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SKETCHES OF INDIA, written by an Office:, for Fire-side Travellers at Home. 8vo. Longman and Co.
Few countries deserve our attention more than India; to the merchant it is an object of interest, as having supplied Europe, both in ancient and modern times, with many of the luxuries of life; while to the antiquary and the philosopher, it affords a wide field of conjecture, from its early civilization, and its numerous stately ruins ; and still more from that fixedness of character, which has caused its inhabitants to remain almost unchanged, even by the desolating fury and persecuting zeal of Mahometan conquerors. In the earliest ages of which we have any history, society in India presented the same leading features as at present; the inhabitants of India are described by Strabo and Megasthenes, in terms which are almost equally appropriate at the present day ; then, as now, they were divided into distinct casts, some of which revelled in abundance, while others were poor and oppressed: their very dress is scarcely changed . But to Englishmen, India is full of a more peculiar, and consequently of a higher description of interest. It has been the scene of many of our most splendid achievements, and is the seat of an extensive empire, no less flattering to our pride, than conducive to our national prosperity.
The present work professes to give a familiar picture of Indian scenery and manners, and is a narrative of a journey in the years 1818, 19, and 20, through many different parts of the Peninsula, interspersed with descriptions of such objects as appeared most striking and curious; and with reflections on the past and present condition of this fine country, and its inhabitants. The author strayed among the ruins of the ancient Gour, which 730 years before Christ, was the capital of a great empire ; and mingled in the crowd that now throngs the streets of Calcutta ; he visited Benares, the Athens of the East, and Agra, once the capital of the Mogul empire. He has sailed upon the Hooghly and the Ganges ; has traversed the dominions of the Nizam and of Scindiah ; and has qualified himself to describe the splendid camp of the Mahrattas, and the roving parties of the Pindarries.
His style is sufficiently easy and natural (when not obscured by the too frequent use of Hindoo terms), but, perhaps, too loose and desultory, and we are hurried, with a rapidity which sometimes becomes fatiguing, from city to camp, from jungle to pagod. His reflections are full of religious feelings, which shed an additional charm over his pages, when not counteracted by uncharitable abuse of the Brahmins, whom he charges with pride, hypocrisy, and all other priestly vices, though he himself relates circumstances which clearly prove that there are bright exceptions, The following is one of the most pleasing.
I was present at the examination of many hundred native boys, selected from different schools, entirely under the superintendence, patronage, and control of natives.
It was held at the house of a Brahmin of great wealth and influence. In a quadrangular court, surrounded by piazzas, were assembled about five hundred children of all casts; and these were introduced, by classes, into a large upper room open to the court, supported by numerous pillars after the Hindoo fashion, and furnished half in English, half in Asiatic taste.
Many of the senior civil seryants of the establishment were present; among them
the chief secretary to the government. The boys were examined in reading, writing, arithmetic, and repetition; and they all received as prize-books, such as are translated by us, printed in our presses, and used in our schools. The masters, who were ali Brahmins, were rewarded with sums of money, according to the proficiency of the scholars selected from their respective schools for the occasion. A pretty little boy, habited in fine figured muslin, with a row of valuable pearls about his neck, and other rich jewels, probably the ornaments of his doting mother, took his stand and chance in the class of naked little fellows with whom he had been instructed; and was examined, side by side, with many of inferior cast. I found that he was the son of the very Brahmin at whose house this gratifying and interesting exhibition took place.
Surely, the Brahmin above described possessed a liberal and enlarged mind, and would have done honour to any creed. The following extract will give a more just idea of the author's style than any thing that we can say; it is a description of the tomb of Acbar, one of the greatest princes who ever sat on the throne of the Moguls.
Is this a tomb? you ask yourself, a mere tonib? as descending from your elephant at a high arched and lofty gateway, with gallery chambers and vaulted dome, you see, through and far beyond it, a vast pile of building of the most beautiful red granite, adorned in stone and marble, with many rich borderings of flowers, and with inscriptions from the Koran, in free bold letters of prodigious size. You follow a paved pathway through the garden, now covered with rank grass, and stripped of half its trees, and approaching nearer, pronounce the building, though grand, too much overcharged for the eye of taste. Too many small minarets are crowded on its top, nor is the ascent to the door sufficiently spacious or raised. The lower story has one lofty dome, under which lies the dust of Achar, beneath such plain and narrow tomb as would simply mark where a Moslem lay.
Above, upon the higher story, are arched verandahs, and marble chambers; and on the very top, a handsome space paved with marble, and surrounded by a light piazzaed gallery, whose outer face is open screen-work of the same precious material, perfectly white and polished, but representing branches and wreaths interwoven with the most natural grace and ease.
Here is a small sarcophagus of white marble. Natural in form, and naturally strewn, are the pale flowers which lie thickly scattered on it. For whom the sculptor scattered them, four small and beautifully formed letters declare:-Acbar," you read; and read no more.
Of all the princes who sat upon the throne of the Moguls, none, perhaps, has so much enjoyed the admiration of posterity as Acbar.
His wars, his personal exploits, his acts of generosity, his sayings, are treasured in the memory of all the better educated Mussulmans. He was born during the distress and exile of his father Humaioon. At thirteen ascended the musnud ; at fourteen commanded an army in person ; fought and conquered the immense host of Abdool Khan on the famous plains of imperial Delhi, and slew the leader of that host with his own hand.
He encouraged arts, manufactures, and trade. He was tolerant in religious matters. Under the vigorous administration of Abul Fazel, his able, faithful, and enlightened minister, Hindostan flourished in proud tranquillity. He gathered that beautiful emerald for the crown of the Moguls, the little kingdom-valley of Cachemere;
and after reigning prosperously for half a century, he died,-How? in the well-fought field ? or, ripe in age and honour, on the peaceful-couch of expected death? neither,-in throes and agonies, convulsed by poison !
Look out upon these wide and sunny plains, the summons of his signet had covered them with two hundred thousand soldiers ready to bleed round his standard. His own brave arm was ever ready for service of honour, or of peril; yet, perhaps,
* In Arabic characters.
did the feeble hand of some coward - slave, or trembling female, mix for him the fatal draught. Look out again; look where the red towers of Agra glitter near the tranquil Jumna. Still grand and perfect is the fort. But on this side, see how small, how poor the city of which the founder sleeps below! Scarce two centuries ago, the approaching traveller had started, as from some favouring spot he might have seen at one broad glance, the domes of a hundred mosques; the lofty and turretted walls of sixty caravanseras; the smaller cupolas, and minarets of palaces, baths, and tombs innumerable; the proud and massive fort with its armed walls; and on the plain beyond, the white tents and gay standards of an army of Moorish horse, ever ready at the trumpet's sound.
The last extract which we shall offer to our readers, presents a vivid picture of the wretched state to which hate and revenge, nourished by dark superstition, can reduce the human mind: the incident possesses picturesque beauty, and is narrated in a manner sufficiently impressive, though not without the faults which are most frequent in this volume.
In the evening I walked out and climbed a lofty rock about half a mile to the eastward of the town (Bhilsah), on which is also a durgah to the memory of a Mahometan saint. There are steps cut in the rock ; and here and there gateways and small walls. On the top all is bare and naked, but would make, and has evidently been used as, a point of defence. The deserted huts of a large irregular bivouac still lie between its shelter and tliat of the town. As I stood gazing round me, now looking out on the noble and extensive scene below, now examining the durgah, there burst on me a figure which quite startled me. From the cottage I had remarked, there came forth an old woman, in form and feature horrible; and with angry wild gestures in a hoarse voice bade me begone. Her lean shrivelled arms, loose breasts, haggard features, and gray dishevelled hair, gave her an appearance absolutely horrible. I affected first to disregard, and then soften her ; neither would do. She seemed half-frantic, and said many things in a loud hurried unintelligible tone of voice. I left the spot quite with a sinking of the heart. Her age, her sex, forbade me to use violence of any sort which might defend me; and mad she seemed with hate, the offspring of superstition, or of wrong, I could not tell which. She evidently dressed the durgah with flowers, and dwelt there as its guardian : widowed, childless, or destitute, or all, she might have become through war. Here, where six hundred years ago the crescent was planted on the field of bloody triumph; here, where some demon saint, who with Koran and creese had marched among the slaughtering bands, rested in the tomb ; here had she fitly chosen such sad solitude as the unsubdued revengeful spirit seeks, but not for soothing. Here sits and broods pitiless vengeance; and finds the spot, all lonely as it is, thick peopled with the furies preying on her heart.
Before we quit this publication, we cannot refrain from noticing the very serious charge made by the writer against the Honourable East India Company and its agents. Speaking of the sums given by the Hindoos to the Brahmins at Allahabad, the confluence of the Jumna, and the Ganges, and other places considered as sacred, he assorts that these extortions are connived at by the Company, who receive half of the sums so extorted from the miserable natives. Of the truth or falsehood of this statement we know nothing: but we think that a charge, which tends to fix a brand of infamy on the persons concerned, and which even in some measure affects our national character, should not have been advanced by a concealed and anonymous author.
POETIC SCENES. No. I.
(Enter an OFFICER with despatches.)
Claud. 'Tis true he is abroad.
App. There's no treason in a mob, Claudius.
Claud. They clamour too, in their rude oratory,
App. And so they will. There be who bark and gibe
ADVANTAGES POSSESSED BY THE GREEK SCULPTORS. The Grecian sculptors not only derived the highest advantages from a religion which disposed men to embody all the charms of nature in definite forms, and from a cast of mind requiring for enjoyment the distinctness of beauty, rather than the visionary and the dim, but had the benefit of studying the human frame in its most perfect freeness, elegance, and grace. Not only were the Greeks beautiful by nature, but the course of their lives, even from earliest infancy, was calculated to improve the form. The public exercises gave, in addition to the polished manner and elevated attitude of a citizen of the most glorious state on earth, something of the wild and airy grace of an Indian bounding in the chase, or of a stag, delicately pacing through his native forests. The women, although too barbarously confined to domestic employment to excel in the expression which mind alone can kindle upon the features, were of a high and pure style of beauty, noble in outline, glossy and ethereal in complexion, and perfect in the finishing. The materials for the workmanship of the artist, were of the most appropriate and beautiful kind. Earth and clay, at first employed in framing statues, soon gave place to the white marble of Paros, and this yielded, in its turn, to that which was veined and spotted, and to jaspar. According to Pliny, the artists had even the power of mingling different metals to produce fine and delicate shades, and thus to assist in expressing various passions and sentiments by a diversity of colours.
W. * The following note accompanied the reception of the above scene :
DEAR MR. MERTON, The foregoing is a scene of a tragedy, founded on the same story as “ Virginius." It was written during a year's residence of the author in Italy. When finished, he went to Venice, for the purpose of submitting it to the inspection of Lord Byron, who then happened to be at Pisa, and very soon after, the present tragedy of Virginius passed a much higher tribunal—the public.
Thus anticipated, I sealed my manuscript, not in despair, for I had no other ob. ject in writing it than to fill up vacant hours, which would otherwise have been passed « to much better purpose,” I hear you exclaim; no matter. A friend of mine, who had often broke in upon my hours of inspiration, has frequently insisted on my presenting it to Drury Lane, as a rival piece. This, I have neither vanity nor courage enough to do. If, however, this scene should not unworthily fill up a page of your Magnet, you are very welcome to it.
It is the opening scene, wherein Appius, the hero of the piece, discloses his ambilion. He has just heard that Dentatus, whose high reputation and inflexible honour cause hind great uncasiness, has reappeared as an adrocate for the people.