Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was an Indian poet and a radical thinker from the 19th Century. He started the Young Bengal Movement in 1826. He was an assistant headmaster of Hindu College at Calcutta from 1826 to 1831. Derozio inspired his students to think rationally and freely, to question all authority, and to worship truth. He was also one of the first Indian educators to disseminate Western learning and science among the youth of Bengal.
Early Life of Derozio
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was born on 18 April 1809 in Calcutta. His father, Francis Derozio, was a Christian Indo-Portuguese office worker and his mother, Sophia Johnson Derozio, was an English woman. From age 6 to 14, he attended David Drummond Dharmatala Academy School. Drummond taught him that rationalism is a much greater treasure than the old customs. While a student, Derozio started reading the poetry of his contemporaries, John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley.
At the age of 14, Vivian Derozio left school to work. He initially joined his father’s office in Calcutta, then shifted to his uncle’s indigo factory at Bhagalpur. He began writing poetry, which he submitted to the ‘India Gazette‘. His poetic career began flourishing in 1825, with his poems published in several newspapers and periodicals.
Hindu College and Young Bengal
In May 1826, when Derozio was 17 years old, he joined the new Hindu College in Calcutta as a teacher of English literature and history. Through his brilliant teaching, he influenced many students at the Hindu College.
Derozio was a great propounded of liberal thinking. He promoted radical ideas through his teachings and organised debates and discussions on Literature, History, Philosophy, and Science. In 1828, Vivian Derozio, with his students, founded a literary and debating club called the “Academic Association“.
During the 1820s, the Hindu society of Bengal was undergoing considerable turmoil. In 1828, Raja Ram Mohan Roy founded the Brahmo Samaj, which kept Hindu ideas but denied idolatry (worship of idols). As a result, there was a backlash within orthodox Hindu society. Derozio helped discuss the views of social change already in the air.
Despite his youth, Derozio was considered a great scholar and thinker. Within a short period, he drew around him a group of intelligent students in College. He constantly encouraged them to think freely, to question, and not to accept anything blindly. He also spread the ideas of the French revolution, like liberty, fraternity, and equality. His activities brought about the intellectual revolution in Bengal. It was called the Young Bengal Movement.
Derozio’s students collectively came to be known as “Derozian” or “Young Bengal“. They were inspired and excited by the spirit of free thought and revolted against the existing social and religious structure of Hindu Society. They were passionate advocates of women’s rights and demanded education for them. They also tried to remove social evils, promote liberty through freedom of the press, trial by jury, improve the condition of women and peasants, and so on.
The orthodox Hindus thought that the teachings of Derozio were the root cause of the views held by the Young Bengal group and exerted pressure on the management of the Hindu College to remove him. The authorities of the College forced Derozio to resign from the Hindu College in April 1831 because of his radical teachings. He died of Cholera at the young age of 22 on 26 December 1831 in Calcutta.
Even after his death, his legacy lived on among his former students, who came to be known as Young Bengal, and many of whom became prominent in social reform, law, and journalism.
On 20 February 1838, the Young Bengal group established a secondary society called the “Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge“. Its main goal was to acquire and disseminate knowledge about the condition of the Country.
Ideas and teachings
Derozio’s idea profoundly influenced the social movement, which came to be known as Bengal Renaissance in the early 19th Century. He possessed a dazzling intellect and followed the most radical views of the time, drawing his inspiration from the Great French Revolution.
Through his teachings, Derozio promoted radical reformist ideas among the people of Bengal. He organised debates and discussions on Literature, History, Philosophy, and Science. Derozio supported ‘Freedom of Speech, Thought, and Education of Women’. In the spirit of English rationalism, he criticised orthodox Hinduism’s social practices and religious beliefs. He ridiculed old social customs and traditions and debated the existence of God.
Derozio taught his students to develop a critical outlook on life and societal processes. He was a brilliant teacher who inspired his students to think rationally and freely, to question all authority, and to worship truth. His teachings inspired the development of the spirit of liberty, equality, and freedom. Derozio and his famous followers, known as Derozians and Young Bengal, were fiery patriots.
Henry Vivian Derozio was known as the first national poet of modern India. The History of Anglo-Indian poetry typically begins with him. His poems, especially ” To India – My Native Land” and “The Fakeer of Jungheera“, are regarded as significant landmarks in the history of patriotic poetry in India.
- Poems (1827):
- “The Harp of India”
- “Song of the Hindoostani Minstrel”
- A Metrical Tale and other Poems (1828):
- “The Fakeer of Jungheera”
- “To India – My Native Land”
- The Poetical Works of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, ed. B.B. Shah (1907):
- “To the Pupils of the Hindu College”