A satisfactory history of the ancient literature of India has not yet been published. The chief difficulty has been the chronology. Despite a certain amount of progress in dating the great kavis, our would-be historians have so far preferred the classificatory method of proceeding by types of literature to grappling with the problems of a strictly chronological presentation. It is useful to have essays on the various types, but a collection of such essays is no substitute for a general history of literature. Just as the types of literary composition, such as lyric poetry, epic, drama, the novel, have been segregated, so to an even greater degree literature in different languages or dialects, Sanskrit, " Epic " Sanskrit, Pali, Ardhamagadhi, Maharastri, Apabhramsa and the like, has been rigidly compartmentalized into so many isolated literatures chronologically unrelated.
This compartmentalization has resulted first in the illusion of there being several separate literatures, leading to their being studied in a strange and barren insulation from one another, particularly by more recent writers trained in this artificial tradition. A further and subtler distortion of outlook resulting from the segregated study by dialects and types has been the impression of static literatures, without development, without significant history, seeming to confirm the original bias against historical investigations. The text books of the artificially constituted literatures and types harmonize complacently with the easy and servile (for India) illusion of a static or degenerate society.
The non-chronological study of literature is reflected also in the non-chronological " histories " of Indian philosophy, religion, and other subjects for which the main sources are literary. Some attempts have been made to trace the actual history of philosophy or of various ideological and cultural movements, but in the absence of order in the literary sources the writers have been reduced to arbitrary assumptions as to, for example, the original nature of Buddhism.
The following study has as one of its aims the understanding and appreciation of the metrical techniques of a major and particularly dynamic period in the history of Indian literature. Simultaneously, however, it results from our method of study (of the development of metres rather than of their mechanical classification) that if our understanding is reasonably correct we should have succeeded in establishing the relative chronology of a series of texts. The metrical techniques are in them-selves full of interest and delight, moreover in the period studied here we see the origins and early development of the splendid metrical repertoire familiar in its later flowering to the connoisseur of the kavya literature. So far from static was the metrics recorded for us in the Pali Canon that we find some of its essential techniques continuing to generate new metres through many centuries, creating a vital and still popular art medium even for Hindi and other modern literatures. It follows that the isolated study, even of phases in Indian literature which are really as remote from each other as Pali and Hindi, must lose in understanding, much more so those which were nearly contemporary though in different dialects. The continually developing art of metrics, beautiful in itself, may perhaps play the same part in Indian literary history that changing pottery technique plays in archaeology.
The methods here used in analysing metrical data and treating the problems they presented were in great part worked out as the research proceeded. The writer cautiously applied such scraps of scientific method and such more or less intuitive habits of investigation as had come into his possession. He was guided by the empiricist outlook that he was studying some objective reality whose nature should be presumed unknown except in so far as it had been discovered a posteriori. He made the further assumption, which is a hypothesis but which appears fruitful, that the phenomena under investigation were related to one another and also to non-metrical and eventually non-literary phenomena the patterns studied were not chance mechanical occurrences, totally (and metaphysically) isolated and " different " from one another, but constituted a record of change and growth, a continuity in which, however, quite " new " phenomena, hardly predictable even from the most complete knowledge of what had gone before, appear from time to time after what some scientists have called " qualitative " changes. It must be strongly insisted that this guiding assumption is just a hypothesis, found useful in experience as enabling one to spot seemingly significant connections and to suggest new approaches to problems, which may or may not turn out to be capable of solving them, it is not an a priori judgment or law " prescribing any " necessary " framework into which we ought to force our data. One practical methodological consequence of this assumption which appears in this book is that it seemed worth while to devote more attention to the metres which had newly appeared in a given period, as likely to prove most fruitful in revealing the characteristics of that period. This preface is no place for an elaborate discussion of the theory of scientific method : the above sketch should suffice to indicate the general assumptions underlying this study ; it is for the reader to decide how far they have been satisfactory.
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