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Durable Link to this BlogMonday, January 18, 2010

Researcher Collet -- Biographer of Raja Ramhohun

Remembering a Rare Researcher Collet, Biographer of Raja Rammohun Roy (1822-94)

"I am dying. I cannot finish my "Life of Rammohun Roy". But when I enter the unseen, I want to be able to tell Rammohun that his "Life" will be finished. Will you finish it for me?" was the dying message of Miss Collet to her friend, Rev. F. Herbert Stead. He did complete the work and retained his anonymity scrupulously. It was revealed to office bearers of the Brahmo Samaj much later, in 1933, by the niece of the author.

Miss Sophia Dobson Collet was born on 2nd February 1822 of a Unitarian Church family of London. Her great grand-uncle was Governor of Fort St. George (Madras) for two years (1719-21 CE). Her mother's brother was also in the service of the East India Company. That was all about Collet's Indian connection. But her biography of Raja Rammohun Roy, the great pioneer of modern Indian Renaissance (1774-1833) is considered a standard work in England and India.

Collet was an invalid by birth, having a curvature of the spine. She was not sent to school because of the deformity. She was educated at home by her mother's sister, Miss Mary Barber a highly cultured and noble lady.

Sophiat saw Raja Rammohun Roy in South Place Chapel London at a tender age of ten. She must have been greatly impressed by his unusual genius. Throughout, she was warmly attached to Raja's memory. She always called him "Rammohun". She often said that her only desire was to live long enough to complete the book about him. Unfortunately she could not, though she wrote from sick-bed. She had not seen Rev. Herbert Stead either, and he had no connection with the Raja or his movement. But he completed the manuscript with immense efforts, with the mass of collected material not at all familiar to him, among his many pursuits. As a continuator he left an humble note that "the work in conception, outline, materials and in all but concluding literary execution, is and remains Miss Collet"s".

The material Collet had collected for Raja Rammohun Roy's book was stupendous. It ran into several bound volumes. It took twelve years to write more than three hundred fifty pages of the incomplete book. When we realize her devoutly Christian background, her admiration for Rommohun Roy"s work and his theistic approach in founding Brahmo Samaj could be better appreciated. She did not possess basic knowledge of Sanskrit, Arabic or Persian in which Roy excelled. She also lacked the insight into the depth of ancient Indian spiritual heritage. But her painstaking collection of mass of information is witness to her labor of love, singular honesty and sincerity under extremely trying circumstances of her frail health. As a model researcher, she always went for original sources ad did not quote from secondary material.

She was singularly responsible for creating awareness among the educated British regarding founding of Brahmo Samaj and its achievements. She wrote in " The Daily Telegraph" a leading, Daily of England, "British Quarterly" Review, "Inquirer" and Unitarian Herald" which had wide circulation. She brought out the volume of "The Brhmo Samaj" which was published by Allen & Co. She wrote articles not only on Rammohun Roy, but about Keshub Chandra Sen and Debendranath Tagore, other leading Brahmos. Her "Brahmo Year Book" in seven volumes (1876-82) is a store-house of information about that august body.

She learnt Bengali and used to write letters in that language to her Brahmo lady-friends.

She helped many other Brahmos, visiting England, by arranging their lectures and publishing them. She liked music and was fond of poetry.

Her unfinished book, "The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy" was brought out by Harold Collet in England in 1900 and second edition by Sadharan Brahmo Samaj in Calcutta in 1913 and the third one in 1962.

See Also:
• India's Historians
• The History of History of India

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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