SKINNER ' S EXCURSIONS IN INDIA.
TDB is an exceedingly pleasant book,—pleasant in its subject, pleasant in its stN le, pleasant in the play of the author's humour, .pleasant in the exhibition of an amiable and humane temper. It is chiefly occupied with the mere surface of things ; but this sur- face implies manners, costumes, and customs, scenery, and the ad- ventures of a voyager in a strange land. We have lately had India put before us in a variety of shapes ; and by Captain MUNDY in a light and agreeable manner, a good deal resembling the volumes before us ; in part, too, they go over the same ground, and the grand feature of both is the Himalaya Mountains. The -perusal of the one is, however, far from rendering that of the other .either tedious or unnecessary. India is a wide country, of' curious habits, rare productions' a singular and various people : the de- scriber of it must be dull or unobservant who does not entertain his reader. Neither dullness, nor want of observation, or of a power of felicitous description, can be laid to the charge of either Captains MuNnv or SKINNER. They are both admirable sketchers with the pen, and both have been thrown into a field abounding with objects of curiosity.
In one light, these books assume considerable importance ; it is of great consequence that we should become acquainted with the prejudices, feelings, passions—in a word, the character, of the eighty millions of people subjected to our delegated sway ; and in no other channel are we so likely to get information, with life and use in it, as from the remarks and journals of officers in the King's 'service who in the character of spectators are in a situation to note the ways both of the governors and the governed. It is im- possible to read Captain SKINNER'S work without learning more of the manner in which Hindoos ought to be treated, than from -several very grave works on both Mahommedan laws and Hindoo rites.
The business of selecting a few extracts from this work is one of a puzzling nature. There is scarcely a page which does not 'present some novel and lively picture; and when all present pretty nearly equal claims to distinction, it is difficult to decide. The picture of Oriental life contained in the account of Delhi is full of vivacity, and sets Mahometan and Hindoo society in cities plainly before our eyes.
I approached the city from the east bank of the Jumna, and in crossing that river had a magnificent' view of mosques and minarets glittering in the sun, and tombs embosomed in trees, not unfrequently overrun with ivy, and presenting more picturesque appearances, in a state of decay. - The domes of the mosques and many of the tombs are covered with gilded metal, and shine most brilliantly. I found my tent pitched immediately under the castle walls, and opposite the Chandery Choke, or principal street. I was in the centre of bustle, but smo- thered by dust and tortured by flies. It is impossible to convey an idea of the numbers of these insects, and the intolerable nuisance attending them ; they are quite enough to keep you in a perpetual fever, and I have not vet arrived at that state of dignity or luxury to enjoy the constant attendance of an automaton, with a feather-fan, to keep my august person from being offended by their ap- proach. I have frequently been amused by the unconsciousness of the men whose duty it is to procure a "gentle air" for their languid masters, or to exercise the more exalted office of controller of flies about the person ; they stand like statues by your sides, their arms waving the fan up and down as if they had been set in motion by machinery. They often fall asleep in their office, but continue to per- form its auties as if they had been wound up for a certain time. If you move from your position, though scarcely awake, they continue to follow you ; and it seems as difficult to throw them off, as it was for Sinbad to release himself from *the old man of the sea.
These, and a few other miseries, have procured for the East the reproach of , luxury. I do not mean to vindicate it ; but if it be true, we may indeed exclaim, ;how wretched is a life of luxury ! We might, I think, abstain from such en- joyment without assuming great merit for self-denial.
The palace walls are very high and built of granite, the red colour of which gives a singular appearance to them. They are surrounded by a deep ditch, and have two very magnificent gates. The interior possesses many vestiges of its early splendour, but mingled with so much shabbiness and dirt that they afford more melancholy than agreeable reflections. The space within is very great, and has all the bustle of a little town. I had not the good fortune to be present at the visits of state that occurred between the commander-in-chief and the emperor, but there was in consequence an unusual collection of great men in the city, and as my position commanded an admirable view of the principal thorough- fare, I enjoyed the scene amazingly. This street is more than a mile in length and very broad ; it is divided by what was once an aqueduct running through its centre. Here are the principal shops, and here is the principal -throng of people. The houses are two and sometimes three stories high; and being ex- tremely well whitewashed, serve admirably to reflect the rays of the sun, and punish those who venture to pass them at mid-day. Generally in the towns of the East the streets are very narrow, and little better than dark passages. In Grand Cairo, if you unfortunately meet a string of masked beauties upon donkies, you must make a rapid retreat, or resign yourself to be squeezed to a mummy against the wall, for daring to stand in their course, if your curiosity should tempt you to do so. The Chandy Choke, in Delhi, is, however, a great exception to this rule, and is perhaps the broadest street in any city in the East. The houses in it have occasionally balconies in front of them, -in which the men sit, loosely arrayed in white muslin smoking their hookahs; and women, who have forfeited all pretensions to modesty, are sometimes seen snivelled, similarly occupied. The din of so populous a place is very great, for every house seems as well furnished as a hive of bees. The population is nearly. 200,000 souls, in an area of seven miles in circumference, which is the extent of time wall of modern Delhi. The great peculiarity of an eastern town is, that -every thing is done in public ; the people talk as loudly as they can, and some- times, when engaged in unimportant matters, seem to be scolding each other in the most outrageous manner : the neighing of horses, the lowing of cattle, the creaking of cart wheels, and the "clinking of pewterers' hammers,"—for all occu- pations are carried on in a little open space in front of each shop,—are beyond all endurance. The trumpeting noises of the elephants, with the groaning of the .camels, varied occasionally by the roaring of a leopard or a cheater (which ani- mals are-led about the streets, Sooded, to sell for the purposes ef hunting), wi:de the unceasing beat of the tom-tessi the shrill pipe, and &e crachad sound of the viol, accompanied by the worse voices of the singers, are enough to drive a mode- rately nervous person to desperation. Among the natives of Mahometan; towns, there seems to be a familiarity or manner that places every one in a moment at his ease. If a stranger enter the town and find a group engaged in any amusement, he will not scruple to joir it instantly, and take as much interest in its pursuit as if he had known the members of it all his life ; and then, perhaps, tendering his pipe to one of the party, or receiving one from it—a sure sign of intended hospitality—sit down and relate his history with as much frankness as if he had met a brother. The. houses are generally irregular in their construction, and not unfrequently cu- riously decorated. Different- coloured curtains hamg before the doors; varies gated screens serve as blinds to the windows ; and the custom of hanging clothes, particularly scarfs of every hue, pink, blue, yellow, green, and white, on the tops of the houses to dry, make them look as gay as a ship on a gala-day with all its colours flying. The clouds of dust from the number of equipages, with the insects that sur- round the pastry-cook's shops, are the most intolerable plagues of all. The rancid smell of the nasty-looking mixtures tha* constantly in course of mann. facture before you, with the general stench °Mlle town, is a sign that it is sel- dom indeed that a " musk caravan from Koten passes through rt." I think in. the Arabian Nights' Entertainments there is a story of a Princess threatening to have a confectioner beheaded, if he did not put pepper in his tartlets. How- ever despotic it may appear in this lady, I cannot help thinking it a just satire upon the pastry of the East ; for to season it out of all taste of its own funda- mental ingredients is the only way to make it palatable. This cook, I think, nearly fell a martyr to the honour of hisprofession, and refused to be dictated to ; and I do not believe any thing would induce his brethren of the present day to improve their confectionary. Riding through the town requires much management, and some skill. It is necessary to shout, push, and kick, the whole way, to warn the multitude to get out of the road. Occasionally you have to squeeze past a string of loaded camels, or start away from a train of elephants; and if your horse be frightened at these last animals, which is frequently the case, it needs some ingenuity ti■ avoid being plunged into the cauldrons which simmer, on each side of the way, in front of the cooks' shops. The fear is mutual very often ; and the elephants, in attempting to escape from the 'approach of a horseman, may well be supposed to throw the whole street into a fine confusion. In one of my strolls through the city on horseback, I was nearly swept away by a species of simoom,. caused by the progress, through the dusty 'town, of some important personage travel- ling in state. When overtaken by such a storm, it is A long time before you can recover either your sight or position. The idle cause of all this tumult was reposing quietly in a shining yellow palanquin, tricked out with gilt moulding in every possible direction. Ile was preceded by a large retinue of strange-looking beings, mounted on horses and dromedaries, and dressed in the most fantastic style. The animals were covered with scarlet housings, bound by gold lace, their bridles studded with shells ; round their necks were collars of gold or silver, with little drops hanging to them, that kept time most admirably with their jogging measure. The camels were likewise adorned with bells. The riders were in large cloth dresses, caftans reaching from their necks 'Co their heels, open only on each side, from the hip downwards, for the conve- nience of Fitting on horseback. These were fastened round the waist by a cot- ton shawl, either of white or green, in several folds. The common colours of the coats were red and yellow. A scimitar hung by their sides, and they bore matchlocks upon the right shoulders. A helmet, sometimes of steel, and some, times of tin, pressed close to the head, in shape not unlike a dish cover ; a pair of jack boots reaching to the knee, and fitting quite tight to the leg ; the loose trousers gathered above, giving to the thigh the appearance of being the seat of a dropsy ; and a pair of spurs, resembling two rusty weathercocks, completed the equipment of these splendid retainers. Then followed a mass of servants ort foot, some naked, and some with their limbs bare, and bodies covered. They carried sheathed swords in their hands, and shouted out the titles of their lord, at frequent intervals, in their passage through the city. They were followed by the stud, each horse beautifully caparisoned, and led by a groom : then came the elephants, with their showy trappings, gilt howdahs, and umbrellas of gold or silver tissue. The palanquin bearing the owner of these motley assemblages, at length appeared, and he was followed by a guard similar to the one that pre- ceded him.
At a distance these processions look very grand, particularly the elephants and their castles; but, when near, there is a great deal of tawdry and ill-assorted.
The horsemen of the party add greatly to the interest of the scene, by exhibit- ing their evolutions upon the line of their route. Some tilt at each oilier with their spears; and others affect to pursue, with drawn swords, the runaways of the party, who in their turn chase their followers back into the ranks. In the management of the horse, and the use of the spear, the natives are generally very skilful ; but some of the irregular cavalry of the country excel all belief in these exercises. They will gallop at a tent peg, stuck firmly into the ground, and di- vide it with the point of the spear, not abating their speed in the least ; and have seen a troop of men, one after the other, break a bottle with a ball froila their matchlocks, while flying past at a racing pace. The Mahometans of the neighbourhood of Delhi are, I think, a fine-looking- race of men; but have something so debauched in their appearance and reckless in their manlier, that a stranger is not likely to be favourably impressed by them. Timecontrast between a 'Alussulman and Hindoo village, which, in travelling, frequently present themselves alternately, is very striking. The mildness-of the one party, with the impudent swagger of the other, show that they never can, as indeed they never do, assimilate. Where the sable village is inhabited by people of both religions, they occupy opposite portions of it : and the circumstance may always be known by there being a well at each end of it ; for the Hindoos would not draw water from the same fountain as the Mahometans, for all the-wealth of this world.
Delhi, ever rich in showy figures and prancing horses, is particularly so at this time. Princes and ambassadors, in their most magnificent state, are con- stantly passing and repassing: and while I sit in the door of my tent, observing them, I almost feel giddy with the confusion. A great concourse of merchants is attracted to the town by its being so full ; and their assiduity in recommending their wares it is difficult to overcome. As most places are open, they invade you at all times; and in the course of a few hours, you may compare the pro- duce of every quarter of the globe, as it lies spread before your eyes. The labour of -packing and unpacking their goods seems to them to be a real pleasure ; and it is in vain that you assure them that you do not mean to buy, for they will not forego the gratification of expatiating upon their excellence, with the probable triumph over your resolution, in at length persuading you to purchase. _
The goldsmiths of Delhi are considered very excellent, and its embroiarers are famous over all the East. There is a constant intercourse between Cashmere and this city ; and the plain shawls are often brought here to receive rich bor- ders of gold or silver ; and I believe they are highly esteemed by the natives when thus adorned. I do not think, however, to an European taste they are im- proved. I could not avoid regarding those men who hail just arrived froin Cashmere, with a considerable degree of interest—albeit hailalbeit they4odded their wax
from that delightful vale, • without.one thought beyond the bales they carried. Any thing approaching to a real connexion with a laud that has always seemed to me the creation of poetry or romance, gives me the greatest delight ; particu- larly as it is, in smile measure, put without the reach of an European; the jea- lousy of the government Of Lahore rendering it extremely difficult for a ser- vant of the East India Company to cross the Sutleje, the boundary of the two states. • No description of buck is. more entertaining or more vain than a Mahometan one ; and, in truth, they have much more in their outward finery to be proud of, than we have in:the sombre-coloured dresses of Europe : the caparisons of their horses, too, are so superb and various, that they have a great field for exercising their taste upon them.. When a youth of family is fully equipped and mounted for the course, he shows most plainly, by his air and wanner, that he is, in his own opinion all in all; the fashion of his turban u , and the curl of his mustache, are evidently the result of great pains. The horse is covered with costly trappings ; and what little of his natural coat can be seen, is as sleek as possible. His tail is long and sweeping, and his nuns plaited with the neatest art, having points of silver to each length, to hap it in its place. He is taught to caper, to turn, and to plunge ; and is constantly exercised in these accomplishments, particularly when in a crowd ; for the great ambition seems to be, as with beaux of less showy ex- terior, to attract attention and create a sensation ; mid, as the scattered Toot- passengers are seen flying in all directions before him, he is certain to attain his object. It u•ould seem absurd, if a stranger Were to he set down in London, and de- scribe the equipages as they passed him. find I am doing very much the same; but if the ordinary scenes were like the processions on a coronation day, he might be justified. Delhi, at this time, presents as grand a spectacle every moment; and some stentorian voice, roaring out a string of high-sounding titles, generally ending with the imposing one of " Commander of ten thousand horse !' constantly rings in the ears, while, probably, the sum total of his ca- valry is praneing about him at the time—two or three hundred at the utmost..
After this long scene, we can only find space to introduce a re- mark on the conduct of European officers towards the natives ; which, it is to be hoped, may have its proper effect. In all books onIndia,.we are disgusted with the frequent mention of the rattan. It would seem the Englishman's chief interpreter,—and the Hin- does are a people who do not revenge blows; but when does per- sonal indignity fail to degrade both the giver and the receiver?
• There are throughout the mountains many of the sacred shrubs of the Hin- doos, which give great delight, as my servants fall in with them. They pick theleaves ; and running with them to me, cry, " See, Sir, see our holy plants are here !" and congratulate each other on haying found some indication of a better land than they are generally inclined to consider the country of the Pa- riahs. The happiness these simple remembrances shed over the whole party is so enlivening, that every distress and fatigue seems to be forgotten. • When we behold •a servant approaching with a sprig of the Dona in his hand, we hail it as the olive-branch, that denotes peace and good-will for the rest of the day,— if, as must sometimes be the case, they have been in any way interrupted.
Even these httle incidents speak so warmly in favour of the Hindoo disposi- tion, that, in spite of much that may be uncongenial to an European in their character, they cannot fail to inspire bim with esteem, if not affection. I wish that many of my countrymen would learn to believe that the natives are endowed with feelings, and Surely they may gather such an inference from many a similar trait to the one I have related. Hardness of heart can never be allied to artless simplicity: that .mind must possess a higher degree of sensibility and refine- ment, that can unlock its long-confined recollections by so light a spring as a wild flower.
I have often while. ssed, with wonder and sorrow, an English gentleman stoop to the basest tyranny over his servants, without even the poor excuse of anger, and frequently from no other reason than because he could not under- stand their language. The question, from the answer being unintelligible is instantly followed by.a blow. Such scenes are becoming more rare, and indeed are seldom acted but by the younger members of society. They are too fre- quent, notwithstanding ; and should any thing that has fallen from me here, in- duce the cruelly disposed to reflect a little upon the impropriety and mischief of their conduct, when about to raise the hand against a native, and save one stripe to the passive people who are so much at the mercy of their masters' tempers, I shall indeed be proud.