Revival (V). Robert Caesar Childers
n.1838- m.1876, Eastern scholar, born in 1838, was a son of the Reverend Charles Childers, English chaplain in Nice, was the author of the first Pāli dictionary in a Western language.
This was an obituary written by Thomas Rhys Davids:
«He was appointed writer in the civil service of Ceylon in the late 1860s, and for three years acted as private secretary to the then governor, Sir Charles McCarthy. Then he became an office assistant for the government agent in Kandy; but shortly after, in March of 1864, his health collapsed and he was forced to return home.
While in the service, he took great pains to understand the ways of thinking and feeling of the Sinhalese, and had given up one of his vacations to acquire a deeper knowledge of the native language and literature than that required by the rules of the service.
Those who can realize how valuable the few holidays and leisure hours of an official working in the East are will know how to appreciate such an act.
It was on this vacation, spent at the Bentota Resthouse, that Pali’s studio began under the guidance of Yátrámullé Unnensé, a Buddhist. scholar of great knowledge, and of peculiar dignity and modesty, for whom his distinguished student retained to the last a deep personal respect.
After his return home, ill health and other causes prevented him for some time from continuing his studies in the sacred language of Buddhists. It was not until November 1869 that he published his first contribution to the literature of the subject.
This was the Pali text of ‘Khuddaka Patiya’, with translations and notes in English, printed in the ‘Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society’.
This was the first Pali text printed in England, and, with one exception, the only portion of sacred Buddhist books printed until then in Europe.
At that time there was no dictionary or grammar of the language in any European language. Without these, it was impossible for the rich reserves of historical and ethical works hidden in the Pali manuscripts to be available for comparative history. This caused Childers to set himself energetically to work to document himself, although the task was one of which any less enterprising and less sacrificed scholar would have shrunk.
For the preparation of the Pali dictionary he spent most of his time during the rest of his life; the work gradually rises in the goal and reach under your hand. The first volume was published in 1872.
In the same year he contributed an article on Buddhist metaphysics to Prof. Cowell’s edition of Colebrooke’s ‘Essays’, and from time to time published several articles on Pali and Sinhalese in the ‘Journal of the Royal Asian Society’. The most important of these documents was its edition in 1874 of the Pali text of the ‘Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta’ (‘Book of the Great Decease’), being that part of the Buddhist scriptures that gives details of the events of the last days of life Buddha Sinhalese had generally been considered a dravidic language.
In his two works on the subject (1873 and 1875) he conclusively demonstrated, for the first time, how deeply Aryan both his grammar and his vocabulary were. In 1871 he had discussed, in an article on the well-known ‘Dhammapada,’ some of his verses that deal more especially on the subject of the Buddhist ideal state, Nirvāna or Arahatado.
But during all these years, Childers busied himself diligently in completing the second volume of his Pali dictionary, which, much larger and more complete than the first part, was published in the autumn of 1875. This great and important work did for the Pali what that Wilson’s dictionary had done for Sanskrit.
It was not only the most valuable contribution that had been made to the study of the language, but it was the indispensable means by which one could advance. Like Wilson’s, he was sure he would be replaced; because it made possible that rapid advance in the publication of the Pali texts, which has been the most marked feature in oriental studies since its appearance.
It was the basis of all the subsequent work of the various editors committed to the Pali Text Society that has made it inappropriate. Its great value was immediately recognized throughout Europe; and a few months after its appearance, the Institute of France awarded him the Volney Prize of 1876 for the best philological work of the year. After completing the dictionary, Childers, with his indefatigable zeal, hoped to renew his activity. He had announced his intention to publish a complete translation of the Buddhist book Jātaka, the oldest and most extensive collection of existing folklore, and his name appeared as the promised collaborator of translations of various parts of the Buddhist scriptures into the Oxford series. translations of the sacred books of the East. But his continued work had told about an already weakened and consumerist constitution, a cold contracted in the first part of the year that consumed him quickly, and he died on July 25, 1876 in Weybridge at the young age of thirty-eight.
For an unusually powerful memory and untamable energy, Childers united enthusiasm in the cause of the investigation, a passionate patience, rare even in new and promising fields. «