Yates, William (DNB00)

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YATES, WILLIAM (1792–1845), baptist missionary and orientalist, was the son of a shoemaker of Loughborough in Leicestershire, where he was born on 15 Dec. 1792. He was educated at the high school of his native town, and it was at first intended that he should follow his father's trade; but, having succeeded as a preacher, he was led at the age of eighteen to study the classical languages, in which his friends provided him with instruction. For a short time he was a schoolmaster; but, desiring to enter the baptist ministry, he was admitted in Michaelmas 1812 to the college of that denomination at Bristol, where he commenced the study of oriental languages, and as early as 1813 conceived the idea of devoting his life to translating the Bible into Eastern vernaculars. His friends at Bristol would have sent him, after completing his studies there, to one of the Scottish universities, but he preferred to accept an appointment with the Baptist Missionary Society, and after some delay, due to the obstacles placed in the way of missions by the East India Company, he started for India, and arrived in Calcutta on 16 April 1815. He proceeded thence to Serampore to join William Carey (1761–1834) [q. v.], who had been sent out by the same society in 1792, and under his direction commenced the study of the Sanskrit and Bengalee languages, and began almost immediately to help in the literary work undertaken by the baptist mission. In 1817, when the Serampore establishment separated from the Baptist Missionary Society, Yates remained with the latter, and removed to Calcutta, where he established a school, and helped to found the Calcutta Missionary Union, besides building chapels and other religious establishments in Calcutta and its vicinity.

In the time which he could spare from preaching and travelling Yates composed for the use of the English a simplified Sanskrit grammar, a Sanskrit vocabulary, and manuals of Hindustani and Arabic, and various handbooks of natural science, history, and Christian evidences for the instruction of the Indians in Sanskrit, Hindustani, and Bengalee. These were all published between 1817 and 1827, and his literary labours during that period included, besides a translation of the Psalms into Bengalee, various memoirs of the lives of brother missionaries, essays on points of Christian doctrine, and some protests against the permission of the practice of suttee, which was not declared illegal until 1831. His educational works were printed by the Calcutta Schoolbook Society (of which he became secretary in 1824) at the Baptist Mission Press, which was managed by another missionary, W. H. Pearce, who had been trained at the Oxford Clarendon Press.

Yates spent 1827 and 1828 in America and Europe. Returning to Calcutta in 1829, he was relieved of his missionary duties, and made pastor of the English church in the Circular Road which he had helped to found. This post he held till 1839, when he resigned it in order to devote the whole of his time to translating. Between 1829 and 1845, the year of his death, he produced a Sanskrit dictionary (abridged from Wilson's), a Hindustani dictionary, and a complete version of the Bible in Bengalee, of which the execution and the printing each lasted five years. He also translated considerable portions of the Bible into Sanskrit, and produced a version of the Psalms in the sloka metre. He composed a Bengalee manual in two volumes, which was published after his death by Wenger. His educational works received considerable encouragement from the Indian government, which not only subsidised them, but offered Yates a stipend of 1,000l. on condition of his devoting himself entirely to such work, which he declined. While most of his Sanskrit work has practical rather than scientific value, his edition of the ‘Nalodaya’ (1840) and his ‘Essay on Alliteration’ (first published in the Asiatic Researches, vol. xx.) represent original research. He was also a deeply read classical scholar, a hebraist, and a student of Chinese, and published a treatise on the Hebrew verb and a biblical manual. He received in 1831 the degree of A.M. from the American Brown University, followed by that of D.D. in 1839. He died and was buried at sea on 3 July 1845, on his way to England, whither, owing to his impaired health, he had been ordered to return. In January 1816 he married Catherine Grant, the daughter of a missionary. After her death in 1839, he married, in 1841, Martha Pearce, the widow of his coadjutor.

[Hoby's Memoir of Yates, London, 1847.]

D. S. M.