TWO HAPPY YEARS IN CEYLON.* IT is always pleasant to
meet with a new work by Miss Gordon-Cumming. She is a writer of established reputation, and her pages are no less valuable for the information they embody, than they are conspicuous for their literary merit. To her keen powers of observation and description, she brings the incomparable advantages of a cultured mind and a widely extended knowledge, and she is, in addition, a clever and painstaking artist. It should, therefore, be sufficient to say that these volumes are quite up to the standard of her other well-known and admirable works. The reproductions of her sketches here given are excellent as illustrations, lending great additional interest to the letterpress ; but the method of reproduction which has been employed gives them a heavy and somewhat archaic effect, from which the sketches the artist exhibited at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition were free.
Miss Gordon-Cumming tells us that she gained her first glimpse of the tropics in touching at Ceylon en route to India, and a few years later she spent two of the happiest years of her life in a visit to the beautiful island, as guest of the Bishop of Colombo. It is some years since she made this stay there, and many very noticeable changes have occurred in the interval ; but the book is written quite np to date, and her own impressions are supplemented by the most recent information. At the time of her visit, coffee- growing was in the ascendant, and all the available land was given up to its culture. By 1870, 150,000 acres of mountain forest had been cleared for this purpose, and vast sums were invested in coffee-estates, when a terrible fungus attacked the shrubs, and hopeless ruin followed its ravages. Fortunately, complete success had attended ex- periments in tea-planting, and coffee-growing has gradually given place to the tea industry ; whilst on estates where the coffee-shrubs were not uprooted, they have of late recovered themselves, and give good hope for the future. The beautiful cacao, or chocolate-tree, is now being cultivated, and its beans command a high price in European markets ; whilst cinchona, although a very uncertain crop to raise, "as there is no security that good plants will grow from even the best seed taken from the best plants," has, on the whole, yielded satisfactorily. As the Singhalese will not work, estates are cultivated by Tamil coolies, who are brought from Southern India, and are " the backbone of all island labour." In 1873, 23 lb. of tea were exported from Ceylon ; last year the export was over 60,000,000 lb.
Ceylon is proverbial for the beauty of its scenery, and truly Nature seems to have done all in her power to enchant the eye; Not without reason did tradition place the site of the Paradise of our first parents in this island, and Miss Gordon-Cumming was quite entranced by the surpassing loveliness of the tropical foliage of this Isle of Palms, " to which, I think, notwithstanding the claims of many a lovely South Sea isle, we must concede the right it claims to have been, and still to continue, the true Earthly Paradise." Throughout her pages will be found delightful descriptions of the fascinating scenes amongst which she dwelt. Whether voyaging on the charming fresh-water lagoons, which are such a curious feature of the coast, travelling in ordinary fashion by road or rail, ex- ploring the vast forests or climbing mountain-summits, every- where the eye rests on scenes of beauty. To give extracts which should in any satisfactory degree exemplify what has
• Two Happy Years in Ceylon. By 0. F. Gordon-Onmnsing. 8 vols. Edinburgh and London ; W. Black-wood and Sons, 1292.
been said, would be impossible; the reader must turn to the book itself, and in its pages he can revel among scenes of tropical luxuriance, and breathe the true fragrance of tropical atmo- sphere. Of the game of the island, Miss Gordon-Cumming, as befits the daughter of a house so famed for its sportsmen, tells a great deal that is interesting. Fifty years ago, legions of elephants roamed in the forests, and did incalculable and heartbreaking damage to the crops and plantations. It was a public benefaction to destroy the ponderous beasts, and it was no uncommon thing for a man to have killed a hundred to his own gun. Major Rogers, who met with a tragic death by lightning, slew no leas than sixteen hundred elephants. Twenty years ago, they were in danger of extermi- nation ; but since a licence to shoot them was imposed in 1870, the herds have largely increased. Numbers are captured for use, and for exportation to Southern India and European menageries. They are very delicate animals, requiring much care, as they are very liable to have sore feet, or abraded skins. In a wild state, they seem to take an ex- traordinary pleasure in scaling mountains apparently quite inaccessible to them. Proofs have been found showing decisively that they have climbed "almost to the very summit of Adam's Peak, up and down those steep paths which human beings find so difficult." They traverse, says Sir Samuel Baker, " the precipitous sides of jungle-covered mountains near Nuwara Eliya, where the ground is so steep that a man is forced to cling to the underwood for support," and through jungle so dense that they cannot see a yard ahead. Some- times their ramble ends by falling over a, precipice. The tracks of the herds were most useful in road-making. Major Skinner found a broad road fit for a carriage along the crest of every ridge, whilst cross-roads from range to range un- failingly took the easiest crossing or ford in the river-valley below. This is an excellent modern example of the theory that the tracks of wild animals gave the original direction to the pathways and roads of early races of men. The tame elephant is useful in a great variety of ways, in connection with felling
jungle, hauling timber, road-making, and building stone bridges. We read that,— "When captured young, an elephant can be trained like an affectionate dog, to follow its master everywhere. One known as Kurunegalla Jack,' belonging to a medical officer, used to go round the hospital wards with his master, who taught him to be generally useful, and even to administer pills ! A Malay soldier one day dropped his pill, whereupon Jack' picked it up and dropped it into the man's open mouth, with a puff that blew the pill safely down ! Jack' learned to go out shooting with his master, combining the work of stalking-horse and retriever, for he would discern game afar, and wander towards it in the most casual manner, acting as cover for his master ; and when the latter fired, he would scamper off quite delighted, and return with the jungle-fowl or peacock in his trunk."
Other big game are two varieties of leopard, bear, sambur (a mighty deer), and wild boar, not to forget crocodile. The Singhalese will not eat elephant-flesh, although Buddhism is so elastic that they will eat most kinds of meat if killed for them. Even serpents they will not kill in all districts, but launch them down the river in little baskets, trusting they may land in safety elsewhere ; and we read of the serious drawback to a charming estate near the mouth of the Kelani River, on which the currents landed only too often these frail arks, containing various deadly snakes, which invaded the garden at pleasure, to the great danger of the household. Yet, though these people will not take or order the taking of the life of any animal, they practise horrible cruelties upon them in a most cold-blooded manner.
" Thou shalt not kill ; but needst not strive Officiously to keep alive," appears to be the motto of these people, so far as animals are concerned. With regard to their fellows, their morality is much lower. Barbarous murders are committed on the most trifling temptation. Often the sole cause for the murder, even of a near relative towards whom the murderer has no ill-will, is simply the desire of fixing the charge on some innocent person against whom he has a spite. The men are desperate gamblers, and gambling, with drink, leads to many crimes. The Singhalese consider perjury "as a fine art, and that the Courts of Law are the field where it may be most effectively and brilliantly practised." A reference to the chapter on " Native Police " will give a truly surprising picture of the criminal tendencies of these seemingly mild and gentle people, who are BO courteous and sympathetic to
strangers. As a cure for this frightful state of things, Miss Gordon-Cumming advocates in the strongest manner the spread of Christian missions, and tells what has already been done. The subject is in some respects a difficult one, but there is no doubt that for the medical missionary, and especially for the female medical missionary, there is an illimitable field for good work. It is heartrending to read of the total want of the very simplest medical skill, and of the fearful ignorance, and consequent appalling suffering, among women in Ceylon ; and although Oriental customs are not nearly so stringent on the island as among the 120 millions of women and girls on the mainland, a medical man is rarely called in until all aid is useless. The fishing population is chiefly Roman Catholic, and appears to have a strong admix- ture of Portuguese blood.
Ceylon abounds in archwological interest. In former times it possessed a teeming population, and the ruins of their ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Pollonuara, which were rediscovered in 1838, are truly marvellous :-
" What remains of the once mighty city of Anuradhapura, the magnificent, lies buried beneath from six to fifteen feet of soil, waiting for a whole army of excavators to come and supplement the feeble force now working for Government. And yet, although the forest now overgrows the whole plain, so that the only break in your long ride is coming to an occasional open tract, where fine old trees grow singly, as in an English park, enough remains above ground to enable you to recall vivid visions of the past. For a space of sixteen square miles the somewhat scrubby jungle, stunted by the prevalence of droughts, is but a veil for the masses of masonry and brickwork ; a wilderness of granite pillars with richly carved capitals, and flights of steps, some covered with intricate carving as perfect to-day as when, two thousand years ago, they were trodden by the unsandalled feet of reverent worshippers or busy merchants. The designs of these stairs are beautiful—on either side supported by rich scroll-patterns, and graceful figures overshadowed by the seven-headed cobra, supposed to be the emblem of vigilance ; while the huge semicircular stone which forms the lowest step (commonly called ` moonstone ') generally represents a sacred lotus-blossom, round which circle rows of horses, elephants, bullocks, and the invariable geese held sacred by all ancient nations. These stones are peculiar to Ceylon. Strange to say, no two of these are exactly alike in arrangement of detail. Broad roads have been cleared through the dense jungle, embracing the chief points of interest, and as you ride slowly along these or any of the innumerable pilgrim-paths which here intersect the forest, you see on every side the same wilderness of hewn stones, heaped up in dire confusion, all overturned by the insidious growth of vegetation, and at last you emerge at some huge bathing-tank, all of carved stone-work ; or it may be on the brink of a great artificial lake, formed by an embankment of Cyclopean masonry. Or else you find yourself in presence of some huge figure of Buddha, perhaps reclining in the dreamless repose of Nirvana, perhaps sitting in ceaseless contemplation of the lonely forest,—a mighty image of dark stone brought from afar, at some remote time when worshippers were legion. Now perhaps a handful of flowers, or some ashes of burnt camphor, tell of some solitary villager who has here offered his simple prayer."
In the depths of the forest are also to be found gigantic dagobas, or relic-shrines, enormous masses of solid brickwork of the form of a half-egg or bell, with a spire at top. The largest of these is supposed to have been originally 405 ft.
high, and its base still covers an area of eight acres. But far more important were the tanks, on the maintenance of which the lives of the vast population depended :—
" Of all the wonderful traces which remain in Ceylon of the work of the mighty Singhalese Kings, none are more important than those of the great artificial lakes, and of the canals by which water was carried thence to innumerable village tanks, and distri- buted according to the need of each separate field. The perfection of the whole system of irrigation designed and carried out by the hydraulic engineers of those ancient days could scarcely be sur- passed, and the ingenuity and skill whereby the heavy rainfall of certain seasons was secured, and the precious water treasured to save the thirsting land in times of drought. And water is doubly precious under a burning tropical sun, having apparently the same fertilising influence that the richest manures could have in colder lands. In all parts of the island, in wildest solitudes and most unhealthy jungles (where stagnant swamps and dense forests now cover the plain, once fertile and rich with waving rice-fields), these ruined tanks are found, from the small village tank to the great artificial lake. These last were formed by erecting a vast embankment of huge blocks of stone strongly cemented and covered with turf—a mighty barrier of solid masonry—perhaps a hundred feet wide at the base, narrowing to forty feet at the top, and furnished with mighty sluices to regulate the escape of the water."
The reader must peruse these pages for information on the successful restoration of these ancient tanks and canals by Government, whereby wide districts have been reclaimed from
the jungle. Our author discourses of gems and pearls; of the habits and racial peculiarities of the people, and their worship of relics ; of comparative folk-lore and mythology, and of the history of the island ; of her ascent of Adam's Peak, and of many other matters of no small interest. Here it must be enough to say that, whilst reserving one's judgment on some of her conclusions, a fund of entertainment will be found in these volumes. They are bright and pleasant reading, and are pervaded by a sense of thorough enjoyment which fully justifies the title of this clever and very welcome book.