12 JUNE 1875, Page 18


IF any one wants to know why so many observant Anglo-Indians think their Empire built on sand, a dominion which might pass away suddenly, and men scarcely understand either the method of its departure or the reason why, let him read and ponder this novel Its author is obviously a very clever Indian, of considerable ex- perience, with an artist's eye for all the externals of tropical life, 4 keen appreciation of Anglo-Saxon character in some of its out- ward manifestations and some powers of description, and he tells at full length a thoroughly Indian story, which Anglo-Indians will at once declare to be perfect in its truthfulness, without ever mentioning, except in the most allusive and accidental way, the native population. There is, one perceives, such a population, for all the personages named are personages because of their relation to it, and an imettte gives rise to some of the principal incidents in the story, and the speakers sometimes allude to natives in conver- sation, but the fact is never in any way part of the daily life of Dustypore. The characters of the book live, and make love, and marry, and quarrel, and are happy and miserable in a world of their own, separated by an invisible but impassable wall from the larger worldabove, below, and on all sides of them, which they know to exist, and which the writer who recounts their histories recognises -as existing, but which is as little present to the reader as the universe is present to Mr. Petermann. The geographer knows perfectiy well there is a universe, and when need- ful explains his facts by its laws, but description of it, or reference to it, or even study of it, is not essential to his map- making. The author of Wheat and Tares wishes in Dustypore to -describe Indian domestic life as vividly as be can, and most Anglo-Indians will allow that he has been exceedingly successful; that he has described Indian ways and peculiarities and specialties of character with a touch at once light and accurate, that he has 'recalled to them scenes and characters so well, that they are ;tempted to exclaim, "How vivid !" And the book is vivid, all the more vivid because the peculiarity we have noticed, the habit -of regarding the native population as if it were something like the burning atmosphere, inevitable and endurable, but as it were outaide life, is the peculiarity of Anglo-Indian society which separates it from any other society in the modern world. No other is unintentionally so absolutely exclusive. There is no 'blunder and no forgetfulness on the author's part. The average Anglo-Indian civilian or soldier, once released from "duty," does live as the heroes and heroines of Dnstypore do,—to themselves and each other, in a world of their own, with its own adventures, successes, failures, and vicissitudes apart, a world which happens to be placed in India, but has no more relation to the population than the life on board a passenger-ship has to the ocean she may • The Chronicles of Dust ypore. By the Author of " Wheat and Tares." London: Smith, Elder, and On

happen to be traversing. Of course, all depends on that ocean. Of course, all machinery is adapted to that ocean. Of course, a storm on that ocean makes a confusion in the ship. But till the storm comes, life among the passengers can go on, and does go on, without study of geography, or knowledge of seamanship, or analyses of sea-water, or recollection very often that the ship is a ship, and not a floating hotel. When work is to be done or danger arises, all inattention ceases ; but in India, as in a passenger-ship, " life " and work, though separated only by a plank, are separated permanently in a way which nothing but a catastrophe breaks through.

We doubt if the author is conscious how rigidly he has main- tained this separation, but he has done it, and in doing it so unconsciously and yet so persistently has, for the Anglo-Indian reader, increased the impression of his book. So he has also by a certain vagueness and superficiality in his character-painting. Strictly speaking, he has not drawn a character in his story. His heroine, Maud Vernon, is a school-girl, rather good at heart, rather frivolous, rather fond of admiration, and rather given to escapades,—with a character, as you see, packed away somewhere inside it, which will develope itself some day in another atmosphere. She is not very interesting, and will strike English readers, we dare say, as having a good deal of school-girl silliness and shallowness about her ; but then young Englishwomen in India are so apt to be, or rather seem to be, just like that. The painter of society who gave more of her than that would be paint- ing human nature, and not Indian society at alL A pretty school- girl on board ship worshipped, because she is pretty, is transported suddenly into an Indian station, finds all the best men followingher, after brief puzzle makes up her mind, and then remains for a year or two till wakened up by some event,—in this case, her husband's attack of cholera while she is flirting in the Hills,—a school-girl still. There is no particular harm in her except school-girlishness, and no particular good except the capacity of growing into a woman ; and the novelist, if he paints her, must do the best he can with his material. This novelist has done his best, and there she is, as she lives ; and if her mental contours are all unfilled, and her ways are full of gaucheries, and her mouth is, if not full, too full of gush, and sentiment, and inconsiderateness, that is no fault of his. He has painted her as he sees her, and that is all he professes to do. It is just the same with the men. There is not a man in the book any reader will feel that he really understands. There is not a man whom the author has taken the slightest trouble to make him understand. Yet there are a dozen kit-cat sketches of men which Anglo-Indians will recognise as perfect, and chuckle over with a full acknowledgment of the author's realistic cleverness. Who does not know the Chairman of the Salt Board, Mr. Fotheringham, the gentlemanly man, "lymphatic in temperament, inordinately vain, and the victim of an inveterate habit of enumerating platitudes," who regarded an "aspect of serene, benevolent, and consistent infallibility" as the first of duties ; or Cockshaw, who has capacity, and does not mind a row in the office, but is not going to stop there after five to get through it ; or Mr. Secretary Strutt, the man "with noeand in his head," whose "answers are unanswerable, his reports effective, his ex- planations convincing ;" or Desveeux, the thoroughly-able official, on whom competent chiefs rely, who cultivates foppery, compro- mises women to make a reputation, can talk better than anybody in

the station, but always leaves an impression of being somehow under- bred; or the old Brigadier, who whispers to the prettiest women in the room a remark about the weather as if he were saying some- thing much too confidential ; or Mrs. Vereker, the coldly cal- culating Hill flirt, who must have admiration, and who is always on the verge of crossing the boundary-line between folly and criminality ; or Boldero, the able, impulsive philanthropist civilian, who will have improvements, who wearies all mankind with his energy and over-speed, but whom Government trusts ; and Vernon, the cross, acid official, who really can govern, and at bottom is the best of the whole bunch. There are rows of these men, of whom nothing more is told than what we have related, except that some of them make love to Miss Vernon, yet to Anglo- Indians they seem so real. The bare sketch is exactly like all they see of them. No society so scattered ever was so intimate as that of Anglo-India, and in none is the whole man so little generally known. Government knows one and a very important side of a man, and his comrades know another, and the natives know a third, and his family know two sides of the three, but

the whole man is less known than in any community in the world. Whether the author of Dustypore perceives that, we can- not tell, but he has depicted his personages exactly as if he did, has told of them precisely what the circle of readers whom he is

unconsciously addressing knows of them, and will seem to them, therefore, most truthful. And so he is, if only one can acknow- ledge that to paint a man as he seems to be is the first end of portraiture.

The same superficiality—we are not using the word in its depre- ciatory, but in its descriptive sense—comes out in the author's descriptions of Indian scenery. Nothing can be better than this, as a description of whole districts, say, in the Punjab, and yet how little the writer tells, how completely superficial is the de- scription, which, nevertheless, like his description of character, is, to those who have seen it, so true and vivid !—

"The new addition to Her Majesty's possessions resembled the Miltonic hell in one particular, at any rate—in being a region of fierce extremes. On winter mornings a biting wind, fresh from its icy home in the dis- tant snow-clad range, cut one to the core ; and people clustered, with chattering teeth and blue fingers, round blazing hearths, where great logs worthy of an English Christmas tempered the cruel atmosphere to a genial glow. When the rains 'came it poured a little deluge. During the eight months of summer the state of things resembled that pre- vailing in the interior of a well-constructed and well-supplied Arnott's stove. Then it was that the Sandy Tracts were seen in the complete development of their resources and in the fullest glory. Vast plains, a dead level, but for an occasional clump of palms or the dome of some despoiled and crumbling tomb, stretched away on every side, and ended in a hazy, quivering horizon that spoke of infinite heat. Over those ranged herds of cattle here and there ; browsing on no one could see what ; or lying, panting and contented, in some muddy pool, with little but horns, eyes, and nostrils exposed above the surface. Little ill- begotten stunted plants worked hard to live and grow and to weather the roaring, fierce winds. The crows sat gasping, open-beaked, as if protesting against having been born into so sulphurous an existence. Here and there a well, with its huge lumbering wheel and patient bullooks, went creaking and groaning night and day, as if earth grudged the tiny rivulet, coming so toilfully from her dry breast, and gave it up with sighs of pain. The sky was cloudless, pitiless, brazen. The sun rose into it without a single fleck of vapour to mitigate its fierceness, and pierced, like a red-hot sword, the rash mortal who dared, unprotected, to meet its ray. All day it shone and glistened and blazed, until the very earth seemed to crack with heat and the mere thought of it was pain. The natives tied their heads up in bags, covered their mouths, and carried their clothes between the sun and themselves. Europeans entrenched themselves behind barriers of moistened grass, lay out- stretched under monster fans, and consoled themselves with what cool drinks their means allowed, and with the conviction, which seemed to spring perennial in each sufferer's breast, that the present was by far the hottest summer ever known. Dew there was none. You stepped from your door in the morning into a bed of sand, which no amount of watering could reduce to the proper solidity of a garden-path. As you came in at night you shook off the dust that had gathered on you in your evening stroll. Miles away the galloping horseman might be tracked by the little cloud that he stirred up as he went. The weary cattle trudged homeward from their day's work in a sandstorm of their own manufacture. There was sand in the air one breathed, in the food one tried to eat, in the water that pretended to assuage one's thirst: sand in heaven, and sand on earth—and a great deal of sand in the heads of many of the officials."

The only defect of all that is that "Sandy Tract" is not a desert, but a plain teeming with life and fertility, that books could be written on the products and resources of the vast treeless fiat of which the outer impression is the dust so well pictured here. And books could be written, and will be written yet, of all that is be- low that regime of which the outer marks, "order such as had not been dreamed of for many a long year," and "a couple of British sentries plodding up and down with the stolidity of true Britons in front of the officers' quarters," are all that this novelist thinks it his business to describe.

Have we praised or blamed Dustypore? Neither. Its author has produced a vivid, life-like picture of what Indian society seems to itself at first glance to be like, and if he has done so consciously, as we rather imagine he has, he is an artist to whom we have only to wish a better subject. If he has not been conscious, then he is a clever writer of light descrip- tions, who might shine as an essayist, but has too little insight into the inner nature of human beings ever to write a first- class novel.