original work and translation reflects the hierarchic opposition between the European colonizer culture and the colonized culture. This hierarchy, they observe, is Eurocentric, and its spread is associated with the history of colonialization, imperialism, and proselytization (1-4). Because of these historical reasons, many radical theories of translation have come up in the former colonies.
G.N.Devy has formulated a credible Indian perspective to translation theory by contrasting the ways in which translation is perceived in India and in the West. Devy rightly notes that the metaphysical status of translation determines how it is perceived in a culture. Contrasting Western metaphysics with that of East, Devy states, ` in Western metaphysics, translation is an exile and an exile is a metaphorical translation- a post-Babel crisis. The multilingual, eclectic Hindu spirit, ensconced in the belief in the soul's perpetual transition from form to form, may find it difficult to subscribe to the Western metaphysics of translation (135). He points out that Western linguistics is essentially monolingual and rules out the very possibility of interlingual synonymy. It also overlooks that fact that languages are `open' to one another's influence in linguistic, social and historical sense. Devy is of opinion that Indian consciousness is `translating consciousness' and it exploits the `potential openness of language systems'. He believes ` if we take lead from Phenomenology and conceptualize a whole community of `translating consciousness', it should be possible to develop a theory of inter-lingual synonymy '(139-141). Devy is optimistic that an acceptable theoretical perspective on translation can emerge from India because it has ` a culture that accepts metamorphosis as the basic principle of existence' and its metaphysics is not haunted by the fear of exile. He notes that the whole bhakti movement of poetry in India had the `desire of translating the language of spirituality from Sanskrit to the languages of people.'
Devy's call for indigenous and native theory of translation based on local context and local social, literary and cultural traditions is also found in Ayyapaa K Paniker's `The Anxiety of Authenticity: Reflection on Literary Translation' (1996:36-45). He points out that the fear of being unfaithful and the anxiety of being true to the original in letter in spirit did not haunt the medieval Indian translators. He notes, ` All through the Middle Ages, throughout the length and breadth of India, Sanskrit classics like the epics and puranas continued to be retold, adapted, subverted and `translated' without worrying about the exactness and accuracy of formal equivalence.'(37). He speculates that it was with beginning of attempts to translate the Bible into Indian languages that this question of authenticity became a bugbear. He points out that the politics of medieval Indian translations could perhaps be understood and interpreted in terms of the visible absence of the anxiety of authenticity on the part of these `translators'. He also notes that the absence of an exact equivalent for the modern sense of` translation ' in medieval Indian languages probably suggests that the Indian practice tolerated a great deal of creative deviance in retelling or adaptation of a literary text and that the prestige of the source text did not haunt or frighten the reader (1998). Paniker is no doubt right in pointing out this fact but it should also be kept in mind that translation is an inseparable part of any proselytizing movement. Spread of Buddhism in the first millenium across Asia also utilized practice of systematic and very accurate translations which have contributed not only to spread of variety of secular and religious Indian texts but also development of Asian languages. Sunitikumar Pathak (1978) furnishes an interesting account of spread of Buddhist religion in Tibet, Mangolia, and Siberia. He notes that thousands of highly accurate renderings of Buddhist and Brahminical texts were produced under royal patronage in Tibet and that in the ninth century AD there was a conference to standardize techniques of translation in accordance with Tibetan language and prosody. Several secular texts like the plays of Kalidasa or famous Amarkosha were translated. The stress was on high fidelity to source texts and translations had to get approval from council of editors. They were so accurate, says Pathak, that scholars could reconstruct many Mahayana Buddhist texts missing in their original languages by translating the Tibetan translation back into Sanskrit and Prakrit. These translated texts also later served the role of source texts for many other languages of Asia. Fidelity, it seems, is not an invention of Bible translators, but seems to be associated with the project of proselytization.
What is interesting to note is that search for `authentic' or truly native India seems to take modern Indian English translators as well as theorists to pre-colonial, medieval India. Colonial history is something of a nightmare that one should try to forget. One notes that like the Indian writers writing in English, the increasing interest in translation reflects the increased awareness in English Literary Studies in India about its own alienation from the Indian social context. This sense of alienation will play a decisive role in the new directions in English studies in India will take.
While all this theorization is no doubt very important, the obsession with colonial history, western theories, and the problematic of the place of English in India is typical of the scholars associated with English Studies. This obsession with post-colonial theorization is often taken to dogmatic extremities in India these days. These concerns reflect certain self-awareness, which, one wonders, may be a form of repressed guilt among the erudite scholars in English Studies regarding its political underpinnings and history of its role in colonial times. This has led to the neglect of problems of translating from one Indian language to another as mentioned earlier and theoretical writings in Indian languages.
In contrast to the perspectives mentioned, some of the well-known critics of the earlier generation like RB Patankar (1969:61-72) had some profound things to say about translation. He speculates on the possibility of translation from an aesthetic and philosophical point of view. He says that translations of literary works are said to be logically impossible but not empirically so. He points out the contradiction in the arguments of the critics who deny the possibility of translation. He says that the most fundamental assumption, which underlies in the activity of translation, is that meaning can be separated from its verbal expression and the critics who deny the possibility of translation are those who believe that in a literary work the verbal expression and the meanings are unique and cannot be separated from one another. However, Patankar says that this later thesis will also have to deny the existence of literary criticism and aesthetics since these disciplines are based on the assumption that meaning of work of art can be abstracted in order to be understood and analyzed. Therefore, if criticism is possible, translation too, to an extent must be possible. He maintains, `there is no reason why the translator should feel uneasy about this procedure (of abstraction). He is in good company; for the process of abstraction which underlies his activity also underlies the activity of all practical criticism which is engaged in classifying, grading and rationally judging works of art' (71). This refreshing perspective anticipates Andre Lefevere' s position by at least a decade or two by affiliating translation to all other forms of `rewriting' and `refraction' like criticism.
One more domain of study that is rather neglected by the scholars in English Studies is the theoretical writings on translation in Indian languages. One of the oldest examples of such writing is by a noted essayist, scholar, and translator Vishnushashtri Chiploonkar (1850-1882) in Marathi. His essay` Bhashantar' appeared in Nibandhmala, book 1, and twelfth issue in December 1874. His essay would be of great interest to the scholars of English Studies as he too is writing about translation from the point of view of colonialism and place of English.
In present times, writers such as Umashankar Joshi, Harivallabh Bhayani in Gujarati, Bhalchandra Nemade in Marathi and Bholanath Tiwari in Hindi have produced many scholarly writings, which can be of great use to anyone studying translation theory in the Indian context. Translation theory is being gradually recognized as a significant area of study in regional languages and greater numbers of writings on translation are appearing in these languages.
The noted Gujarati poet and critic Umashankar Joshi has perceptively commented on use of terms like bhashantar and anuvad for translation. Contrasting the use of bhashantar with anuvad, he says that bhashantar implies change of language and hence is only change of formal properties of expression, while anuvad implies an attempt to recapture the content and the voice once again. He has also discussed problems of samshloki or verse translations in identical stanza form.
In a very dense and comprehensive essay, the noted Marathi novelist and critic Bhalchandra Nemade (1987) has lamented the lack of significant development in translation studies. (78-85). He laments the fact that even if original work is bad, it gets more importance than an excellent translation. He also indicates that while in the West, the great writers-translators like Ezra Pound, and Dryden have theoretically discussed various aspects of translation, great Marathi translators have stayed away from theorizing. He comments on interdisciplinary nature of translation studies. His view on the notion of `equivalence' is rather interesting. He believes that that it is easier to find approximate equivalence in genealogically and geographically closer languages like Marathi and Gujarati or Marathi and Kannada. This is a commonly held view by the translators working between Indian languages. Being a trained linguist, Nemade goes on to discuss what is termed as ` problems of translation' from linguistics approach. Elaborating on often repeated statement that the foundation of the modern age was laid by translators, he stresses the need for analysis of linguistic impact of English on Marathi syntax, lexis, and phonology along with stylistic aspects of literary Marathi using methodology of comparative linguistics. He has extensively discussed cultural and sub-cultural aspects of translation and problems of evaluation of translation. Essays like these are of great value to the student of translation studies in India. In comparison to the scholars writing in English, these scholars seem to be less concerned about post-colonial perspective on translation or producing an `Indian theory' of translation and tend to focus more on pragmatic aspects of translation. These essays usually tend to summarize theoretical position of well-known Western translation theorists, as if to introduce them to the reader of regional languages, while their counterparts writing in English many times seems to take such things for granted.
None of these theoretical writings, whether in English or in regional Indian languages can be called representative of a truly `Indian' school of translation studies as both these type of theorizing mainly reflect their own specific problems and concerns. If a truly `Indian' school of translation studies is to emerge, it should not limit itself to translations into English or be merely introductory or language specific like those in regional Indian languages. It should explore the relationships between the multiplicities of Indian languages. Such relationships are historical, political, social and literary. It should also focus on the issues like the challenges of translating from regional language to another. Paul St. Pierre makes the best advancement in the direction of a really Indian school of translation studies.
The essay, `Translation in a Plurilingual Post-colonial context: India' by Paul St.Pierre (1997) is an illuminating analysis into the problems of translating from one Indian language to another and which offers some interesting insights into the complexities of this area. He discusses various projects like Aadan Pradan (lit. interexchange) run by National Book Trust, and Sahitya Akademi projects for translating a major literary work from one language into another. He points out that these projects aim at `forging national integration through the exchange of creative literature'. However, he is more interested in the disparity and asymmetrical relation between various languages due to political and social reasons. He indicates that more translations are published in the northern and central Indian languages than in the south Indian languages, when one considers the ratio of the population of speakers and the number of books published by the NBT.
These, he believes,
` Do not simply represent what one might suspect to be an underlying north south bias....' but this requires interpretation, if one takes into account local contexts- availability of translators, for example, and cultural traditions-as well as historical relations between languages and communities in India. Such relations and contexts continue to exist in Modern India and they influence cultural productions, such as translations. They are as much a result of colonial policy-the formation of a unitary states out of a plurality of princedoms, feudatory states, etc., - as of decisions to maintain the divisions in modern India along linguistic lines. Thus India is not only a state in which linguistic divisions are maintained, but it is also a nation in which such divisions can lead to new rivalries or continue the old ones.'(142).
As an illustration, he examines the case of Bengali texts translated into Orissa and evinces how far greater number of Bengali texts in Oriya translations reflects near hegemonic status of Bengali in Orissa. Indeed, the unequal relations among Indian languages deeply affect traffic of translated texts between the languages. One has only to consider number of Gujarati books translated into Marathi or Bengali and vice versa to realize that translation hardly takes between languages having equal footing and there is a distinct imbalance between them. An interesting picture emerges when we consider the number of books from Indian languages translated into other Indian languages. Bengali and Marathi have the least amount of translations from Indian languages (Anuvadaat Tarzanchi Bhartiya Bhashat Hanuman Udi, Maharastra Times 5 April 1996). Does this number reflect some sort of regionalist arrogance these languages have vis-a-vis other literatures in Indian languages? There is indeed such a thing as hierarchy among the literary languages of India. Apart from this, one also needs to ask that though there are better days coming for translations from Indian languages into English, are there better days in store for translations from one Indian language into another Indian language? Questions like these need to be examined more thoroughly.
St. Pierre ends his essay by underscoring the need to contextualize practice of translation in India and says that, ` Translation... underscores the connection of translation to power: relations between languages and between communities are actualized and transformed through translation; translation strategies reproduce more than mere meaning. The close examination of such relations and strategies makes it possible to elucidate the locations of powers within and between cultures in a concrete fashion, and this should, it seems to be one the goals of translation studies. ' (145). It seems that a sound theoretical framework for studying a crucial, yet neglected area of translation studies in India has come from someone who is not an Indian. It is interesting to consider the fact that while Western orientalist and Indian scholars following their example the nineteenth century were giving most of their attention to pan-Indian and privileged languages like Sanskrit, Christian missionaries were doing a great service to the bhashas. So today, while most of the critics are focussing mainly on translation into or from English, people like St-Pierre has produced a major statement on problems of translation between Indian languages. An extensive and intensive study on basis of such a theoretical framework can yield excellent results.
The study of translation practice and theory in the context of globalization is crucial significance for a multilingual, post-colonial nation like India. Paul St.-Pierre (2002) and Lawrence Venuti (1998) have made some insightful reflections on the relationship between translation practices and the processes of globalization. St.-Pierre points out the problems of making generalized observations regarding the relationship between globalization and translation. As against Venuti’s generalized observation that globalization results in more capital being spent on translation into the regional languages, Paul St.-Pierre calls attention to the fact of increasing emphasis on translations from Indian languages like Oriya into English. This is says is due to the place of English in a multilingual, post-colonial society like India. He notes the important contradiction in the situation like this where the processes of globalization are threatening the local languages and cultures on the one hand and at the same time it also valorizes the regional and the local by considering it worthy of translation and publication by important publishers.
One can sum up the characteristic concerns of existing `Indian School ' of translation studies: colonial history, the ambivalent place of English in multilingual Indian society, translation as quest for identity and a quest for `true ' `authentic' India, Indian literature in English translation, search for indigenous or native theory of translation, contrast between Western culture and metaphysics and Indian culture and metaphysics, all these seem to be recurring concerns of the theorists associated with English studies. These concerns as well as the growing attention to translation are an attempt to decolonize itself. Their neglect of theoretical writings in regional languages is typical of certain vanity and snobbishness associated with departments of English. In general, historical study of translation as a process, product and as a notion in India is hardly undertaken. Dr. Bholanath Tiwari (1972) has discussed the notion and practice of translation in ancient India in some detail. I have in my own humble way, attempted to piece together several writings that analyze diachronically the notion and practice of translation and have tried to narrate briefly the story of translation in India. (Sachin Ketkar, 2002). The translators who are practicing writers in English also translate in order to overcome their own feeling of alienation. The question of identity and `roots' lie at the base of intention behind translations, especially English. Though what is meant by `truly' Indian has changed over a period for these translators, the purpose behind the translation activity remains the same. The writings in English as well as those in regional languages have a limited relevance, if some sort of strong Indian school of translation studies is to emerge. They are usually narcissistic and self-obsessed as they deal only with the problems and issues specific to their domains. It can emerge only after intensive and extensive study of historical, political, social cultural and literary relationships between the plurality of Indian languages. The essay of St. Pierre can be considered as a step in right direction.
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______________ `Translation in an Era of Globalization’ in Journal of Contemporary Thought, Summer 2002, Vadodara, ed. Prafulla Kar et. al, Guest Editor Paul St.-Pierre.
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Vishnu Shastri Chiploonkar` Bhashantar' Nibandhmala, book one twelfth issue, twelfth essay; December 1874