Sir William Jones professed in one of his annual discourses that “It will flourish, if naturalists, chemists, antiquaries, philologers and men of science, in different parts of Asia, will commit their observations to writing, and send them to the Asiatic Society at Calcutta; it will languish, if such communications shall be long intermitted; and it will die away, if they shall entirely cease.” It is in between expectations (flourish) and apprehensions (languish) of Sir William Jones, that the Society is passing through two hundred and twenty-five years bearing the prestige of the oldest surviving publishing house of the country. In fact, the Asiatic Society is known to the world of learning mostly because of its publications of high academic standard. Dr. R. C. Majumdar, the doyen among Indian had admitted elsewhere that the high ideal of Sir William Jones “was realized beyond expectation by the publication of learned articles and treatises on the history and antiquities, arts, sciences, and literature of Asia.” [Indo-Asian Culture, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi, April 1961, pp. 452- 53].
The Asiatic Society publishes books in different series, viz., Bibliotheca Indica, Monograph, Seminar & Public Lecture, Catalogues & Bibliographical Works besides some books under Miscellaneous publications. Moreover, it publishes periodicals, i.e. a quarterly Journal of the Asiatic Society and Monthly Bulletin of the Asiatic Society and some booklets on different occasions etc.
In the very first year of the foundation of the Society, William Jones expressed the intention of bringing out an annual publication and called for papers from “all curious and learned men”. But Jones had to wait for at least three years. Anxiety of Jones caused by the delay was reflected in one of his letters of 27 September, 1788: “The Society has yet published nothing, but has material for two quarto volumes and will, I hope, send one to Europe next spring.” Finally, by the end of 1788 came out the first volume under the title of Asiatick Researches (instead of Asiatick Miscellany originally thought of by Jones), with the sub-title, Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, for enquiring into the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences and Literature, of Asia. The volume contained twenty-eight articles (a third of which was from the pen of Jones) with twenty-five plates; printed matter rang on 488 pages (including Membership list, Direction to Binders and Correction sheet).
The Society had no funds to bear the cost of publication. First five volumes of the Asiatick Researches were published by a private publisher, Manuel Cantopher, as a private speculation on an understanding that every member of the Society would buy a copy of the publication. However, from volume VI onwards the Society itself began to bring out the Asiatick Researches at its own cost. The Journal continued upto volume XX and in 1842 it was resolved to discontinue the publication of the Asiatick Researches.
In between this period James Prinsep planned to bring out a journal with an entirely new character. The first issue of the journal, The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, appeared in March 1832, with the aim “to give publicity to such oriental matters as the antiquarian, the linguist, the traveller and the naturalist may glean, in the ample field open to their industry in this part of the world, i.e. Asia, and as far as means would permit, to the progress of the various sciences at home, especially such as are connected in any way with Asia”. The journal lived up to the high standard expected of it. The frequency and regularity of its publication is a living testimony to its continuing legacy. From 1832 to date the Journal has passed three stages and entered its fourth stage in 1953 under the nominal change of its title from The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal to Journal of the Asiatic Society. At present the Journal of the Asiatic Society is being published with attention given to new areas of research based on inter-disciplinary approach.
The learned Society cherishes another series of publication of the Asiatic Society known as the Bibliotheca Indica Series. The decision to introduce the publication of books under Bibliotheca Indica Series was considered in and around late forties of the 19th century and it gave fillip to distinguished scholars like Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Dr. A. Sprenger, and J. R. Ballantyne. It is a collection of works on oriental literature, grammar, dictionaries and studies covering different disciplines. These works relate to critical editions of Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Rajasthani, Kashmiri, Hindi, Bengali, Tibetan, Kui, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and texts (sometime with translations). The Society did not, however, limit its efforts to the publication of oriental works; scientific and literary works taken in hand in India always found ready support from the Society.
Prior to 1905 Monographs on special subjects were used to be published as Extra Numbers to the Journal of the Society. The Council appointed a Sub-Committee in 1905 to consider the style, paper and design of the Society’s publications. The Committee recommended ‘the establishment of a quarto publication, Memoirs, for the publication of larger articles or those requiring more illustrations’. From 1905 onwards thus began the publication of a new series under the Memoirs. The scheme of publication under the Memoirs Series continued till 1933. This series brought out twelve volumes (Vol. I-XII) covering wide areas viz. Tibetology, Tribal life and culture, Zoology, Geography, Oceanography, Santal Medicine, Alchemy and so on.
On the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of Sir William Jones (1746) the Council in 1946 resolved to open a new series under the title Monographs on special subjects. The first publication of the series was published in 1946 under the title Asvaghosa authored by Dr. B. C. Law. Subsequently, the Monograph Series was enriched by the contributions of eminent scholars like S. K. Mitra, R. C. Majumdar, Sudhir Ranjan Das, Suniti Kumar Chatterji, B. N. Mukherjee, Pratapaditya Pal, David J. McCutchion and et al.
The exact number of titles published so far is not an easy task to ascertain. But one could guesstimate from different records that total number of titles might have exceeded five hundred. Many of its publications had also earned the reputation of reprint edition on more than one occasion.