This work is the third of a series of three powerful tales by which the author has illustrated three remarkable epochs in the history of India, with which great, mysterious, little-studied, country few men living are so well, and no man living is better, acquainted than he. "The historical events which form ther foundation of each of these works," says the author in the Intro- duction, which every one ought to read, "are not only of the highest importance and interest, but occurring strangely at almost. exact intervals of a hundred years, are not exceeded in dramatic power by any actions in the history of India. The first tale, Tara, illustrated the very remarkable epoch of 1657, when the Mahrattas, previously unknown except as ordinary subjects of the Mohammedan Government of the Deccan, cast off their allegiance, rose to ower- under Rajah Sivajee Bhoslay, and defeated, at first by treachery, the army of Bijapoor. Having thus established the basis of a. national independence, the Mahrattas, after sixteen years of war- fare, defeated the Emperor Aurungzebe in 1707, and his death and the distractions of the Mohammedan Empire enabled them to- extend their conquests till, by 1757, they became the most power- ful State Confederacy in India, and had totally overthrown the- once magnificent empire of Dehly. In that memorable year arose- a new political power, in the English, hitherto merchants and, traders only. On June 23, 1757, Lord Clive won the battle of Plamey, and laid the foundation of the British Empire which now. exists. At that time, however, a strange astrological prediction- was recorded, that the rule of the English Company would last. only one hundred years, that is, from Sumbut, 1814, to Sumbut, 1914, of the Hindoo_era."
The author has used these historical events with great skill in Tara, the first of the series, a Mahratta tale of singular interest and beauty ; in Ralph .Darnell, which deals- with the events of 1757 and the terrible "Black-Hole " tragedy in a masterly fashion ; and now, in the story of Seeta, which. treats of the Mutiny, and of the literal fulfilment of the prediction. that limited the rule of " Kampani Bahadur " to one hundred, years. An harmonious arrangement is remarkable throughout the series, widely as the tales differ. In each the great opposing interests are personified by great men, the characteristics of the. rival races are brought out in examples which command admira- tion, and the romantic interest is secured by portraiture of female- character of entirely novel types. Tara, the brave, gentle, beautiful, poetic heroine of the first novel, has no rival in the- other stories, as she has no foil in her own. Soozan, who follows the beaten Nawab, terrible no longer, but dastardly and de- testable to the last, in that awful " march " which brought Surajah- Dowlah to his doom, and which is described with such fierce intensity and power in Ralph Darnell that it cannot pasts from any reader's memory, but dwells in it like the murder * Seeta. By Meadow, Taylor, C.S.I., /ex. Loudon: Rom B. Slag and Co. done by the crowd in Melmoth,—she, too, is a fine creation. But in neither of these instances does the author depart from the historical lines of his subject. No discordant foreign note is struck in the story of Tara ; and in Ralph Darnell the pressiug presence of the strife, military and political, is felt unre- mittingly throughout, except when the reader is taken quite away from it to England, to the fortunes of the exiled soldier's family.
Seeta is a story of another kind ; though harmonising with its predecessors, it is far more complex, a higher flight of imagina- tion, a more romantic study, and a more impressive compulsion of history to the novelist's purposes, because the history so compelled is near, solemn, and suggestive to us all. The time is that of the fulfilment of the prediction, of which the author says :—" Those who lived among the people at the time—as I did—felt what power it bad gradually assumed over the native mind, among all classes and in all localities of India, and apart from other pretexts for disaffection, mutiny, and rebellion, I have always considered, and shall continue to consider it, as one of the most prominent and exciting causes of general combination and action in that year. The Sumba year 1914 commenced on March 25, 1857, and closed on March 19, 1858, before the war had come to an end. The de- position of the East India Company from power, held to signify the expulsion of the English from power in India, was literally fulfilled. But while the Company died, the Queen of England ruled in its stead."
Into the ferment of this life, the tumult of this conflict, the high- wrought faith of this struggle, the reader is plunged ; but only the heroic side of the Mutiny is presented to him, the horrors which never ought to have a place in fiction are withheld. The chronicler of the pure, lofty, beautiful life of " Seeta" touches his readers' hearts, but he does not curdle their blood. The threads of the story, sometimes widely apart, sometimes blended with much skill and grace, are the mission of a fierce fanatic, and the story of the love of a beautiful Hindoo girl for an Englishman. They blend in the furious passion with which Azrael Pande pursues Seeta, who traverses at once his love, his patriotism, his religion, his hatred, and the deadly purpose of his life, which is to aid the fulfilment of the prediction, to realise the promise that there shall be "no English" in the land. These two are the pro- minent figures, all the others do but supplement and support them ; but it is a necessity of the story that we must care only for Seeta, who is introduced in a home scene of grave, still beauty, preparatory to the murder which leaves her a widow, and brings Cyril Brandon, the English Commissioner, and Azrael Pande, the Brahmin fanatic and murderer, upon the scene. The trial, in which the widowed girl describes her husband's murder to the "tall, fair young man" who presides in the Kucherry, is taken from the writer's own experience as a magistrate in India, and is very impressive. The charm of the author's style in this book, as in its predecessors, consists in the thorough identi- fication of himself and his readers with the modes of life and the orders of minds he deaLs with. He does not stand aside to describe and apologise for the ancient race of which these people come, and to lay recurrent emphasis upon the difference be- tween them and us ; but he lives their life, feels their feelings, adopts their customs, faces their straits, in the self-same mental attitude in which they would have faced them, gives to the principles which rule their actions, the weight of principles and their vital power, not treating them as prejudice, folly, and mere supersti- tion; tells the story from within, instead of from without, and so tells it perfectly. The goldsmith's family at Shah Gunge, Narendra himself, Aunt Ella, the trades, the customers, the grave talking, the forecasting wisdom and yet the simplicity of the friends, the frugal life in the midst of wealth, the sacred philo- sophy which is of every-day use, and clothes the believers like a garment ; all these attract and charm, and are so contrived that the reader's acquaintance with the strange elements of the story is complete, before be is brought in contact with the familiar, in this case to be the disturbing, elements, Cyril Brandon, and the English society at Noorpoor.
The date of the story prepares the reader for its being a tragic one, and the incident upon which it all turns, the marriage of the English Commissioner with the beautiful Hindoo widow, must, we know, have a tragic meaning too. For how is Seeta to be brought to England, to the high-born relatives who have no notion of any antiquity of race except their own, and a general notion that the people of India are " blacks "? It cannot end well, even if there were no Mutiny coming, if there were no Azrael Pande traversing the country, preaching treason and murder as sacrifice acceptable to Kalee, "the Mother," gathering the people by the watchword of emancipation "No English," and actuated by
deadliest designs against the girl herself and her husband. The- picture of that strange marriage is very beautiful and touching. Seeta's character is exalted and lovely, her simplicity, her entire trust in her English lord, her more than contented seclusion, her calm life, all love and learning—she is a lady, learned in the lore of her own people, and eager for that of Cyril's—her innocence and humility, and her quiet lofty courage, destined to such terrible trial, make her one of the most touching and memorable heroines' in fiction. The peaceful, romantic, calm sanctuary-like. life of Cyril Brandon's home, within which his Hindoo wife dwells- like a star, in her separate sphere, while without her flower- wreathed threshold are trouble and disquiet, fear, hatred, the- jarring of many passions and the jangling of much vulgarity, is made so attractive 10 the imagination that one dreads its interrup- tion, and it needs all the force with which the author invests Azrael• Pan& to reconcile us to parting with that beautiful idyll. And we grow impatient with the English people at Noorpoor. They are indispensable, the story could not be told without them, but they bore Us, they get in our way, as they got in Cyril's,— even sweet, high-bred, Grace Mostyn, of whom we are jealous, for Seeta, from the first is so commonplace—in comparison with the Hindoo woman, who lives and loves, and dies so nobly. Common- sense and critical justice tell us that these people must have place in the story, that Seeta's position must have provoked gossip, and that the author was bound to retail it, or he could not have made Cyril Brandon's position clear ; but no one cares about the gossippers, and when the troubleer come upon them, no one cares how they get through them. For Seeta and for Azrael Pande praise can hardly be ex- travagant; it is impossible to conceive anything finer in their- opposite ways than these two conceptions, more picturesque, more impressive. The end of the Brahmin fanatic is very finely conceived and described, and the strife and rage of passion in that last awful scene rise and roar like an angry sea around the treasure it is about to swallow. But we suspect the- author has not had the courage to carry out his first intention in regard to Seeta and her English lord ; that he has shrunk from the last touch which he might have given to the fine structure- he has reared. He need not have hesitated, the noble creation would have borne to be made wholly tragic, tragic in the sense of Niobe or Antigone. The author has been at this crisis less and more than an artist ; he has erred through pity to which he ought not to have listened, and through love which commands all our- sympathy with that merciful faltering.
The secret mission of Azrael Pande contributes not only strong dramatic interest, but much historical value to this work. In the action of the fanatic, and especially in his address to the Sepoy- delegates at Barrackpoor, the whole case for the "natives" in- stated with the utmost force, and those motive powers of hatred and religious frenzy, which are BO unintelligible to our civilisation that a severe mental effort is necessary to the waking of anything like due allowance for them, are worked before our eyes like the- muscles of men in a prize-fight.
The accessories, the atmosphere of this book, are supplied with a fair amount of skill. The ancientness, the mystery, the pre- scription, the changelessness of the old faiths and philosophies, and their application to the common daily lives, are shown in their contrast with the endless variety of minds, en that the sublime reverie of Seeta, to which her ritualistic- observance is merely a decorous homage of expression of" whose feebleness she is well aware, is in her aunt's case- a senseless, blind repetition, part folly, part fear, part hope, all equally vague. The Nabob and the Ranee, both historical characters, are drawn vividly. What a story might not the author of Seeta make of the life of Lukshonee Bye, of whom Sir Hugh Rose wrote, after the attack on the rebel army at Gwalior, in which she was killed,—" One most important result was the death of the Ranee of Jhausy, who, although a lady, was- the ablest and bravest military leader of the rebels "!