A NATURALIST IN INDIA.* Tux wave of Imperialist feeling which
is just now passing over this country does not seem to have altered one peculiarity noticed by Macaulay, when, after dilating on the wonderful events connected with our conquests and rule in India, he remarks,—" Yet, unless we greatly err, this subject is to most readers not only insipid, but positively distasteful." Society now, as then, votes India " a bore ;" and the people in general, though almost frantically jealous of interference there, and ready to thrust off dangers, real or imaginary, without a too scrupulous inquiry into ways and means, yet cares little more for "informa- tion " about its Indian Empire than it did when Mill and Orme published the great works without which no library is complete, and which but seldom endanger the completeness of any library
Natural Eltattrtt„ Sport, and Travel. By Edward Lockwood, Bengal Civil Service. Loador '‘en and Co.
by quitting their places on its shelves. Mr. Lockwood, therefore, was wise when he asked, and took, the advice of an experienced publisher, who warned him that "if I proposed to write a book about India, I had no chance whatever of securing readers in England, unless I told my story briefly, and in the lightest possible style."
This little book, accordingly, is brief, and does not even venture to carry " India " on its title-page ; but it is, in spite of the "lightness of its style," not deficient in solid interest. It is a very readable book, too, and to those who are fond of natural history, an interesting one. The account it gives of the reptiles of Monghyr makes us sincerely glad that absence of sunshine has some advantages, hard as it is to realise this fact, amid the foggy gloom of an English winter. A sincere lover of animals was once heard to exclaim, on a huge stag-beetle flying (as Queen Elizabeth danced) " high and disposedly," entangled its
hooked feelers in his hair, " We do not thank thee, Lord, for thy stag-beetles." Still less would a proper spirit of thankfulness be promoted by the sight of a wild orgie of bats in one's sitting- room, " whirling round and round in a sort of mystic dance, flapping leathery wings, of over a foot in length ;" or by the addi-
tion to one's infant museum of some four thousand cobras, collected within the limits of two square miles around one's home. Well may Mr. Lockwood assert that the chances are against you, as to a cobra's being or not being under your pillow or your chair. Certainly the old theory that the lower animals are created for the use of man contains no place for the cobra, unless we suppose its use to consist in thinning out a super- abundant population.
That the population is greater than the soil can properly sup- port, and that increase of irrigation and consequent fertility will only produce a yet larger increase of population, and that famine must be always imminent, is Mr. Lockwood's firm conviction. There are no artificial checks, or artificial wants. The soil sup- ports or starves its cultivators. Beyond the soil, they have no resource and no ambition. In such a case, emigration offers the only remedy, and to this the Bengalee is indisposed, more from timidity and stationary instincts than from positive love of home. After
telling how not even criminals in the jails would accept the alter- native of emigration, and how any exhortations to half-starved villagers only brought out the excuse, " We are a timid race, a race of cowards, unable to buffet with the world out of sight of
our ancestral homes," Mr. Lockwood goes on to say :—
"The natives would emigrate fast enough, if they knew and liked. the persons under whom they might be called to serve in a foreign country. The Government should establish farms, under direct official management, in Burmah or Assam, and appoint gentlemen who have the confidence of the people to manage them. If this were done I have little doubt that thousands who at present are too timid to move would at once leave their country, for their country's good."
But although incidentally we hear a good deal of the condition
and habits of the people under his magistracy at Monghyr, it is as a naturalist that Mr. Lockwood comes forward in this book. The amazement and rather contemptuous amusement of his people
were great, when they found out the proclivities of their ruler :—_
" When I went to my Court, a crowd had generally assembled to exhibit something or other. Scorpions were favourite subjects, with a thread tied to their tails to prevent them fleeing away. One man brought a fine male, in spirits, which had turned a beautiful rosy hue, and neither he nor any one else could account for the colour, until a sage, with a long, grey beard, stepped forward and explained that the rosy hue was caused by the scorpion having ejected the poison from his tail during his death-struggles. On asking him how he knew this, he told us he was a naturalist in a humble way, and had made scorpions his particular study. Here was a discovery ! but on examining my specimen at home, 1 found the colour was merely caused by the dye coming off a piece of red silk which had been tied to the scorpion's tail. When I met the 'naturalist in a humble way' next day, he laughed very heartily when I accused him of trying to take me in. Savants,' he said, are usually credulous, and as far as I can see, one explanation of so trivial a subject is as good as another."
Most of Mr. Lockwood's English readers, we fancy, will share our ignorance of the qualities of the Mahwa-tree, whose flowers
are edible and nourishing. Birds, squirrels, and tugias feast among the branches by day, and in the evening the poor villagers collect the green flowers, which, in 1873-74, "kept alive thou- sands, who otherwise must have starved." The fact that over three gallons of proof spirits can be made from a hundred-weight of these corollas speaks volumes for their saccharine quality :—
"I have little doubt that lifahwa might be introduced into England with advantage, both for manufacturing spirits and as food for pigs and cattle. It combines all the elements needful to secure demand, —cheapness, abundance of saccharine matter, unlimited supply, and
good keeping qualities The cost of carriage is against it,. but it keeps so well, that it might be brought in sailing-vessels round the Cape. If Government would monopolise the export of Mahwa, I believe it might in time be made to supply a vast revenue to the State.'
In 1780, when Mr. Lockwood's grandfather held the magistracy of Monghyr, that country had been so recently reclaimed, that old inhabitants still spoke of it "as once a wild jungle, without a vestige of cultivation, and inhabited only by hermits, who resided in the woods and rocks in the vicinity of the Ganges ;" and he continues " even now-a-days, tigers not unfrequently carry off the woodcutters. The Maharaja, Sir Jai Mangal Singh, told me that when he was a boy, more than a thousand people were yearly killed by wild beasts on his estates alone." Indeed, it seems still to be a very paradise of animals. The Ganges, flowing through its midst, divides it into two regions, distinct in character and productions, while the marshes form breeding-grounds for millions of aquatic birds. Not the least pleasant parts of this
little work are its descriptions of two expeditions to the Karakpor, and to the Marak hills. Life in India would be very bearable, as far as climate and beauty of scenery go, in either range of hills.
In Monghyr, the low-caste race, known by the name of Mushirs or Mousars, are frequently to be found. These wretched people add one great element to the famine danger, for they are "half-starved, even in times of plenty ;" they seldom see coin, but receive their scanty wages in coarse grain, which they flavour with rats, mice, snails, and jungle-roots ; whilst they live in hovels which an English pig would consider poor accommodation. One would imagine that such persons would find difficulty in getting wives ; but the contrary is the case, for bachelors and spinsters are unknown. "Directly they arrive at the age of puberty, they present themselves at their landlords' house, and having signed a deed binding themselves to remain in bondage for the term of their natural lives, receive a few shillings in return, with which to entertain their friends at a marriage-feast, and to set up a home." Mr. Lockwood got possession of one of these agreements, and translates it, for his readers' benefit; in this the man binds him- self to perform all the duties of a bondman, to work day and night, when required, never to absent himself without leave, "or if on any occasion the said A. B. should absent himself, that day's
work will be placed to his debit, and he will be liable to such damage as her Majesty's Courts of Law may direct." That such a contract should be recognised is surely a disgrace to the Law Courts of India :— " An old hag who sat by the door of my tent, mumbling over the hardness of the times, was pointed out to me as the person for whom A. B. had sold himself into bondage. Truly, I thought, steam, the great civilise; has not done much for this man, although the railroad runs within twenty yards of his door."
Mr. Lockwood was with the party that attended Bishop Cotton to the fatal consecration of the burial-ground at Kooatia, and
perceiving the lameness of the Bishop, and the perilous nature of the bridge from the shore to his vessel (two narrow planks meet- ing from either side, and laced together in the middle), offered to assist him across. The offer was declined :— " I wished him good-bye, and turned away. I had not gone a dozen steps, when I heard a splash, and a servant who was on the plank called out, The Lord Sahib has fallen into the water !' I ran to the bank, expecting to see him rise to the surface, but I saw nothing, neither his body, nor his hat, nor the stick he was carrying at the time he fell. He had evidently strack his foot against the projecting plank, and losing his balance, fallen into the stream, which was running like a mill-race at the time."
More lenient was the mighty river to the Hindoo woman, with whose extraordinary escape we will conclude our notice of this unpretending and pleasant volume :—
" A woman of the fishing caste was sitting on the banks of the Ganges, in the Patna district, a hundred miles from Monghyr. By her side was a bundle of castor-oil sticks, which she had been carry- ing. Suddenly the bank gave way, and she fell into the water, dragging the bundle of sticks with her. The stream was running like a mill-race, and in a few minutes she was carried away from the shore. She, however, clung bravely to her bundle, which bore her up safely. At last, she was carried into mid-stream, and borne along at about five miles an hour. Village after village and many boats were passed, to all of which she appealed for help, but in vain. The day passed, and a dark night came on, accompanied by torrents of rain. Still the woman held on, feeling, as she afterwards told me, like a child in its parent's arms ; for the Hindoos consider the Ganges their common parent. About the middle of the night she was carried into an eddy or whirlpool, where she continued for upwards of an hour, carried round and round in a kind of mystic dance ; and then she said, as it was pitch dark, and raining hard, her heart almost failed her. But at last morning dawned, and she found herself again in mid-stream, rapidly approaching Monghyr. Fortunately for her, my friend, General Murray, happened to see her, and quickly manning his boat, close by, set out and rescued her. The poor woman took the matter
with the greatest coolness, although she had been twenty-four hours in the water. She was, however, profuse in her thanks, and begged to know her preserver's name, in order that she might for ever after remember him in her prayers. She was provided with food and clothing, and sent back again by rail to her own district, loud in praise of Europeans, compared with her own countrymen, who had declined to help her."