In the following Poem I have sought, by the medium of an imaginary Buddhist votary, to depict the life and character and indicate the philosophy of that noble hero and reformer, Prince Gautama of India, the founder of Buddhism.
A generation ago little or nothing was known in Europe of this great faith of Asia, which had nevertheless existed during twenty-four centuries, and at this day surpasses, in the number of its followers and the area of its prevalence, any other form of creed. Four hundred and seventy millions of our race live and die in the tenets of Gautama; and the spiritual dominions of this ancient teacher extend, at the present time, from Nepal and Ceylon over the whole Eastern Peninsula to China, Japan, Tibet, Central Asia, Siberia, and even Swedish Lapland. India itself might fairly be included in this magnificent empire of belief, for though the profession of Buddhism has for the most part passed away from the land of its birth, the mark of Gautama's sublime teaching is stamped ineffaceably upon modern Brahmanism, and the most characteristic habits and convictions of the Hindus are clearly due to the benign influence of Buddha's precepts.
More than a third of mankind, therefore, owe their moral and religious ideas to this illustrious prince, whose personality, though imperfectly revealed in the existing sources of information, cannot but appear the highest, gentlest, holiest, and most beneficent, with one exception, in the history of Thought. Discordant in frequent particulars, and sorely overlaid by corruptions, inventions, and misconceptions, the Buddhistical books yet agree in the one point of recording nothing -- no single act or word -- which mars the perfect purity and tenderness of this Indian teacher, who united the truest princely qualities with the intellect of a sage and the passionate devotion of a martyr. Even M. Barthelemy St. Hilaire, totally misjudging, as he does, many points of Buddhism, is well cited by Professor Max Muller as saying of Prince Siddartha, "Sa vie n'a point de tache. Son constant héroisme égale sa conviction ; et si la théorie qu'il préconise est fausse, les exemples personnels qu'il donne sont irréprochables. Il est le modèle achevé de toutes les vertus qu'il prêche; son abnégation, sa charité, son inaltérable douceur ne se démentent point un seul instant. . . . Il prépare silencieusement sa doctrine par six années de retraite et de méditation; il la propage par la seule puissance de la parole et de la persuasion pendant plus d'un demi-siècle, et quand il meurt entre les bras de ses disciples, c'est avec la sérénite d'un sage qui a pratiqué le bien toute sa vie, et qui est assuré d'avoir trouvé le vrai." To Gautama has consequently been given this stupendous conquest of humanity; and -- though he discountenanced ritual, and declared himself, even when on the threshold of Nirvana, to be only what all other men might become -- the love and gratitude of Asia, disobeying his mandate, have given him fervent worship. Forests of flowers are daily laid upon his stainless shrines, and countless millions of lips daily repeat the formula, "I take refuge in Buddha!"
The Buddha of this poem -- if, as need not be doubted, he really existed -- was born on the borders of Nepal, about 620 B.C., and died about 543 B.C. at Kusinagara in Oudh. In point of age, therefore, most other creeds are youthful compared with this venerable religion, which has in it the eternity of a universal hope, the immortality of a boundless love, an indestructible element of faith in final good, and the proudest assertion ever made of human freedom. The extravagances which disfigure the record and practice of Buddhism are to be referred to that inevitable degradation which priesthoods always inflict upon great idea committed to their charge. The power and sublimity of Gautama's original doctrines should be estimated by their influence, not by their interpreters; nor by that innocent but lazy and ceremonious church which has arisen on the foundations of the Buddhistic Brotherhood or "Sangha."
I have put my poem into a Buddhist's mouth, because, to appreciate the spirit of Asiatic thoughts, they should be regarded from the Oriental point of view; and neither the miracles which consecrate this record, nor the philosophy which it embodies, could have been otherwise so naturally reproduced. The doctrine of Transmigration, for instance -- startling to modern minds -- was established and thoroughly accepted by the Hindus of Buddha's time; that period when Jerusalem was being taken by Nebuchadnezzar, when Nineveh was falling to the Medes, and Marseilles was founded by the Phocaeans. The exposition here offered of so antique a system is of necessity incomplete, and -- in obedience to the laws of poetic art -- passes rapidly by many matters philosophically most important, as well as over the long ministry of Gautama. But my purpose has been obtained if any just conception be here conveyed of the lofty character of this noble prince, and of the general purport of his doctrines. As to these there has arisen prodigious controversy among the erudite, who will be aware that I have taken the imperfect Buddhistic citations much as they stand in Spence Hardy's work, and have also modified more than one passage in the received narratives. The views, however, here indicated of "Nirvana," "Dharma," "Karma," and the other chief features of Buddhism, are at least the fruits of considerable study, and also of a firm conviction that a third of mankind would never have been brought to believe in blank abstractions, or in Nothingness as the issue and crown of Being.
Finally, in reverence to the illustrious Promulgator of this "Light of Asia," and in homage to the many eminent scholars who have devoted noble labors to his memory, for which both repose and ability are wanting to me, I beg that the shortcomings of my too-hurried study may be forgiven. It has been composed in the brief intervals of days without leisure, but is inspired by an abiding desire to aid in the better mutual knowledge of East and West. The time may come, I hope, when this book and my "Indian Song of Songs" will preserve the memory of one who loved India and the Indian peoples.
London, July, 1879.
Edwin Arnold was born in Gravesend on 10th June, 1832. He went to Oxford University where he won the Newdigate prize for poetry. After university he taught at King Edward's School, Birmingham and Bombay University in India.
Arnold returned to England in 1861 and joined the staff of the Daily Telegraph. On the death of Thornton Leigh Hunt in 1873, Arnold was appointed editor of the newspaper. His views were less liberal than those of Hunt and the paper began to question the policies of the government led by William Gladstone. Arnold was particularly upset by attempts to cut defence expenditure and claimed that Gladstone would "fling half our Empire overboard and jettison India herself in order to teach Britain modesty." Whereas Hunt used to describe Gladstone in the Daily Telegraph as the "People's William", Arnold favoured the more imperialistic policies of his Conservative opponent, Benjamin Disraeli.
Arnold recruited staff that shared his political opinions and worked closely with Ellis Ashmead Bartlett, a strong advocate of British Imperialism in the House of Commons. Under the editorship of Arnold circulation of the newspaper continued to grow. In 1870 the daily average circulation was 196,855 and by 1877 it had risen to 242,215.
had a deep love of exploration and persuaded the proprietor, Edward Levy-Lawson,
to spend large sums of money to obtain dramatic stories. This included
joining with Bennett of the New York Herald to finance Stanley's search
for David Livingstone in Africa. The Daily Telegraph also largely financed
Sir Harry Johnson's exploration of Kilimanjaro in 1884.
A loyal supporter of the Conservative Party, Arnold was granted a knighthood by the Marquess of Salisbury in 1888. Later that year he resigned as editor of the Daily Telegraph and became the paper's travelling commissioner.
Arnold wrote the highly acclaimed, The Great Renunciation (1879). Other titles written by Arnold include India Revisted (1886), Seas and Lands (1891), Wandering Worlds (1894) and East and West (1896). Edwin Arnold, who suffered from failing eyesight in his later years, died on 24th March, 1904.
Harry Levy-Lawson, The Story of the Daily Telegraph (1955)
All the traditions of the Daily Telegraph were Liberal. From the beginning it supported Palmerston. For Gladstone it coined the title of "the People's William" and for many years Edward Levy-Lawson saw Gladstone or Montagu Corry, his confidential secretary, almost daily.
Edward Arnold who in Eastern policy was continually and vehemently against Gladstone. The break was gradual. During Disraeli's second administration the Daily Telegraph "crossed the floor" and became a Conservative newspaper.