The International Dr. G.W. Leitner Trail
Marcus Roberts & Silvia Dovoli (Oxford University Jewish Country House Project)


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Leitner's Cultural, Literary and Political activities in India

Leitner added to his activities as the head of the Government College in Lahore, with the energetic establishment of a variety of journals, publications and institutions. In 1865 Leitner founded the highly influential Anjuman-i-Punjab (The Society of Punjab) "Society for the diffusion of Useful Knowledge in the Punjab", in 1865. This journal functioned to both diffuse useful knowledge and to encourage debate in all matters of literary and scientific interest and the free expression of opinion amongst local peoples. It grew to promote the political interests of Indian peoples and it is stated by historians in India as having a direct objective of the creation of a University in the Punjab. The movement he started, the 'Oriental Movement', gave rise to the creation of the National University in the Punjab and the adoption of both Sanskrit and Arabic as official languages of the University. Leitner sought to engage all of the main religious groupings - Muslims, Hindus, Parsees and Sikhs and their leaders, though he did meet initial opposition from the Punjabi Hindu elite who felt it would hold back their progress.

Leitner did identify his vision of native education in the local vernacular and classical languages, allied with the benefits of western scientific education, with the aspiration to Indian self-government, though he posited it initially terms of Indian self-government in matters of education. Inevitably, though, the capacity to succeed in one tended to imply the other, as was agreed in a somewhat heated discussion conducted on this question in a meeting of the East India Association, which saw its discussion of self-governance in education as a proxy for national self-governance. As was usual, Leitner shot from the hip in his criticisms of the British in India and his lecture was interrupted with cries of 'no! no!'.

The Sikhs, who had suffered disastrous political fortunes and disempowerment under the British, valued the fact that Leitner defended the right of Sikhs to study the Punjabi language written in Gurmukhi script, and the Anjuman-i-Punjab created the situation where Sikhs were able to prove that there was a valuable Punjabi literary tradition, against the view of the Punjab Education Department, 'who viewed Punjabi as little more than a rude dialect, without a redeeming literary tradition'.

One of the institutions founded by Leitner was a Free Public Library and a Free Reading Room and a programme of events in Lahore.

In 1866-1876 he established the Journal, "Indian Public Opinion", and Kipling junior was his assistant editor. Kipling had come to his attention, as Kipling's father, John Lockwood Kipling, came in 1875 from Calcutta to Lahore, to take charge of the Mayo School of Art, and was also the Curator of the Lahore Central Museum until his retirement in 1893.

In 1869, the Lahore Punjab University Oriental College, commonly called Oriental College, was established by the Punjab Government and from 1870-1886 Leitner was both the first Registrar of the University of Punjab and its Principal. He also continued to run the Government College too (now Government University College - GUC). The current web-site of the University relates that 'The contribution of Dr. G. W. Leitner, an enlightened Hungarian and a naturalized Britisher, was instrumental in the establishment of this University.' The University was assigned to 'promoting the diffusion of European science, as far as possible, through the medium of the vernacular languages of the Punjab, improving and extending vernacular literature generally, affording encouragement to the enlightened study of the Eastern classical languages and literature, and associating the learned and influential classes of the province with the officers of government in the promotion and supervision of popular education.' Leitner is credited with reviving scholarship in Indian classical languages and introducing the study of European sciences through the vernacular and raising the standards of English education.

The Lahore Museum also formed an important backdrop to Leitner's activities, as well as to Kipling Senior. From 1861 onwards, it started receiving objects from various archaeological excavations, mainly Harappa from the Indus Valley Civilisation and Gandhara civilisation. Leitner appears to have had some kind of informal and early curatorial role in so far as he did donate a large collection of artefacts to the museum at an early juncture some time before Kipling's arrival, though this has been largely omitted in the received narrative of the museum. Davoli, from her research, relays that the famous French art critic, Theodore Duret, was travelling in India with Henri Cernuschi, another collector who was interested in eastern archaeology, and that they visited the museum in Lahore, under the guidance of Leitner, and Duret referred to Leitner as the Director of the museum. However, Kipling was the one who had a long formal relationship with the museum, as an employee and decisively shaped its form and history. He was recruited specifically because he was a practicing artist-craftsman (of the Arts and Crafts Movement) and while it continued its long-term form and direction as an institution focused on being a repository of exemplars of local Indian arts, manufacture and materials, he refined it into an institution to be used in conjunction with and as part of the Mayo art-school, for craft reform and art education in India which would contribute to local manufacturing industry and national economy. Therefore, as is the way of things, he had the opportunity to elbow-out Leitner as a curator from the story and clearly his conception of the role of the museum, with its reductive narrative of Indian culture, was probably far from Leitner's scholarly and linguistic interests, though the Gandharan sculptures did still have pride of place in the museum, but only as illustrating the obscure early history of Buddhism.

We also know that Kipling senior and Leitner had a major public falling out, in 1877, which clearly has a bearing on this too. Kipling senior had criticised Leitner's liberal advocacy of the use of Indian languages in education in a local journal, 'The Pioneer', and Leitner struck back in his own Journal, 'Indian Public Opinion'. The blue-touch paper was then lit when Kipling asked in the same journal, why Leitner had got himself appointed to virtually every educational board in the Punjab, as well as criticising his character. Leitner did not take this kindly, nor did he hold back in his responses and very bad blood was created between the two men, punctuated when Leitner left India. When he came back a year later his journal had been sold and re-named the 'Civil and Military Gazette', with new editorial control, which would amply explain why Leitner is probably written out the history of the museum, by Kipling and why his son held such a low opinion of him, too.

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