A great teacher is one who is born and is seldom made Henry Derozio left profoundest influence on the intellectual and moral character of his pupils. We have selected the name of one who was an Eurasian by birth, but who in his life was an All-India patriot, who died before he was twenty-three years old but within that short period exerted an influence on “Young Bengal” that has not been surpassed by any one.
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was born in 1806 of Anglo Indian parents. He received his education at Mr. Drummond’s School at Dhurramtolah and showed brilliant promise. For a time he lived at Bhagalpur. Derozio was essentially a poet and a student of literature and philosophy. Already his poem The Fakir of Jangeera’ had attracted attention. He had a most assimilative and alert mind and he naturally wanted to be a teacher. In 1826, at the early age of eighteen he joined the Hindu College (later on, Presidency College, Calcutta).
Derozio soon became the idol of the student community. He was both with them and of them; his lectures and conversations proved a perpetual source of inspiration. Like David Hare, be was something of a freethinker and an atheist. He infused his pupils with his own rationalism. Under his influence, they came to attack the prejudices and superstitions of Hindu religion. He established an academic Society where regular debates were held. He founded a journal—’Parthenon’, in which he attacked the British Government.
The conservative section of the Hindu community sensed danger and accused Derozio of misleading the morals of the rising generation. The Managing Committee of Hindu College forced Derozio to resign.
Derozio was not the man to be daunted. Next month he started a newspaper.—The East Indian’. He also continued his work as an educationist, worked in close association with men like David Hare and Dr. Adam. Though driven from the school, his students like Ramgopal Ghosh, Dakshina Mukherjee, Radha Nath Sikdar flocked to his house. His influence with the young people continued unabated.
But he was already at the end of his brilliant career. On the 24th of December, 1802 he had an attack of cholera; the mortal disease struck him down. On the 26th he breathed his last. Seldom was a teacher so young was mourned so passionately by his students. His principle of analysing every problem in the dry light of reasoning remains.
As a teacher, Derozio not only instructed his pupils; he inspired them. He left the permanent stamp of his personality on their moral character. He was the creator of the leaders of Young Bengal—men like Dakshina Mukherji, one of the benefactors of Bethune School, Ram Gopal Ghose—orator politician, Radhanath Sikdar of Everest fame ; Ramtanu Lahiri, a born teacher, Pearychand Mitter, one of the creators of Bengali prose literature, Rev. K. M. Banerjee and many others. Even Micheal Madhusudan came under his spell. All of them acknowledged how much they owed to him. And the great teacher returned their affection in verses that deserve to be remembered—
Explanding like petals of young flowers,
I watch the gentle opening of young minds
Let new perceptions shed their influence;
And how you worship Truth’s omnipotence.