Arthur Coke Burnell Letters

Scope and Content

Nine letters to James Sutherland Cotton (1847-1918) from the Sanskrit scholar Arthur Coke Burnell (1840-1882), in which Burnell discusses various issues relating to oriental studies; together with further letters to Cotton from Edwin Bedford, Richard Congreve (1818-1899), positivist, and (Sir) Henry Yule (1820-1889), geographer, concerning Burnell. Cotton was the Honorary Secretary of the Egyptian Exploration Fund and later editor of The Academy journal, and editor of the revised edition of the Imperial gazeteer of India.

The material comprises:

  • Nos 4-5: two letters from Edwin Bedford to the editor of The Academy [James Sutherland Cotton], concerning an obituary of Burnell, which had appeared in the journal and claimed that he had Jewish ancestry, 1882;
  • Nos 6-14: nine letters from A.C. Burnell to Cotton, the majority written from San Remo, Italy, concerning oriental studies and reviews of various works, 1881-82;
  • No. 15: letter from Richard Congreve to Cotton, 1882;
  • No. 16: letter from H[enry] Yule to James S. Cotton, 1882.

Administrative / Biographical History

Arthur Coke Burnell (1840-1882), Sanskritist and expert on southern Indian language and literature, was born at St Briavels, Gloucestershire, on 11 July 1840. He was educated at King's College, London and passed the Indian Civil Service examination in 1857. After a course of Sanskrit and Telugu, in which he passed with credit at the final examination, he went to Madras in 1860.

In 1868 he was compelled to return on sick leave, and travelled through Arabia, Egypt, and Nubia. While in England he published the first part of his Catalogue of a collection of Sanskrit MSS (1869), dealing with Vedic manuscripts. After returning to India in 1870, Burnell served successively at Mangalore and at Tanjore as judge. His greatest work is the Classified index to the Sanskrit MSS in the palace at Tanjore, printed for the Madras government in 1880. Burnell also published Elements of south-Indian palaeography, from the fourth to the seventeenth century, A.D. (1874; 2nd edition, 1878). Between 1873 and 1878 he brought out a series of five Samaveda-Brahmanas, without translations but with the commentary of Sayana, indexes, and elaborate introductory essays of the greatest value to scholarship at that time. In 1878 he published an extract, with translation, of the Talavakara, one of the Brahmanas, as a specimen of its legendary lore. He also issued a succession of small pamphlets on Specimens of south Indian dialects (1873-78); and an edition, prepared from the author's own manuscript, of Father Joseph Constantius Beschi's celebrated work on High Tamil and on Tamil poetry and rhetoric, under the title Clavis humaniorum litterarum sublimioris Tamulici idiomatis (1876).

Burnell's health was broken by cholera and an excessive workload. He returned to Europe in 1880 and spent his final two winters in Italy. He died at West Stratton, near Micheldever, Hampshire, on 12 October 1882.

Source: Stanley Lane-Poole, 'Burnell, Arthur Coke (1840-1882)', rev. J. B. Katz, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the John Rylands Library from the London bookseller Bernard Quaritch in December 1920, with Burnell's The Italian version of a letter from the King of Portugal (Dom Manuel) to the King of Castille (Ferdinand) (London, Wyman & Sons, 1881): R46804.