पृष्ठ

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio

(1809-1831)

biography

      Derozio was one of the earliest Indo-English poets. Besides being a poet of rare quality, he was an educationist, a journalist and a reformer, which made him a controversial figure in the educated circles of Calcutta C in early nineteenth century. Henry Derozio was born on 10 April 1809 of Eurasian parentage; his father Francis Derozio being an Indian of B Portuguese descent and his mother, Sophia Johnson, British. As a Christian, he was baptised in the same cathedral where three years later William Makepeace Thackeray, the famous British novelist, was baptised. The as house on the Lower Circular Road, Where Henry was born, was the property of the Derozio family. It is no longer there but the cemetery onPark Street, Where he was buried, still remains.

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio
         At the age of six, Henry was admitted in the Drummond’s Academy at Dharamtallah, the school runs by David Drummond, ‘a man of great force of character as well as something of a metaphysician and poet’. In ¿n the academy, Drummond helped young Henry to sharpen his splendid power of intellect and imagination. During the period of eight years at m the Academy, Henry developed a taste for literature and philosophy and hi read widely the Works of British and European thinkers. He did extremely well at school, Wrote verses for several events and received prizes for his achievements. He left the Academy in 1822, at the age of fourteen. He joined the mercantile firm of James Scott & Co., in which his father was the chief accountant. The work at the commercial establishment was not to Derozio’s liking, a mere drudgery, and after enduring it for two years, he left it and went to Bhagalpur (in present Bihar) to stay with Arthur Johnson, his uncle (the husband of his mothers sister), who was looking after an indigo plantation at nearby Tarapur. Derozio spent almost three years there, lending a helping hand to Johnson and at the same time enjoying the country scenery – the luscious paddy fields, the ripping river, and enjoying the company of rustic people around him. These serene surroundings kindled young Derozio’s imagination and he began to write verses describing what he saw and imagined. Derozio started sending his poems to John Grant, editor India Gazette, regularly for publication under the assumed name of Juvenis. Grant liked his poems and encouraged him to continue writing. When Derozio came back to Calcutta in 1826, Grant persuaded him to get his poems published in a book. Thus, came out the first volume of Derozio’s poems which were appreciated in literary circles. This was when Derozio was still in his teens. Grant also offered Derozio the post of an assistant editor of Indian Gazette. Later, he edited the Calcutta Literary Gazette for some time. He also contributed poems to the Calcutta Magazine, Indian Magazine, the Bengal Annual and the Kaleidoscope, which widened his readership. In 1827 the second volume of his poems was published which included one of his most famous poems, The Fakir of Jungheera. This raised him to fame as a poet of considerable merit, with considerable interest being shown in his writing by literary circles in London too.
On his arrival in Calcutta in 1826, Derozio was also appointed assistant teacher of English literature and history in the Hindu College. Soon he was acclaimed by H.H. Wilson, Visitor of the College, as one of the best teachers of the institution who possessed the rare power of weaving interest around any subject that he taught. Apart from the subject content, the distinctive feature of Derozio’s teaching was to awaken in his pupils mind a love for truth and a spirit of enquiry. Being a free thinker himself, he encouraged his students to do likewise. He had a genuine love and sympathy for his students which he expressed in a poem:
Expanding like the petals of young flowers
 I watch the gentle opening of your minds.
     
By his method of teaching, Derozio helped his students to develop a spirit of enquiry and rationality and encouraged them to express their views and opinions without any inhibition or restraint. After college hours, the students used to meet Derozio either in the college premises or in his house at Lower Circular Road. These informal meetings took a formal shape of an Academic Association. Initially, the meetings were held in Derozio’s house but later were shifted to the garden house of Srikrishna Singh. During the weekly meetings, discussions were held on varied subjects like free will, fate, faith, cultivating virtue, patriotism, God and idolatry. Some meetings were attended by a few leading intellectuals of the city.
Assisted by Derozio, his students started a weekly, the Parthenon. The first issue contained criticism of some of the actions of the government as well as highlighted the depraved and perverse practices of Hinduism. The authorities of Hindu College took a serious view of the kind of articles published and the paper had to stop publication. Apart from such unorthodox expressions, the students also indulged in activities which horrified their parents, like eating beef and pork and drinking beer and alcohol. The parents started blaming the kind of instruction which was given in the college. They collectively complained to the college authorities and even threatened to withdraw their wards from the college. The very existence of the college was at stake, the management believed. They blamed the teachings of Derozio for the waywardness of their wards. The authorities of the soon took steps to remove Derozio from the service of the college. Derozio was charged with atheism and immorality, which he allegedly taught to the students. It was decided that “Derozio being the root cause of all the evils and cause of public alarm should be removed from the College”. In his reply, Derozio vindicated his stand and repudiated all the allegations. After doing that, he resigned from the college in April 1831.
After quitting Hindu College, Derozio started ' The East Indian, an evening daily on l June 1831. He was the editor as well as the proprietor of the paper. He turned it into an organ of the Anglo-Indian community, projecting their travails and disabilities and suggesting remedies. It was rather strange that a free thinker and a rationalist should be reduced to a communal crusader. However, his life was cut short and he died of cholera on 26 December 1831 in Calcutta. He was hardly twenty-three. While he taught rational thinking and virtues of truth and duty, all borrowed from Western philosophers and thinkers, he had not delved into Indian philosophical and religious works like Bhagwat Gita and Upanishads, as his contemporary reformer Rammohan Roy had done. As a result, Rammohan had a much greater impact on society with wider ramifications. Derozio was never accepted as a role model for social reformers who followed him. But nobody could doubt his patriotism.
Derozio was one of the early Indo-English poets who have left a mark on the literary horizon. He wielded a powerful pen; his imagery and power of description were of a high quality. There is music in his words and a rare depth of feeling. However, he lacked originality of style and he tried to copy Byron and Thomas Moore. But it was perhaps inevitable. Those were different days and to cut a new line for a youthful writer would probably have been a catastrophe. In spite of his limitations, he has an honoured place among the early Indo-English poets.'
“Derozio is remembered most for the influence he exerted on his students and followers, popularly known as Derozians or ‘Young Bengal’. They were the harbingers of radical thought which contributed to the Bengal Renaissance of the nineteenth century. In that context, he was coadjutor of Rammohan Roy. Some of the Derozians who became famous and carried on the message of Derozio were; Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Ram Gopal Ghosh, Peary Chand, Rashik Krishna Mallick, Dekshinaranjan Mukherjee”.

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