Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dowson, John

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DOWSON, JOHN (1820–1881), orientalist, was born at Uxbridge in 1820, studied Eastern languages under his uncle, Edwin Norris, whom he assisted for some years in his labours at the Royal Asiatic Society, and subsequently became tutor at Haileybury, and finally, in 1855, professor of Hindustani both at University College, London, and at the, Staff College, Sandhurst, an office he held till 1877. His duties as professor suggested the publication of his well-known and useful ‘Grammar of the Urdu or Hindustani Language’ (1862), and he also translated one of the tracts of the ‘Ikhwānu-s-Safa,’ or Brotherhood of Purity, which, in its Hindustani version, is a popular reading-book in India. His chief work was the ‘History of India as told by its own Historians,’ which he edited from the papers of Sir H. M. Elliott. These eight substantial volumes (1867–77), which must have demanded a vast amount of labour and research, lay the solid foundations of a detailed history of India during the Mohammedan period, and provide materials for much future work. His ‘Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, History and Literature’ (1879) is a serviceable compilation, and his contributions to the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ and the ‘Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society’ were always thorough and painstaking. His papers on Indian inscriptions were especially valuable, though his theory of the ‘Invention of the Indian Alphabet,’ for which he claimed a Hindu origin, has not met with much support. He was a sound and careful self-made scholar, and Indian studies owe much to his laborious pen. He died 23 Aug. 1881.

[Academy, 10 Sept. 1881; Annual Report, Royal Asiatic Society, 1882.]

S. L-P.