[THE SEA VOYAGE]
[Madras, June 15 1834:] Dearest Margaret-- Here we are, quite safe and pretty well. But where shall I begin or end the long story which I have to tell you? As to our voyage, it furnished little matter for narrative. It was monotony itself; --the same blue sky-- the same blue sea-- the same people performing the same operations, and the same operations recurring at the same hours. The great events were one man's thinking that he saw Madeira; --another man's being sure that he saw St. Antonio; --the appearance of a fleet of Portuguese men of war, which, you are to understand, are not ships, --for Portugal could not furnish out such a fleet, --but beautiful funguses floating on the water; --the appearance of a shoal of porpoises; --a covey of flying fish with wings like mother of pearl darting out of one wave and into another; --a sailor tumbling down the hatchway and breaking his head; --a cadet getting drunk and swearing at the captain; --the passing of the line [=the equator] with a great deal of ducking, tarring, and scraping, which at one time seemed likely to end in fighting; --the catching of a shark; --the shooting of an albatross; --the spouting of a whale; --and now and then a hard gale of wind. These were our great and important occurrences. The passage was on the whole a very good one after we had got clear of the Channel in which we were detained upwards of three weeks. We experienced little discomfort, and were never but once, I believe, in danger. The seas round the Cape kept their ancient reputation of being the most stormy in the world, and when we were about four hundred miles south of Madagascar, we had a tempest which almost amounted to a hurricane, and saw such waves as I never saw before, and am in no hurry to see again.
Monotonous as the mode of life is, I accommodated myself to it without difficulty. Society indeed I had none. The Captain, though a very gentlemanlike and respectable person, had not much in common with me; and the Chief mate, though a good officer and a hard-headed man, was quite uneducated, and never pronounced his h's. They were both, however, perfect masters of their business, and shewed on every occasion great professional skill and great propriety of feeling. The Cadets were lads of about the intellectual and moral elevation of [our young relative] Henry Rose, and other relations of ours who have preceded them in the same career. By an ill luck which I cursed more than once, it happened that precisely the most disagreeable of them were recommended particularly to my notice....
Hannah will give you the histories and characters of all these good
people at length, I dare say. For she was extremely social, --danced with
the gentlemen in the evenings, and read novels and sermons with the ladies
in the mornings. I contented myself with being very civil whenever I was
with the other passengers, and took care to be with them as little as I
could. I shut myself up in my cabin with my books, and found that the time
on the whole passed easily and pleasantly. I was in almost utter solitude.
Except at meal times I scarcely exchanged a word with any human being.
I never was left for so long a time so completely to my own resources;
and I am glad to say that I found them quite sufficient to keep me cheerful
and employed during the whole voyage. I read insatiably and with keen and
increasing enjoyment. I devoured Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, French
and English, folios, quartos, octavos, and duodecimos. If I can judge of
the future from my present feelings, I am in no danger of allowing my mind
to rust in India....
At last ninety days after leaving Falmouth, I was summoned on deck at five o'clock in the morning of Tuesday June the 10th, to see Madras. Since we lost sight of the Lizard, I had never looked on any land except the blue outline of the mountains of Ceylon. There was Madras lying close to the sea like Brighton, and we were anchoring about a mile or a mile and a half from the town. The effect was very striking, --great, white, masses of buildings scattered amidst a rich profusion of deep dark varnished green. The sun was just about to rise. The town was quite still, and for some time we saw no signs of life.
At last a catamaran was discernible amidst the waves. Do you know what a catamaran is? It is simply a raft composed by tying two or three long pieces of wood together. On these rafts the fishermen of Madras venture on the sea in all weathers, in defiance of winds, waves, and sharks. The appearance of the little black boatman beating the water with his paddle, and seeming as familiar to the element as a duck, was the first glimpse that I caught of the people among whom I am to live. He came on board with nothing on him but a pointed yellow cap, and walked among us with a self-possession and civility which, coupled with his colour and his nakedness, nearly made me die of laughing.
In the meantime we had given notice by signals of the name of our ship, and soon boats arrived from a frigate which lay in the roads [=a bit offshore], and from the shore. I now learned that I had been very impatiently expected. Lord William Bentinck is at present in the mountains beyond Mysore, and, being prevented by ill-lealth from leaving them for some time, has determined to hold the Supreme Council there. But, as it was necessary to leave one member of the Council at Calcutta as his deputy, he could not make a quorum without me.... Happily, just as I was finishing Lord William's letter, a letter from the Bishop was put into my hands. The Bishop in this letter insisted kindly and even peremptorily that we should take up our abode with him on our first arrival in Bengal. This put me pretty much at ease about Hannah: for, though his house would not have been particularly suited to me, it is of all houses in India that which will give the most creditable protection to her. About the voyage from Madras to Calcutta I felt no uneasiness [for Hannah]. For the constant kindness and the approved [=proven] discretion of our officers had gained the fullest confidence of us both....
I told them that I was ready to set off instantly. But I found that a journey of between three and four hundred miles in India requires some days of previous preparation. You know that there is no posting [=traveling by public carriage]. Indeed there are no roads for wheel-carriages through the greater part of the country. I am to be carried in a palanquin by men the whole way; and it is necessary to write to the public functionaries all along the route, that relays may be in readiness and that accommodations may be provided at the proper places. For inns there are none. I am to travel only at night, and I shall be at least a week on the road. Of course the discomfort of the journey will be considerable. But it is some compensation that when I reach the hills I shall be in one of the finest climates in the world-- a climate very like that of the South of France, and that I shall escape for this year the bad season of Calcutta: for Lord William tells me that he shall not leave the hills till September. I am also glad to have an opportunity of seeing a very interesting part of India, and of acquiring information on the spot as to the real nature of the slavery about which there has been so much controversy. For I shall be close to the tract in which slavery exists. If it were not for parting with Hannah I should delight in the arrangement.
The officers who came on board informed me that though Sir Frederic was absent we were to go to the Government House and to be entertained as we should have been if he had been on the spot. In the afternoon accordingly we went on shore. I do not know whether you ever heard of the surf at Madras. It breaks on the beach with such fury that no ship's boat can venture through it. The only conveyance in which people can land with safety is a road boat made and guided by the natives. It is a large, clumsy barge-like looking thing, made of rough planks stitched together, and so elastic that it readily yields to the pressure of the waves. A boat of this sort was sent off for us, and a dozen half-naked blacks, howling all the way the most dissonant song that you ever heard, rowed us with great skill to the shore....
I can give you no idea of the bewildering effect of this our first introduction
to a new world. To be on land after being three months at sea is of itself
a great change: --but to be in such a land-- nothing but dark faces and
bodies with white turbans and flowing robes, --the trees not our trees,
--the very smell of the atmosphere like that of a hothouse, --the architecture
as strange as the vegetation. I was quite stunned. On we drove, however.
Our very equipage, though English built, was new in form and fitting up.
There was a window behind to give us a thorough draught of air. There was
an oilcloth below, because a carpet or rug would have been too hot; --and
at each door trotted a boy in an oriental costume of scarlet and gold.
These boys run by the side of a carriage without being distressed for fourteen
or fifteen miles at a time.
At last we came to the government house. As we drove up the Seapoys on guard presented arms; and when we stopped under the portico, a crowd of figures with beards, turbans, and robes of white muslin came to receive us, and to conduct us to our apartments. Captain Barron and his wife, a very kind and agreeable young woman, represented our absent host and hostess. Each of us was provided with a sitting room, a bed room, a dressing room, and a bathroom. My man was lodged near me, and Hannah's maid close to her.
The size of the rooms is immense. My dressing room is as high as a church and has four great doors, each as large as the door of a house in Grosvenor Square. These doors are not solid; but are made after the fashion of Venetian blinds, so that the wind is always blowing through the room. The beds are immense, as hard as bricks, and completely surrounded with mosquito net. The furniture looks scanty in the large apartments. There are no carpets, but the floors are covered with matting, which looks neat enough. The ceilings are of timber painted white, and the walls of a remarikable plaster called chunam, which is made of fishes' bones, and which, when very fine, really looks exactly like the whitest and purest marble....
At half after eight breakfast is served for Hannah and me. We are waited on by four or five servants; and, what is much more to the purpose, the coffee is excellent, --the butter good and cool, --the bread, the eggs, the milk, all quite equal to those of an English country house. As to the fish and fruit which they regularly put on the table, I do not trouble them. The fish is insipid: and all the tropical fruits together are not worth any of our commonext English productions-- cherry, strawberry, currant, apple, pear, peach. The mango eats like honey and turpentine, --the plaintain like a rotten pear. --The pine-apple is the best fruit that I have found here, and is as far inferior to the pine apples of an English pinery as the grapes on a wall to hot house grapes.... I should tell you that they have a way of cooling liquors by immersing the bottle in a pail of water and saltpetre, which answers admirably, and makes all our drink quite as cool as we wish to have it.....
[By] half after four or five.... the sea-breeze is generally coming in: and the good people of Madras take their airings. I go out in a carriage for two hours with Captain Barron. Hannah goes in another with the lady. We drive through different parts of Madras and its environs, and come back at about seven.
The drives are very pleasant, particularly when the sea-breeze is blowing. For some miles round the whole country is a garden. The English at Madras have only their offices within the walls of the fortification. They live in villas which stretch far into the country on every side. Each villa is surrounded by a pleasure ground of some acres, which is here called a compound. The roads are bordered with rich tropical vegetation, and crowded by an innumerable swarm of natives, some walking, some riding, some in carts drawn by bullocks. Every here and there you come to a native village or town. From what I have yet seen I should say that these are much on an equality with the villages of Wales and Scotland-- Llanrwst for example, or Laidler-- two which I particularly remember. They consist of low whitewashed huts of one story with [a] projecting roof which forms a sort of piazza in front of the dwellings. There are some signs that the people in these huts have more than the mere necessaries of life. The timber over the door is generally carved, and sometimes with a taste and skill that reminded me of the wood-work of some of our fine Gothic Chapels and Cathedrals. The crowd and noise in the streets is prodigious during business hours. But if you pass late at night, the people are sleeping before their doors on the ground by hundreds, with scarcely any covering. Indeed they need none in this climate.
As to the European villas, they are large and sometimes very shewy.
But you may see at a glance that they are the residences of people who
do not mean to leave them to their children or even to end their own days
in them. There is a want of repair-- a slovenliness... which marks that
the rulers of India are pilgrims and sojourners in the land. You will see
a fine portico spoiled by a crack in the plaster which a few rupees would
set to rights, --gaps in the hedges-- breaches in the walls-- doors off
the hinges, and so on. As no Englishman means to die in India, and as very
few have any certainty that, even while they remain in India, they shall
reside at the same place, nobody pays the attention to his dwelling which
he would pay to a family house. It is curious that the neatest and most
carefully kept houses which I have observed are those of half-castes and
Armenians, who mean to end their days here....
[Ootacamund, June 27, 1834:] I went at about eleven in the morning to
visit his Highness. Captain Barron and another gentleman accompanied me
in the Governor's carriage. A salute in honor of me was fired from the
palace. When we entered the garden we found it thronged by beggarly Musselmans.
The guard of the Nabob was drawn up. It consisted of some hundreds of soldiers
who seemed to have bought the cast-off clothes of our Seapoys. They looked
like scare-crows, and had less precision and order in their movements than
any awkward squad that I ever saw in St James's park. There were also several
enormous elephants exhibited to astonish the newcomer. We came at last
to the Durbar-- that is the Indian name for a hall of Audience. It is a
large building, open on one side like a booth at a fair, and supported
by pillars. On the steps the Nabob and the Regent met me, embraced me,
placed me between them, and led me to a sofa in the middle of the hall
where I sat down, and they took their places one on each side.The interpreter
of the court, a handsome, intelligent-looking man, whose mind has evidently
been enlarged by much intercourse with Englishmen, took his place opposite
to us. The young Nabob said not a word. But the Regent talked with as much
profundity and wit as most princes in Europe or
I could not but feel for the poor little fellow [aged ten or eleven]
who is being brought up in such a way that he is quite sure to indulge
in every excess and to acquire no useful knowledge.... I really think that
our government should have insisted, when his father died, that his education
should be superintended by some Englishman. If the Nabob had been so brought
up as to turn out an accomplished gentleman, and a good scholar, with his
influence over the Mahometans, with his immense wealth, and with his high
birth, he would have been the most useful agent that our government could
have had in the great work of civilizing the Carnatic. It is now, I am
afraid, too late. He will kill himself, in all probability, before he is
thirty, by indulgence in every species of sensuality.
In the afternoon of the 17th of June I left Madras. And how do you think I travelled? I was in one palanquin, my servant followed in another. Each of us had twelve bearers who from time to time relieved each other, six at a time being required for each palanquin. Before us trotted ten coolies or porters with my luggage. Beside my palanquin ran two peons or police officers with badges on their breasts and swords at their sides. The whole train consisted of thirty-eight persons, myself and my servant included.
Did I tell you of my servant? He was recommended to me by the Chief Magistrate of police at Madras, and does credit to the recommendation. He is a half-caste, a Catholic, and apparently a devout one, for I often catch him crossing himself and turning up his eyes. What is more to the purpose, he knows the native languages, is honest and sober, can dispute a charge, bully a negligent bearer, arrange a bed, and make a curry. But he is so fond of giving me advice that I fear he will some day or other, as the Scotch say, raise my corruption, and provoke me to send him about his business. His name, which I never hear without laughing, is Peter Prim.
In this fashion I travelled all night, sleeping very sound in my palanquin from sunset to sunrise; for the bearers make a strange noise between a grunt and a chant which has a very lulling effect on me, though some people complain that it keeps them awake. We went, I should think, on an average, about four miles an hour, and changed bearers every fifteen miles or thereabouts. The night was cool; though the part of the country through which I went is generally very hot. But some heavy showers fell during my journey which effectually refreshed the air. At about nine the next morning Arcot appeared. A number of pretty white houses covered with red tiles peeped out from amidst thick trees at the foot of a line of hills. This is the English town of Arcot. The native town, like all the native towns which I have seen, is a maze of wretched huts. So I was told: for I did not go into it.
But before I tell you of my reception at Arcot, I ought to describe the country through which I passed from Madras. Half my journey was by daylight; and all that I saw during that time disappointed me grievously. It is amazing to see how small a part of the country is under cultivation, --what extensive tracts are apparently abandoned to the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air. Two thirds at least, as it seemed to me, of the country through which I went was in the state of... [the swamp] of Chatmoss. The people whom we met were very few, --as few as in the highlands of Scotland. The villages were also very few and very mean. But I have been told that this is a very unfavourable specimen of the country, that in India the villages generally lie at a distance from the road-- a fact which if true is strange enough-- and that much of the land which when I passed it looked like a parched moor that had never been cultivated would after the rains be covered with rice. I tell you however what I saw....
After dinner... [my host in Arcot] the Capain and I took a ride....
We passed through a garden which was attached to the residence of the Nabobs
of the Carnatic, who anciently held their court at Arcot. The garden has
been suffered to run to waste, and is only the more beautiful for having
been neglected. Garden indeed is hardly a proper word. In England it would
rank as one of our noblest parks, from which it differs principally in
this, that most of the fine trees are fruit-trees....
We went on through a valley all night, and at daybreak began to ascend a ridge of hills about two thousand feet high. About half after nine we were on the table-land, after going through much very pretty scenery. In a little while three or four horsemen, gaudily but shabbily dressed, rode up to my palanquin, and saluted me with drawn swords. I found that I was now in the Kingdom of Mysore, and that these were some of the irregular cavalry, as they are called, in the Mysore service, who had been sent to escort me through that territory. In a little while the village of Vincatagherry made its appearance. A crowd of people poured out to meet me. There is in every Hindoo village, I believe, a headman, a sort of lord of the manor, a little less ignorant and less beggarly than the peasants around him. There is also a police officer called a cutwal, and a revenue officer called a tehsilder. These three functionaries in tolerably clean white robes and turbans, but barefooted, met me, presented me with flowers and fruit, and hung a wreath round my neck. Then then trotted on by the side of my palanquin, the whole rabble of the place accompanying them; and before us went the village music, a trumpet which sounded like a cat-call, and a drum which made a noise like a kettle beaten with a poker....
The Collector of the district happened to be at Vincatagherry. The name of Collector of a district conveys in India very different ideas from those attached to it in England. The Collector is a civil servant of very high rank. He is placed over the administration, both financial and judicial, of a population of perhaps half a million or a million of souls. His duties are much higher and his importance much greater than that of some Sovereign princes in Europe... The Collector during part of the year performs a circuit through his province. He happened to be at Vincatagherry at this time. He and his suite lived in tents which were pitched in a large meadow near the road. His name is Roberts. He seemed an intelligent good sort of man and had with him two younger civil servants as his assistants, one of them a nephew of Sir Gilbert Blane. I liked this young man particularly. I dressed as well as I could in one of the tents, and dined with the English functionaries in another. The repast and wine were excellent; and indeed these are things which you are pretty sure of finding good among the Europeans in India, however wretched their accommodations may be in other respects. When the heat of the day was over I returned to my palanquin and, with my train swelled by the Mysore horsemen, proceeded on my journey.
I did not sleep quite so well this night, for at every stage where we
changed bearers all the authorities of the village were in attendance to
make their bows and to present flowers and fruit; a civility which I could
well have dispensed with. Still better could I have excused the attendance
of the musicians, whose noise was as odious to me as the squeaking of a
slate-pencil or the scraping up of ashes under a grate. Day came at last,
and I reached Bangalore.
Bangalore is one of the greatest military stations in India. The Company has at least five thousand excellent troops there, quartered in the neatest cantonments that I ever saw, --quite unlike English barracks. They are low white houses, of one story only, with red tiles, very clean, with trees planted before them, and an immense area in the middle covered with grass and railed in. Adjoining to these cantonments, which have something of the look of very neat almshouses, are the villas of the principal officers surrounded by small gardens. Here and there a shop has been established with an European name over the door. Through this very agreeable scene I passed to the house where I was to be lodged, the house of Colonel Cubbon, Commissioner of Mysore.
And here I must digress again into Indian politics; and let me tell you that, if you will read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, the little that I may say about them, you will know more on the subject than half the members of the cabinet. In England they attract scarcely any notice. You must have heard of the Kingdom of Mysore. At least you must have heard of the two famous princes who governed it formerly, Hyder Ali and Tippoo Saib. Hyder was a Mahometan. The ancient Rajahs of Mysore were Hindoos. Their power had sunk almost to nothing. At last Hyder Ali, who had risen from a low situation to the command of their troops, usurped the government and put the old sovereign into confinement. Hyder was the cleverest man by far that we have had to encounter in India. We never could do anything decisive against him. He enlarged his dominions on every side, invaded the Carnatic, gave us several defeats, took several of our forts, --one in which my uncle Colin commanded, --and, if he had not died in the midst of a campaign might perhaps have driven us out of Southern India. His son Tippoo hated us bitterly and was as bitterly hated by us. At last Lord Wellesley attacked him with extraordinary vigour. You must have heard of that war. Tippoo was killed. His capital was taken; and his kingdom was completely conquered. We took a large slice of it for ourselves. The rest we gave to the heir of the old royal family which Hyder had deposed. But we made this new Sovereign tributary to us, and we inserted in our treaty with him an article authorising us to assume the government if he administered it ill. The Rajah was a child, and we gave the Regency to a very intelligent native. For a time things went on well. But the Rajah came to man's estate, tried to govern for himself, mismanaged, wasted his treasures, contracted debts, oppressed his people, and at last drove them to insurrection. Then we interfered. We suppressed the insurrection, and took the government into our own hands. The Rajah is accordingly in the same situation with the Nabob of the Carnatic. He resides in his palace with royal state. But he has no power beyond the walls of his residence. The whole civil government of Mysore is administered by Colonel Cubbon who reigns, --for that is the proper word, --at Bangalore, over a country probably as large and as populous as Scotland....
Bangalore is an interesting place on many accounts. Its fort was formerly considered as one of the strongest in India. It was stormed, after a desperate resistance, by Lord Cornwallis's army in one of our wars with Tippoo. It was, when I was there, interesting on another account. One of the petty princes of the country, the Rajah of Coorg, sovereign of a distract perhaps as large as Derbyshire or a little larger, had the audacity, a few months ago, to go to war with us. He was indeed a more formidable enemy than you might imagine. His principality lies among the mountains between Mysore and Malabar, which are almost impenetrable. I have seen several of the principal officers who commanded against him, and they all say that a skilful general would have held out for years in such a country. But the truth is that every enemy is formidable in India. We are strangers there. We are as one in two or three thousand to the natives. The higher classes whom we have deprived of their power would do anything to throw off our hoke. A serious check in any part of India would raise half the country against us. At Coorg we were very near meeting with a serious check. After some hard fighting, however, the Rajah's heart failed him, and he surrendered. He had been a horrible tyrant, --had murdered every relation that he had, and had filled his dominions with noseless and earless people. Some of the stories of his cruelty are too shocking to relate. We spared his life. But he is to be kept a state-prisoner in the strong fortress of Vellore. He had arrived at Bangalore on his way, and was in Colonel Cubbon's custody. He talks of his atrocities with wonderful coolness. He said to Colonel Cubbon, "I had a great mind to crucify the messenger whom you sent to me with a flag of truce. What would you have done if I had?" "We should have hanged you to a certainty" said the Colonel. "Exactly." --said the Rajah-- "I thought so. That was the reason that I did not crucify the man."
The fort of Bangalore is handsome and well built. There is a palace
within it now almost in ruins, but very like the courts of some of the
shabbier colleges at Oxford. The town lies close to the fort, and, like
most Indian towns, is surrounded by a strong hedge. The principal shrub
in the Indian hedges is the aloe, which grows here as abundantly as the
thistle in England. These hedges are formidably strong, quite strong enough
to keep out those roving marauders who formerly infested the country, nay
quite strong enough, as Colonel Cubbon told me, to give very serious trouble
even to a regular army. The aloes are so sharp and tough that they will
run six inches into a man or a horse. The town within the hedge is large
and populous. The houses are about as good as the poorest in Rothley, and
not much unlike them. The people seemed very active, and when I passed
through the streets, buying and selling was going on at every door.
I was now in so cool a climate that I could without inconvenience travel by day. Accordingly after breakfast on Monday the 23rd I took leave of Colonel Cubbon... and I proceeded on my journey through Mysore. On the whole I thought the country better peopled and better cultivated as I proceeded. I went on all night, sleeping soundly in my palanquin. At five I was waked, and told that a carriage was waiting for me. I had told Colonel Cubbon that I very much wished to see Seringapatam. He had written to the British authorities at Mysore, and, as the roads in this part of the country for about twenty miles are unusually good, an officer of the name of White had come from the residency with a carriage to shew me all that was to be seen.
Seringapatam, you probably know, was the capital of Hyder Ali and Tippoo Saib. It sprang up with them and went down with them. For this is often the fate of cities in the East. A powerful prince likes a particular situation. He fortifies it, builds a palace, holds his court there, assembles his army there. His ministers and courtiers cluster round him. An Indian town is easily built. In a few years a vast city rises composed of mud huts thatched with straw, and inhabited by people who live by the wants or the profusion of the Sovereign, his court, and his army. In this way a population of three or four hundred thousand people has been collected round Madras, and probably twice the number round Calcutta. If the seat of our government were changed, probably in twenty years there would not be ten thousand souls in the place which is now the Capital of our Empire. The huts of the natives cost little. The inhabitants leave them easily, and they fall down or are washed away in a few years. This has been the fate of Seringapatam. In the time of Tippoo's greatness it contained, I have heard, a hundred and fifty thousand people. There are now not five thousand. The situation was found not to agree with Europeans. The population, being principally Mahometan, was attached to the dynasty of Hyder, and unfriendly to the Rajah of Mysore whom we had set up. We accordingly placed the seat of the new government at the town of Mysore, eight miles from Seringapatam. Mysore, which I believe had fallen into utter decay, has in consequence flourished, and now contains about thirty thousand people, while Seringapatam is deserted.
But Seringapatam has always been an object of peculiar interest to me. It was the scene of the greatest events in Indian history. It was the residence of the greatest of Indian princes. From a child I used to hear it talked of every day. Our uncle was imprisoned there for four years. He was afterwards distinguished at the siege. I remember that there was at a shop window at Clapham a daub of the taking of Seringapatam which, when I was a boy of ten, I used to stare at with the greatest interest. I was delighted to have an opportunity of seeing the place. And, though my expectations were high, they were not disappointed.
The town, as I told you, is depopulated. But the fortress, which was one of the strongest in India, remains entire. The Caveri, a river about as broad as the Thames at Chelsea, --at least when I saw it; for it is sometimes nearly dry, --breaks into two branches, and surrounds the walls. Above the fortifications are seen the white minarets of a mosque. We entered, and found everything silent and desolate. The mosque indeed is still kept up, and deserves to be so, for it is an elegant building. But the palace of Tippoo has fallen into utter ruin. I saw however with no small interest the airholes of the dungeon in which the English prisoners were confined, and the water-gate leading down to the river where the body of Tippoo was found still warm by the present Duke of Wellington, then Colonel Wellington. The exact spot through which the English soldiers forced their way against desperate disadvantages into the fort was still perfectly discernible. Though only thirty five years have elapsed since the fall of the city, the palace is in a state of as utter ruin as Tintern Abbey or Melrose Abbey. The courts, which bear a great resemblance to those of the Oxford Colleges, are completely overrun with weeds and flowers.
The Durbar, or great audience hall, which was once considered as the
finest in India, still retains some very faint traces of its old magnificence.
It is supported on a great number of light and lofty wooden pillars resting
on pedestals of black granite. These wooden pillars were formerly covered
with gilding, and here and there the glitter may still be perceived. In
a few more years not the smallest trace of this superb hall will remain.
I am surprised that more care was not taken by the English to keep up so
splendid a memorial of the greatness of him whom they had conquered. The
soldiers were suffered to cover the walls of the palace with all sorts
of scrawls, and the officers spoiled one of the finest apartments by making
it a mess-room. This was not at all like Lord Wellesley's general mode
of proceeding. I soon saw a proof of his taste and liberality. Tippoo built
a most sumptuous mausoleum for his father Hyder, and attached a mosque
to it which he endowed. The building is carefully kept up at the expense
of our government. It lies a little way from the fort. You walk up, through
a narrow path bordered by flower-beds and cypresses, to the front of the
building, which is really very beautiful, and in general character closely
resembles the prettiest and most richly carved of our small Gothic Chapels.
The only fault which I find with it is that it is covered with whitewash,
instead of being left in naked granite. It is however very fine, and very
well kept up. Within are three tombs, all covered with magnificent palls
embroidered in gold with verses from the Koran. In the centre lies Hyder,
on his right his wife the mother of Tippoo, and Tippoo himself on the left....
I could have wished to avoid an interview with his Highness. I have told you his situation. His power is now in abeyance. Whether it will ever be restored is doubtful. Colonel Cubbon governs the whole of Mysore; and the Rajah is allowed about forty thousand a year to keep up his Court. He is extremely desirous to be suffered again to exercise his power. My opinion was in England and still is that he ought not to be restored, and that the English ought to keep the administration in their own hands. I did not wish to give him hopes which I had no intention of realizing, or, on the other hand, to speak harshly to a fallen prince. It was impossible, however, to refuse his invitation, and, in a short time, several of his principal nobles arrived to escort me. One of them, an old Mahometan, with a long white beard, had been high in office under Tippoo, and told me that he remembered my uncle's name well.
We went in great state. The whole thing indeed was better managed than at the court of the Nabob of the Carnatic. The soldiers were not better dressed or drilled, but their costume was oriental, and had on the whole a striking effect. An elephant richly harnessed, led the procession. Then followed a long stream of silver spears and floating banners. Music, detestable like all the music that I have heard in India, preceded the carriage, and the whole rabble of Mysore followed in my train. We came at last to a square surrounded by buildings less shabby than Indian houses generally are. On one side was the palace. The Durbar fronted the square. Like the other Durbars in India, it is open in front, and supported by pillars. A curtain of patchwork colours, red and blue predominating, hung in front. The pillars were gaudily painted and carved, and the whole look of the thing was like that of a booth for strolling players on a large scale. I was ushered by several of the grandees into the private room of audience. Everywhere I saw that mixture of splendour and shabbiness which characterises the native courts. I very nearly broke my neck over a step in a dark passage dirtier and lower than any communication between a kitchen and a coal-hole in England, and at last I scrambled into his Highness's presence.
The room in which he received me was very singular. Imagine a low square chamber, lighted by a high skylight. In the middle of the chamber was a square space surrounded, for no earthly purpose that I could imagine, by a low wooden rail. At one end was the throne blazing with gold and covered with embroidered cushions. Below the throne was a handsome chair on which his Highness sat, or rather squatted like a tailor. A chair for me was placed beside him.
The whole room had the look of a toyshop. Everything was like Tunbridge ware. The roof, the walls, the pillars, the railing, were of wood cut into little knobs, cups, and points, coloured and varnished. The floor was carpeted. Whatever was not painted and carved wood was pier glass, and the glasses reflected the room backward and forward in such a way as to make it seem a perfect universe of knick-knackeries. His Highness would be a tolerably good looking man, if he had not a trick which is very common here of always chewing betel nut. He keeps such a quantity of it in his cheek that his face looks quite distorted, and the juice of it makes his mouth a very unpleasing object. He talked with prodigious rapidity and vehemence, scarcely ever allowing his interpreter to get to the end of a translation without bursting out again. His theme was, as I had expected, his own situation. He implored my help. He was, he said, the child of the Company. He was not, like their other tributaries, a conquered enemy. We had taken him from a prison, when he was a child. We had seated him on a throne. We might do what we would with him...
I felt indeed much pity for him and some shame for my country. He has little reason to thank us. Lord Wellesley took him, it is true, when a child, from a prison and set him on a throne; but Lord Wellesley never thought of the duty which he incurred by taking that course. Lord Wellesley never bestowed one moment's reflection on the moral and intellectual education of the boy whom he had made a King. The Rajah was, as he said, the child of the British. We were answerable for his bringing up. And we left him in the hands of the most superstitious and ignorant flatterers. With very considerable natural abilities and with, I am told, many real good qualities, he has reached manhood without having acquired a taste for anything but toys, fine clothes, betel-nut, and dancing girls. If he had been put, like Sarabojee the late King of Tanjore, under good tuition, if such a man as Doctor Buchanan for example had been charged with his education, if he had been made an accomplished English gentleman, what a different aspect his court would have exhibited. I quite approved of Lord William's conduct in taking the government from so incapable a prince. But I could not forget, while the poor fellow was bemoaning himself to me, that, if we had done our duty by him in the first instance, we never should have been forced to depose him. The past is irreparable. But whatever power I have shall be exerted to prevent the repetition of such fatal errors in future. To give a person immense power, to place him in the midst of the strongest temptations, to neglect his education, and then to degrade him from his high station because he has not been found equal to the duties of it, seems to me to be a most absurd and cruel policy....
The Rajah now left me to the care of his chief courtiers, who offered to shew me over the palace. Above all they begged me to see the regalia of their master. A chest was brought, and the ornaments were produced. There was a rich coat of gold stuff with buttons of garnet, a kind of aigrette for the turban blazing with diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, a dagger with a hilt covered with jewels, and several strings of pearl. The value of the whole must be very great. Indeed when his Highness assumed the government more than twenty years ago, he found himself in possession of a revenue, I believe, of seven or eight hundred thousand a year and of a treasure of between two and three millions sterling which had been laid up by the able minister who conducted the affairs of Mysore during the minority. The treasure is gone; a debt has been incurred; and these playthings are all that his Highness has to shew for it...
When I had seen all that was to be seen and had received the usual presents
of perfumes, flowers, and fruit, I departed in the same state in which
I had arrived, dined with my English hosts, and after dinner set out on
my journey again.
I slept all night very soundly. When day broke I found that we were entering the vast jungle which lies at the foot of the hills of Malabar. I can give you no notion of the beauty of the scene. For thirty miles we went on through a forest of the richest verdure which spread on every side till it was bounded by a range of lofty mountains. The scene, beautiful as it is, has its drawbacks. It is very unhealthy, and, if I had passed through it in the night, would very likely have given me a fever. There are other dangers. Tigers now and then carry off a traveller, or a wild elephant sets his foot on him and crushes him as flat as a pancake. I saw however no animals more dangerous than monkeys who ran about the trees like the squirrels in England....
The road as we approached the summit of the hills became wilder and wilder. We passed the dead bodies of several animals which had probably been killed by wild beasts. Over one carcass half a dozen enormous vultures as large as turkeys were revelling, and had picked it almost to the bone. When were on the top of the hills the vegetation had changed its character. I saw again the fern and the heath of England, or plants so like them that I could see no distinction. The grass which in the plains below is brown and very scanty was as thick and as richly green as in the meadows of Leicestershire in a wet spring. The temperature was that of England, or rather cooler.
At last we came to a Bungalow where I found that i was to sleep. This place was a little better than that in which I had breakfasted. It had stone instead of mud, and tiles instead of thatch. Lord William had sent people to prepare a dinner for me, and logs were blazing in the fire-place of the largest room. It was the 25th of June, Midsummer exactly, and only 13 degrees from the Equator, and yet I was forced to heap on wood, and to draw close to the hearth.
After eating a hearty dinner and drinking a pint of very good wine which Lord William had sent in abundance I went to bed in my palanquin. For there was no other place to sleep in. The bearers who had brought me up the hill were to take me on the following day. At five June 26th we were again on the road, and went on for five hours through a hilly country, without many trees but covered with thick green grass. I scarcely saw during these five hours a single sign, except the road on which we trod, which marked that any human being had ever been among those mountains before us. There were no villages, no cultivation going on, and in a space of eighteen miles I do not remember that we overtook or met any traveller. We passed a river by an odd sort of contrivance on a raft fastened to a rope. At last at about ten o'clock dwellings began to appear, and very soon Ootacamund was before me.
Do you know the history of this place? It was discovered about fifteen years ago that the climate in these hills is as fine as that of any country in the temperate zone. Accordingly invalids have frequently resorted hither, and the place has gone on increasing. It has now very much the look of a rising English watering place. There are many scattered dwellings, a few with porticoes and other architectural decorations, but most of them pretty cottages of one story only, white, and roofed with neat red tiling, or thatched. The hills form a sort of basin with a small lake in the middle. A Gothic church has been built here, and one or two shops have been set up. Altogether the coolness, the greenness of the grass, the character of the houses both without and within, is quite English. The place is 7,200 feet above the level of the sea, twice as high, I should imagine, as Snowdon or Benlomond; for my whole journey from Madras hither has been an almost continued ascent.
The largest house is occupied by the Governor General. It is a spacious and handsome building of stone. To this I was carried, and immediately ushered into his Lordship's presence. I found him sitting by a fire in a carpeted library. He received me with the greatest kindness, frankness, and hospitality, insisted on my being his guest, ordered me breakfast, and entered at once into business. He is, as far as I can yet judge, all that I have heard, --that is to say, rectitude, openness, and good nature personified. His abilities, though not quite on a level with his moral qualities, seem to be highly respectable....
[Ootacamund, July 6, 1834:] Should you like to know how I pass my day
here? One day is the picture of another. I rise at half after six, take
a cup of coffee, dress, and, if the weather will permit it, walk for two
hours. At nine we breakfast. From breakfast to five in the afternoon, I
am writing minutes or letters, discussing business, paying or receiving
calls. At five, unless it rains, which is the case oftener than I would
wish, I take a long walk, generally with Macnaghten, Pakenham, and one
or two others. At a little before seven I return to dress. At half after
seven I go in my palanquin to his Lordship's house to dinner; and I am
always in bed by ten.....
[Ootacamund, August 10, 1834:] My native servants are coughing and shivering all round me. I have bought them thick woollen clothing, however; and they look rather less miserable than they did six weeks ago when they were exposed to the temperature of an English November in garments no warmer than an English shirt.... Did I not mention to you in my last letter my half-caste servant, Peter Prim?... Poor man! Before we had been in the hills a fortnight he became very ill. He concealed his disease for a time, and made light of it even after I had insisted on his keeping himself quiet and seeing a physician. He became worse and worse, and, at last, it was discovered that an abcess was forming in his liver. I did what I could for him. The physician however had very little hope from the beginning.... When Peter became very ill, I sent my palanquin for the priest.... He confessed my poor man, absolved him, and gave him the last sacraments of the Romish Church. The struggle continued however for near ten days more. The sick man's room opened into mine, and I heard his gaspings and moanings plainly through the door. At last, after a hard battle, he sank. I ordered him to be decently buried. The Catholics of the neighbourhood assembled at my bungalow and carried him to their cemetery in a very decorous and solemn manner. I cannot tell you how curious an effect was produced by the contrast between their oriental dresses and complexions and the European character of their rites.... They praised my attention to the poor fellow; and I saw a letter from one of them in which I was called the benefactor of my servant. This says but little for the general conduct of masters in India. For I did absolutely nothing more than common humanity required, and had been sometimes inclined to fear that I had done less.
As I have mentioned the Catholic population, I must add that, by all that I can learn, I am led to believe that the Catholics are the most respectable portion of the native Christians. As to Schwartz's people in Tanjore, they are a perfect scandal to the religion which they profess.... These people have got into a violent quarrel with the Bishop and the missionaries. The missionaries refused to recognize the distinctions of caste in the administration of the sacrament of the Lord's supper, and the Bishop supported them in the refusal. I do not pretend to judge whether this was right or wrong. Swartz and Bishop Heber conceived that the distinction of caste, however objectionable politically, was still only a distinction of rank; and that, as in English Churches the gentlefolks generally take the sacrament apart from the poor of the parish, the high-caste natives might be allowed to communicate apart from the Pariahs. Whoever was first in the wrong, however, the Christians of Tanjore took care to be most in the wrong. They called in the interposition of the Government, and sent up such petitions and memorials as I never saw before or since. Such folly, arrogance, spite, falsehood, hypocrisy, were never known. Their remonstrances are made up of lies, invectives, bragging, cant, texts of Scripture quoted without the smallest application, and bad grammar of the most ludicrous kind.... But I could not help thinking, though I was too polite to say, that it was hardly worth the while of so many good men to come fifteen thousand miles over sea and land in order to make proselytes who, their very instructors being judges, were more children of hell than before.
I have not yet seen much of the idolatry of India, and the little which I have seen, though excessively absurd, as all idolatry must be, is not characterised either by atrocity or indecency. But I have as yet no right to pronounce a judgment. Nothing of the sort is to be seen at Ootacamund. I have not during the last six weeks witnessed, to the best of my recollection, a single circumstance from which you could have inferred that this was a heathen country. There is no pagoda here to my knowledge, and there are Christian Churches both Protestant and Catholic. The bulk of the natives here are a colony from the plains below who have come up hither to wait on the European visitors, and who seem to trouble themselves very little about caste or religion.
The aboriginal population of these hills is a very singular race. They
are called the Todas. They attracted no notice till within the last few
years. The coldness of this ridge, which attracts Europeans to it, kept
away the races who governed here before us. Neither Hyder or Tippoo, I
believe, ever troubled themselves about the people who lived on the top
of the Neilgherries. They are all herdsmen. They are in the lowest state
of ignorance and barbarism. Their only wealth consists in cattle. They
are thinly scattered in little villages of five or six huts each over a
country as large as Westmoreland, or larger. They were till very lately
the only occupants of this country, and their whole number is believed
to be short of two thousand. They had a great funeral a little while ago,
and some of Lord William's suite went to see the ceremony. I should have
gone had it not been a council-day. But I found afterwards that I had lost
nothing. The whole ceremony consisted in sacrificing bullocks to the manes
of the defunct. The butchery was, I learned, sufficiently disgusting, and
the roaring of the poor victims quite horrible. The people, men and women,
stood round talking and laughing till a particular signal was made: and
immediately all the ladies lifted up their voices and wept aloud. As I
have not lived three and thirty years in this world without having learned
that a bullock roars when he is knocked down, and that a woman can cry
whenever she chooses, I do not imagine that I should have enlarged my information
much by attending this ceremony....
[Calcutta, October 3, 1834:] I told you that my servant Peter died after I had been on the hills about a month. He was succeeded by a man from Bangalore-- a Christian-- such a Christian as the missionaries make in this part of the world, --that is to say a man who superadds drunkenness to the other vices of the natives.... My servant had been persecuted most unmercifully by the servants of some other gentlemen on the hills for his religion. At last they contrived to excite against him, --whether justly or unjustly I am quite unable to say, --the jealousy of one of Lord William's under-cooks. We had accordingly a most glorious tragicomedy-- the part of black Othello by the cook aforesaid, --Desdemona by an ugly impudent Pariah girl, his wife....
On the evening before my departure my bungalow was besieged by a mob of blackguards. The native judge whose business it is to try cases of this kind, under the control of the English authorities, came with them. After a most prodigious quantity of jabbering of which I could not understand one word, I called the judge, who spoke tolerable English, into my room, and learned from him the nature of the case. I was, and still am, in utter doubt as to the truth of the charge. I have a very poor opinion of my man's morals, and a very poor opinion also of the veracity of the accusers. It was however so very inconvenient for me, at setting out on a journey of four hundred miles through countries of which I did not know the language, to be deprived of my servant, that I offered to settle the business at my own expense. This would, under ordinary circumstances, have been easy enough. For the Hindoos of the lower castes have no delicacy on these subjects. The husband would gladly have taken a few rupees and walked away. But the persecutors of my servant interfered, and insisted that he should be brought to trial, in order that they might have the pleasure of smearing him with filth, beating kettles before him, carrying him round the town on an ass with his face to the tail, and giving him a good flogging. As I found that the matter could not be accommodated, I begged the judge to try the cause instantly. He would gladly have done so. But the rabble insisted that the trial could not take place for some days. I argued the matter with them very mildly. I told them that judge, parties, witnesses, were all present, --that there could be no reason for not deciding the matter immediately, --that I must go the next day, --and that if my servant was detained, he would lose his situation, which would be very hard upon him if, on investigation, he appeared to be innocent.
They were obstinate. They returned no answer to my reasons, but threatened the judge, and repeated that my servant should not be tried for three days, and that he should be imprisoned in the meantime. I now saw that their object was to deprive him of his bread, whether he turned out to be guilty or innocent. I saw also that the gentle and reasoning tone of my expostulations made them impudent. They are in truth a race so much accustomed to be trampled on by the strong, that they always consider humanity as a sign of weakness. The judge told me that he never heard any gentleman speak such sweet words to the people in his life. But I was now at the end of my sweet words. My blood was beginning to boil at the undisguised display of rancorous hatred and shameless injustice. I sat down and wrote a line to the Commandant of the station, under whose control the administration of justice is placed. I begged him to give orders that the case might be tried that very evening. He instantly sent the necessary directions. The court assembled; and continued all night in violent contention. At last the judge pronounced my servant not guilty. I did not then know, what I learned some days after, that this respectable magistrate received twenty rupees as a bribe on the occasion.
The beaten party were furious, as you may imagine. The husband would gladly have taken the money which he had refused the day before. But I would not give him a farthing. The rascals who had raised the whole disturbance were furious at being disappointed of their revenge. I had no notion however that they would have gone to such lengths as they did go.
My servant was to set out at eleven in the morning. I was to follow at two. We had made this arrangement in order that he might arrive before me at the bungalow where I was to sleep, and might make everything ready. His palanquin had scarcely left the door when I heard a noise. I looked out. And I saw that the gang of blackguards who had pestered me the day before had attacked him, pulled him out, torn off his turban, stripped him almost naked, and were, as it seemed, about to pull him to pieces. I snatched up a sword-stick, and ran into the middle of them. It was all that I could do to force my way to him: and really, for a moment, I thought my own person in danger as well as his. But this was a mistake. Even in their rage, they retained a great respect for my race and station. I supported the poor wretch in my arms. For, like most of his countrymen, he is a chicken-hearted fellow, and was almost fainting away. They surrounded us storming, and shaking their fists, and would not suffer me to replace him in his palanquin. But my honest barber, a fine old soldier in the Company's army, and a great admirer of me, as soon as he saw me in this scrape, ran to the Governor General's and soon returned with some police officers. I ordered the bearers to turn round, and to proceed instantly to the house of Colonel Crewe, the Commandant.
I was not long detained here. Nothing can be well imagined more expeditious
than the administration of justice in this country when the judge is a
Colonel and the plaintiff a Councillor. I told my story in three words.
In three minutes the rioters were marched off to prison, and my servant
with a sepoy to guard him was fairly on his road and out of danger. Though
he is, I fear, a very worthless fellow, he seemed deeply affected by my
exertions in his defence. He cried, prostrated himself on the ground, and
put his turban into my hands. I had and have great doubts about his innocence
on this occasion. But I am sure that the persecution which he underwent
was prompted by religious malignity, and that the last attack on him, after
he had been legally acquitted, was a gross and intolerable outrage. I did
not then know that the judg had been corrupted: and even if I had known
it, such is that state of Indian morality that there would have been nothing
uncommon or disgraceful in the transaction.... Lord William and all the
party were surprised and indignant at the outrage which had taken place.
It is very seldom that such a thing happens in this country when an European
functionary of high rank is concerned. But the rabble of Ootacamund is
remarkable for profligacy, ferocity, and impudence....
We had to cross ten or twelve mountain streams which rose above the girdles of the men. The fog was thick around us. The rain poured down in torrents. I had a new publication of Theodore Hook's with me-- Love and Pride, --which I had picked up at a sale of some deceased officer's effects on the hills. This amused me while the daylight lasted. But we had to light torches long before we arrived at the bungalow where I was to sleep. I had slept here before in going up from Madras. I knew therefore how miserable the accommodations were: and I would gladly have gone on. But it is thought very dangerous to pass through the great jungle at night. And therefore I submitted to my fate. That fate might have been worse. A very honest friend of mine who has passed a year or more on the hills, Mr. Ironside, Member of the Council of Bombay, had very kindly, without telling me his intentions, sent a servant forward with provisions to cook me a dinner. I found a miserable barn with stone floor and naked walls. But I found also a heap of logs blazing, a beef-steak smoking, a bottle of ale bubbling, and another of Sherry by its side. I made a hearty dinner, finished a volume of my novel, and lay down in this wilderness. My bearers and my servant's bearers, twenty four in number altogether, slept round me without any partition between them and me....
The jungles of India are dreadfully unhealthy. It is necessary to run through them by day, and with all speed. Even a native who passes a night in them is in great danger of catching a bad fever. But though they are by no means salubrious, the scenery is gloriously beautiful. I was for several hours passing through a succession of spots which might have been parts of the garden of Eden. --Such gigantic trees I never saw. In a quarter of an hour I passed hundreds, the smallest of which would bear a comparison with any of those oaks which are shewn as prodigies in England. The grass, the weeds, and the wild flowers grew as high as my head....
We ran on all day and all the following night, stopping only once for half an hour at a bungalow where I made an excellent dinner on a biscuit, half a dozen fresh eggs, and a bottle of ale. I slept sound during the night. Indeed the motion of the palanquin and the peculiar chant of the bearers always have a very lulling effect on me. What they sang I could not imagine. There is a great difference in their note in different provinces. In the Mysore, I have since learned, they generally chant extemporaneous eulogies on the person whom they carry, interspersed at intervals with sounds between grunting and howling. Sir John Malcolm, who was unusually well acquainted with the native languages, made out the burden of one song which they sang while they carried him. "There is a fat hog-- a great fat hog-- how heavy it is-- hum-- shake him-- hum-- shake him well-- hum-- shake the fat hog-- hum." Whether they paid a similar compliment to me I cannot say. They might have done so, I fear, without any breach of veracity....
If I had to choose my place of residence in this part of the world it
should, I think, be Bangalore. The place stands three thousand feet or
more above the level of the sea. It is therefore agreeably cool during
the greater part of the year.... The situation is central... whoever holds
Bangalore holds India south of the Kistna from sea to sea. The society
is, I suppose, better than at any other place in the Presidency of Madras--
Madras itself excepted. There is a large military cantonment and an important
civil establishment. Many invalids also go up from the sea-coast for their
health. I do not find however that the mortality is smaller here than in
other parts of India. Indeed in this country caution is everything. The
care which people take of themselves in unhealthy places and seasons compensates
for the superior salubrity [=healthfulness] of other places and seasons.
Everybody at Calcutta leads the life of a valetudinarian [=semi-invalid],
eats, drinks, and sleeps by rule, notes all the smallest variations in
the state of his body, and would as soon cut his throat as expose himself
to the heat of the sun at noon. At Bangalore a man feels himself as healthful
and active as in England. He takes liberties. He drinks his two bottles
at night, walks two miles at twelve o'clock in the day, has a coup-de-soleil
[=sunstroke], --and is in the churchyard in twenty four hours....
On the evening of Tuesday the 16th I went on board the Broxbournebury. I was carried through the surf in a native boat. But I think I have already described all that to you. I was honoured with a farewell salute of fifteen guns from Fort St. George, and greeted by as many from the Broxbournebury.... I amused myself during this short voyage with learning Portuguese; and made myself as well or almost as well acquainted with it as I care to be. I read the Lusiad, and am now reading it a second time. I own that I am disappointed in it. But I have so often found my first impressions wrong on such subjects that I still hope to be able to join my voice to that of the great body of critics. I neve read any famous book which did not, on the first perusal, fall below my expectations, except Dante's poem and Don Quixote, which were prodigiously superior to what I had imagined. Yet in those cases I had not pitched my expectations low....
Captain Chapman... is a very good nativator, and manages to have the business of his ship done very well, with less noise and scolding than I ever heard even in much smaller vessels. He seems to be very humane and conscientious. But he is a shallow, fanatical fellow, a believer in the tongues, and in all similar fooleries. He brought out a missionary to Madras with whom he had long and fierce theological contests. He is famous for the care which he takes to prevent flirtations among the young ladies and gentlemen whom he carries out. They sat separate at table; and I was told at Madras that, in order to prevent them from giving any signs of partiality under the table, he had buckets, painted alternately white and green, into which all his passengers were forced to put their legs. This was a lie, as you may suppose. It is true, however, that he would not allow dancing, and that psalm-singing was the only amusement of the poor girls on board. He is, in short, a good sort of man who understands his profession, but who is not overburdened with brains....
The banks of the Hoogley were far prettier than I had expected. Indeed
I think that justice has never been done to them. They are low. But they
are of the richest green, well wooded, and sprinkled with pretty little
villages. They are far superior, I am sure, to the banks of the Thames
or the Humber. I was a little surprised to find Bengal more verdant than
Leicestershire in a moist April. But I came at the end of the rains; and
the bright, cheerful, silky green of the rice-fields was in all its beauty.
The least agreeable part of the scenery was the river itself. It comes
down black and turbid with the mud collected in the course of fifteen hundred
miles. For many leages out to sea the water of the Ocean is discoloured
by the filth which the innumerable mouths of the Ganges pour into it. The
Hoogley often brings down with it great masses of jungle, whole trees,
and acres of shrubs and brambles. We passed several of these floating islands.
But this is not the worst. The boiling coffee-coloured river swept several
naked corpses along close to our ship. This ghastly sight would once have
shocked me very much. But in India death and everything connected with
it become familiar subjects of contemplation. And habit is a much better
strengthener of the nerves than philosophy. Six months ago I could not
have believed that I should look on with composure while the crows were
feasting on a dead man within twenty yards of me. If we had taken one of
the fine houses at Garden Reach which are close to the river, we should
have been forced to keep a man whose only business would have been to push
away the corpses from our garden into the stream....
[Calcutta, October 17, 1834:] The view from my windows was not unlike that from the houses in Park Lane. There is a large space, covered with turf, intersected by roads, and with a few trees scattered about it, round which the finest houses of Calcutta are built. Suppose Hyde Park to be this space: for they are much of a size; suppose the Knightsbridge road to be the Hoogly: suppose Fort William to occupy the place of Kensington Gardens: then the Esplanade in which the Government House stands would answer to Park Land; and the Chowringhee Road in which our house is situated would answer to Connaught Terrace.... Behind the Esplanade, the Black Town, with a population of nearly half a million of souls, spreads for miles up the river.... I must premise that I am giving you only my first impressions, --that I know no more of the Black Town, --a town about three times as large as Liverpool, --than what I have seen in a drive by night through one great street, --and that, till the cold season comes, I am not likely to know more of it. I shall therefore tell you only what I think of the English Quarter of Calcutta....
The houses are all of stone or white plaster, with numerous windows, with a great display of Green Venetian blinds, and generally with porticos and verandahs. Considered as architectural compositions, they have separately no claims to admiration. But the size, the loftiness, the brilliant whiteness, and above all, the immense number of these large mansions, and the immense profusion of columns, though not always happily disposed, give a certain splendour to the general effect. The coup d'oeil [=visual effect] is not much unlike that of Regent's Park.
The houses are vilely arranged inside. The heat requires that the rooms should be large, and that they should therefore be few. But they all open into each other. There is seldom any way to your library but through your dining room or to your dining room but through your drawing room. The furniture of some of these palaces is deplorably shabby. Our friend Colonel Galloway, for example, who has a very lucrative place, has an immense house with absolutely nothing in it except old dirty matting, and chairs and tables of the meanest sort. The whole, I am convinced, would not sell for fifty pounds, and you would not like to furnish your servants' hall so.
But I forget one article of furniture which is unknown in England, but which is to be found in every room here, and which does much to break the vast size of the apartments. It is called a punkah. It is a long board, covered with canvas, and with a flounce like that of a lady's gown hanging from it. It is sometimes twenty feet long, I should think, and about three feet broad. It is hung from the ceiling, so that the fringe just touches the head of a tall man. A rope is fastened to it, which a servant pulls. This great board swings backward and forward, and fans the company most deliciously. Many people have punkahs over their beds, and keep servants pulling all night. The servant need not be in the room. A little hole is sometimes made in the door or the wall, and the rope is passed through.
Nancy [=Hannah] keeps her punkah pullers at work night and day. I often laugh at her about it. It is constantly: "Punkah-- Punkah tund-- (that is, pull the punkah hard) Punkah tund-- Jamildar-- Jamildar (The Jamildar is a head servant who speaks English) Jemildar-- tell the bearers that if they do not pull harder, I shall stop a rupee out of their month's wages." I bear the heat much better; and am so far from requiring a punkah at night that, unless people are sitting with me, I seldom have mine worked even in the hottest part of the day. But the moment poor Nancy steps into my room, she begins: "Qui hi? Qui hi? Punkah tund-- Punkah tund." Who is there? --Who is there? Pull the punkah-- pull the punkah. Qui hi? --Who is there? is the phrase universally used in Bengal to summon Servants. We have no bells, and our servants always lie in the antechambers and passages within call. The Calcutta people are called, all over India, the Qui His. I had often heard the nickname in England; but never understood its meaning.
As I am rambling on in this way, I may as well tell you about the language. The servants at Madras, at Bangalore, and at Ootacamund, have very generally a smattering of English. It seems odd that English should be less cultivated at Calcutta, the seat of Government. But the fact is so. There is a dislike generally felt here towards native attendants who know our language. And certainly it must be allowed that it is pleasant to be able to say what you will at table without fearing the tongues of servants. The servants indeed are so constantly about us here-- fanning us-- pulling punkahs-- and so forth-- that if they understood all that we might say, we should be under constant restraint. Hannah gets on very well with Hindostanee. Indeed she has been nearly four months at Calcutta. I have only got some of the commonest phrases, of which that most in requisition is "Coop tunda pawnee." "Very cold water." Hannah's knowledge of the language has been a hindrance to me. For at breakfast, or when we ride out, she acts as interpreter. When I am by myself I make rapid proficiency [=progress]....
My life is passed thus. I rise at six in the morning, and am forthwith attended by two servants-- one with a razor and shaving-box-- the other with a piece of dry toast and a large cup of coffee. Having been shaved, and having drunk my coffee, I walk for an hour about the portico. I then read or write and dress. At nine I go up to Nancy's sitting room where we breakfast. Three servants wait on us. Another sits on the ground at a distance pulling a punkah over our heads. A tailor is squatted near the punkah-puller in a corner, making up our liveries. These you must understand are not the servants of the Government House, but our own. The room is about twice as large and twice as high as the drawing room in Ormond Street. It has three great windows down to the ground with Venetian blinds, --and three great doors opposite the windows and answering to them in size. These doors are left open for air. The furniture is neat but scanty. One table-- one sofa-- two or three chairs-- are the whole. The floor is covered with a very neat matting which is generally used here. It consists of long stripes, alternately light and dark.
Our breakfast is that of England with the addition of rice, fish, and an omelette. At breakfast the Bengal Papers come in; and we snatch them up eagerly to see whether there are any new arrivals from our dear country. We talk, and laugh, and sometimes read a little: but soon it is time to pay or receive calls, and we are forced to separate.
I have every day many visitors. I have had so many as forty in one morning. Most of the principal people have now been introduced to me: so that I begin to have a little rest. On the alternate mornings I go out for two or three hours to return these calls. Happily the good people here are too busy to be at home. Except the parsons, they are all usefully employed somewhere or other; so that I have only to leave cards. But the reverend gentlemen are always within doors in the heat of the day, lying on their backs-- regretting breakfast, longing for tiffin, and crying out "Punkah tune" and "Lemonade Serbeg." I have not been so lucky as to find one of them "Not at home.".... In general I read and write till past five, when the carriages come to the door for the afternoon airing.
This drive is never omitted by anybody at Calcutta who can afford to keep a carriage, except when the rain renders it impossible to stir out. Our party generally consists of Lady William, Nancy, and myself. We are attended by two of the governor general's body-guard, in blazing uniforms and with drawn swords. It is certainly very agreeable and refreshing, particularly after a warm day.... What I complain of is that there is no variety of places to ride in. The course is too much crowded to be pleasant; and I begin to be tired of going over it day after day.
At seven we come back and retire to dress. At eight the evening gun fires and dinner is put on the table. The dining room is a very splendid hall of marble, opening into a semicircular portico. It is delightfully cool. The meat and the crockery are much better than at Madras, and might indeed be considered as very good in London. Fish is the article which a gourmand would regret most.... But the gardeners here succeed very well in peas, beans, cauliflowers, asparagus, and many other vegetables. I remember, when I was a child, that I had a notion of its being the most exquisite of all enjoyments to eat plantains and yams, and to drink palm-wine. How I envied my father for having enjoyed those luxuries! I have now enjoyed them all; and I have found, like much greater men on much more important occasions, that all is vanity. A plantain is very like a rotten pear-- so like that I would lay twenty to one that a person blindfolded would not discover the difference. A yam is better. It is like an indifferent potato. If I could not procure potatoes, I should be glad to have yams.
I tasted palm wine in perfection at Ennore-- a pretty village near Madras where I slept one night. I told Captain Barron that I had been curious to try that liquor ever since I first saw, eight or nine and twenty years ago, the picture of the niggur climbing the tree in Winterbottom's [book on] Sierra Leone. The next morning at five I was roused by a servant with a large bowl of juice fresh from the tree. This is the time and the way of drinking it: for if it be kept a few hours it becomes a very intoxicating, and to Englishmen a very nauseous, beverage. I drank it and thought it very like ginger beer in which the ginger had been very sparingly used. I have no wish to repeat the dose....
Our party always consists of six or eight people. For the aides-de-camp and inmates of the Government House are alone sufficient to make up that number. We generally have several other guests. After dinner we adjourn to the drawing room, take coffee, and very soon disperse to our own apartments.
Shortly after Macaulay reached India, his beloved sister Margaret (Mrs. Edward Cropper), to whom these letters were written, died unexpectedly of scarlet fever; but he didn't learn of her death until the beginning of 1835. This terrible shock affected him for the rest of his time in India; he wrote no more letters of such length, charm, intimacy, and liveliness as these.
These letters have been considerably abridged and slightly edited for
classroom use by FWP. A few archaic spellings have been modernized, a few
errors of punctuation adjusted. Editorial annotations are in square brackets.
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