Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Joseph Tieffentaller

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 14
Joseph Tieffentaller

by Anthony Huonder


Jesuit missionary and noted geographer in Hindustan, b. at Bozen in the Tyrol, 27 August, 1710; d. at Lucknow, 5 July, 1785. He entered the Society of Jesus 9 October, 1729, and went in 1740 to the East Indian mission where he occupied various positions, chiefly in the empire of the Great Mogul. After the suppression of the Society he remained in India, and on his death was buried in the mission cemetery at Agra, where his tombstone still stands. He was a fine scholar with an unusual talent for languages; besides his native tongue he understood Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Hindustan, Arabic, Persian, and Sanscrit. He was the first European who wrote an exact description of Hindustan. A brief list of his works is the best proof of his extraordinary power of work and his varied scholarship.

In geography, he wrote a "Descriptio Indiæ", that is a circumstantial description of the twenty-two provinces of India, of its cities, fortresses, and the most important smaller towns, together with an exact statement of geographical positions, calculated by means of a simple quadrant. The work also contains a large numbers of maps, plans, and sketches drawn by himself, and the list of geographical positions fills twenty-one quarto pages. He also prepared a large book of maps on the basin of the Ganges, entitled: "Cursus Gangæ fluvi Indiæ maximi, inde Priaga seu Elahbado Calcuttam usque ope acus magneticæ exploratus atque litteris mandatus aJ. T. S. J." (1765). the original map of the lower course of the river measures 15',that of the middle course, from benares to Patna, measures 4' 3" square. In addition there is a map of similar dimensions of the Gagra, the whole accompanied by numerous notes, sketches of particular parts, and maps giving details - an "enormous labour" as Bernoulli calls it. he also wrote a work on the regions containing the sources of the chief rivers of India. In the field of religions he wrote a Brahmanism a work directed against the errors of the Englishmen Z. Howell and Alexander Dow. Others of his writings were on Indian idolatry, Indian asceticism, the religion of the Parsees, Mohammedanism, the relation of these religions to one another, etc. His writings in the department of the natural sciences are: astronomical observations on the sunspots and zodiacal light, studies on the astronomy, astrology, and cosmology of the Hindus, descriptions and observation's of the flora and fauna of India. the department of history is represented by writings in Latin on the origin of the Hindus and of their religion, an account in German of the expeditions of Nadir Shah to India, the deeds of the Great Mogul Shah Alam in Persian, and in French in incursions of the Afghans and the conquest of Delhi, and the contemporary history of India, 1757-64. In linguistics he wrote a Sanscrit-Parsee lexicon, treatises in Latin on the language of the Parsees, on the proper pronunciation of Latin, etc.

Tieffentaller sent these works in manuscript partly to the Danish scholar Dr. Kratzenstein in Copenhagen, partly to the celebrated French orientalist and geographer A. H. Anquetil-Duperron (1731-1805). The latter gave due credit to the value and importance of the works, especially those on geography, in his address before the French Academy of Sciences ("Journal des Scavans", Dec., 1776), and made the writing of Tieffentaller partly accessible to the learned world in his "Recherches hist. et géogr. sur l'Inde" (1786), and also in his "Carte général du cours du Gange et du Gagra dressée par les cartes particuliéres du P. Tieffenthaler (Paris, 1784). A part of the manuscripts at Copenhagen were obtained by the German scholar Johann Bernoulli of Berlin who used them in connection with the "Recherches" of Anquetil for the great work "Des Pater Joseph Tieffenthalers d. Ges. Jesu. und apost. Missionarius in Indien historisch-geographische Beschreibung von Hindustan . . ." (3 vols., quarto, Berlin-Gotha, 1785-87). the greater part of the first two volumes is devoted to Tieffentaller's writings, his maps, and sketches. the French edition, entitled "Description hist. et géogr. de l'Inde . . ." appeared at Berlin in three vols., 4to (1786-91). a large part of his manuscripts are probably still extant in Paris and Copenhagen.

HUONDER, Deutsche Jesuitenmissionäre des 17. und 18. Jahrh. (Freiberg, 1899), 179; NOTI. Jos. Tieffentaller, S. J., A Forgotten Geographer of India (Bombay, 1906); HOSTEN, Jesuit Missionaries in Northern India (Calcutta, 1907).

A. HUONDER