TWO BOOKS ABOUT INDIA
THE majority of books about India are certainly not attractive to the general reader. Two causes in particular conspire to this. One is the very greatness and, at the same time, the remoteness of the country. In spite of Lord Macaulay's Essays and some other works animated by the same spirit, Englishmen's ideas of India are still, in general, vague. If they think of it at all, they think of it in mass ; and, unless in the exceptional hands
of writers like Mr. W. W. Hunter, attempts to deal with details
are apt to be confusing merely, and to interfere with the general impression, without presenting any definite picture with such unity as would make it easily realisable or rememberable.
It is a series of phantasmagoric or, rather, kaleidoscopic views ; the one passing suddenly into the other, in part repeating, in part reversing, what had gone before. The mass of writing
which was poured forth on the occasion of the visit of the
Prince of Wales was surely a good proof of this. Secondly, the majority of writers about India attempt too much. Their eyes are too keenly on the watch ; they wish to include everything; and the scene is so shifting and so full of colour that it is almost impossible to do this, or to get a good result in making the. effort. We are often, on reading, forced to think of Voltaire's
witty saying, "Woe to the man who tries to say everything." The two books now before us are very different from each other in character, but they are exceptional books, because they do not aim at achieving what is impossible, and do well what they aim at. Mr. Cast, who is one of the few men who know Indian life so familiarly that he may be trusted to discriminate between the accidents and the essentials, has hit upon a capital idea on which effectively to string his experiences, and at the same time to limit himself judiciously. In most instances, he takes up a special phase or aspect of Indian life, connects it with an incident or a character, and, in fact, makes a kind of story of it. Nothing could be happier in idea ; scarcely could the execution have been more effective. The life of the Euro- pean in India is brought close to us, so close that we get, per- haps, a better idea even of the natives immediately associated with him than we should from many pages of detailed descrip- tion, or from figures respecting him. The chapter entitled, " The Box of Indian Letters," is at once realistic and pathetic, and the one element gives effect to the other. The same may be said of " Miriam, the Indian Girl," the main points in which are ten- derly touched, so tenderly, that we do not think there are many readers who will not be affected by it. "The Indian Village," "The Indian District," and "An Indian Hero," are full of infor- mation, set in a most effective framework, and the sections on "Indian Women " and on " The Great Indian Nation " are among the most condensed and efficient that we have read on the subject. In a few other sketches Mr. Cast gives his impres- sions of some of the more distinguished men with whom at one time or other he had the honour of being associated in work in India, Mr. George Broadfoot and Lord Lawrence being promin- ent amongst them. The following passage on the latter, whom he names "The Great Proconsul," is at once so full of insight and loyal deference, that we may be allowed to give an extract from it :—
" His great strength was his love for the people ; he resisted the Government of India, if it were attempted to overtax, or pass an un- popular law ; he resisted his own subordinates, if they were harsh or neglectful ; he resisted the nobles of the Punjab, and, later in life, the Talfikdars of Oadh, and the indigo-planters of Bengal, if they • 1. Pictures of Indian Life Sketched with the Pen, from 1852 to 1881. By Robert Needham Oust. With Map; London: Triibuer and Co. 2. Life in Western India. By Mrs. Guthrie. In 2 vols. London : Hurst and Blaukett.
attempted to oppress the tillers of the soil. He resisted his own brother Henry, who erred from noble, mistaken sentiment, and not from sordid motives; he would have resisted the Missionaries, if they had attempted to depart from the great principles of toleration (which in India they never have done), if they had erected their places of worship in offensive proximity to some shrine of local sanctity, or if they had waged war against the time-honoured and innocent family customs of the people. His ideal, which I have often heard from his lips, of a country thickly cultivated by a fat, contented yeomanry, each man riding his own horse, sitting under his own fig-tree, and enjoying his rude family comforts, may not have been the ideal of a State in the nineteenth century politically free ; but for a people whose destiny it has been for centuries to be conquered, domestic comforts and the enjoyment of their own customs, their own religion, and their own language, soften the sting of foreign domination. An iron hand in the velvet glove, plenty of the rein, sparing use of the whip and spar; be accessible to all,' these were his maxims and his practice. If in his morning ride an old Sikh would seize the bridle of his horse, or in his evening walk an irre- pressible old woman would clasp his legs, he would, indeed, shake them off, with a full flow of vituperative vernacular, for such approaches are often the cover of the assassin; but he would carefully note the name and residence of his assailants, and, to their surprise, they would find themselves called for and their cases attended to at the earliest opportunity. You have been too hard upon the poor Raja,' were the first words of a letter written to me more than thirty years ago, when I was pressing my heel too heavily on one of the lineal descendants of the Sun and the Moon in the lower Himalaya ranges ; and the words have often recurred to me in after- life ; and with all those who love the docile and gentle people of India, I perused with gratitude and thankfulness the parting admonition of the great Proconsul when he left Calcutta for the last time, Be kind to the Natives.' "
As a contrast to much which used to be written by Civilians and military men about Missions and Missionary work in India, it is refreshing to find Mr. Oust so sympathetic ; and his sympathy is the more valuable, inasmuch as he is a man of large official experience. He writes :— " I never see a Missionary, but I seem to wish I were one of them. Are they not to be envied whose duties in this world lead them to the next, whose zeal in their earthly vocations promotes the work of their own salvation P They stand among the heathen as an ensign of what each of us values most. The General represents our victorious arms, the Governor our triumphs of administration, but the Missionary displays our virtues, our patience, our Christian charity ; and shall we not be proud of him ? I asked myself how is it that so few of England's learned and pious sons select this pro- fession ? The vision of one man from Macedonia took St. Paul across the Hellespont ; and will no one cross the Indian Ocean for the millions, not in vision, but in reality ? Will no young Augustine spring up, to repay the debt of the Occident to the Orient, to bring back the sun to the East ? Had I life to begin again, this would be my choice ; the glories and profits of other professions are but as vanity. We have fought battles, which are scarcely known beyond the narrow limit of the echo of the cannon ; we have ruled over provinces, but our fame is forgotten as soon as we are gone. But should we have saved souls, a long line of Christians will carry back the legends of their family to our era, and entwine our names with the golden thread of general thanksgiving. Who remembers the Generals, the Proconsuls, of the time of the Caesars ? Who remem- bers not the Apostles ?"
"The First Invader of India" and "The Great Missionary" do not seem either so successful or so suitable for their place as the others, even though that on St. Paul—for he is " the Great Missionary "—was written for the people of India, and trans- lated into several of the vernacular languages. Bat, notwith- standing this, the book forms a most picturesque and even artistic record of more than twenty-five years' life in our far Eastern Empire.
Mrs. Guthrie's book is more a record of the passing impres- sions of a cultivated traveller, who, however, is able to contrast and compare, and is apt at setting forth what impresses her. Western India has had a greater share of attention from travel- lers than the regions further east, but it is astonishing how much of freshness and zest Mrs. Guthrie has managed to com- municate; and she has not only described well what is more external and picturesque, but has done not a little to familiarise English readers with Indian customs, and even with the in- terior economies of the people. She has the very enviable human faculty, too, of making the best of things, a thoroughly cheer- ful, open-eyed, and tolerant way with her, the sine qud non for a traveller in India, of all places. Mrs. Guthrie is particularly apt at a picture. As a specimen, we may give the following, of a scene near Millar :— " In the clear grey of early morning, we looked due west. The ramparts commanding this aspect were reared upon the edge of a dizzy scarp. The eye was free to travel over the rolling mists which, at that hour and season, cover the Lower Konkan and hide the sea. A. little patience, and the scene was transfigured. In one moment the sun flashed oat, and its rays drew up the golden vapours, out of which imagination created a thousand fantastic forms, that glittered upon the seas. The area embraced by even the upper fortifications was very large. In weak places there were double lines of wall. In these hill forts, no attempt is made to alter the natural distribution of the ground. If there was a spur, there walls ran oat to guard it; if there was a ravine, they formed a loop, being built up or down hill with equal patience. In some nooks the scarlet flowers of the pomegranate, or the perfume of the orange blossom, told where gardens had been. The foundations of bnildings were to be traced in every direction. Here was a stone on which feet were engraved, there an altar with a basil bush (ocymum basilicum). And the old guns that Sivajee had surreptitiously purchased from the Portuguese, overthrown and spiked by the English, thrust their rusty nozzles out of the ground. Towards one remote spot we were attracted by the periodical ringing of a bell, and we took a quiet opportunity of finding out what it might mean. The bell was suspended in a rude stone chamber, con- nected by a cell with a centre platform, from the middle of which rose a large brass cobra, half curled up, well worked, and evidently old. Around it were four smaller snakes of the same sort, with jars set with flowers between them. This worship must have been a relic of the ancient and almost universal adoration once paid to the serpent. In another part of the fort stood a Linga, an emblem through which vast numbers of Hindoos, or dissenting Hindoos, worship. It may seem strange to find objects such as these in this little centre of Brahminism. But enlightened Brahmins, though they themselves believe in the unity of God, and worship the unseen Spirit, think this to be above the comprehension of the uneducated, and therefore tolerate the many gods through which the vulgar worship. I believe that it is only the very ignorant who adore the object itself. Such ignorance, however, was likely enough to be found among the poor people who lived with their cattle in the thatched cabins of the lower fort."