This text itself, like so many treasures, comes to us from *Project Gutenberg*, in their usual plain-vanilla format. And really, the Project Gutenbert scanners and editors did an excellent job: typos were held to an absolute minimum. Their process sacrificed William Crooke's diacritics (which take the form of long-vowel macrons only), but his transliteration system is really very good, so anybody who knows the language will have no trouble recognizing words from his renderings in the notes. (I dug out my own old Indian-reprint edition for comparison, and verified any doubtful cases.) On this text I've done no editing whatsoever. The spellings, the punctuation, the paragraphing, everything has been left intact.

A number of Crooke's footnotes had the form "See page x." If page x in the book contained a particularly relevant footnote that was clearly the one intended, I simply copied that note in lieu of the page direction. But sometimes the reference was obviously to material in the page itself. So in that case, I supplied the relevant page numbers in double brackets beside the page number, to make it easy to go to that chapter and roughly locate the relevant material (since it wasn't always clear exactly which points, or how much, might be intended, and I didn't want to prejudge the question by inserting anchors). It also occurs to me that people might on some occasions want to locate material in the letters through page references in printed sources, so here's the relevant basic information:

Letter 1: pp. 1-16 Letter 2: pp. 17-31 Letter 3: pp. 32-41
Letter 4: pp. 42-54 Letter 5: pp. 55-65 Letter 6: pp. 66-81
Letter 7: pp. 82-97 Letter 8: pp. 98-111 Letter 9: pp. 112-134
Letter 10: pp. 135-139 Letter 11: pp. 140-162 Letter 12: pp. 163-178
Letter 13: pp. 179-194 Letter 14: pp. 195-209 Letter 15: pp. 210-227
Letter 16: pp. 228-247 Letter 17: pp. 248-257 Letter 18: pp. 258-273
Letter 19: pp. 274-288 Letter 20: pp. 289-303 Letter 21: pp. 304-323
Letter 22: pp. 324-333 Letter 23: pp. 334-347 Letter 24: pp. 348-369
Letter 25: pp. 370-386 Letter 26: pp. 387-399 Letter 27: pp. 400-425

Crooke's edition, often reissued in facsimile reprints, is the only one in circulation, so those page numbers should prove accurate.

Crooke says in his introduction, "Mrs. Mir Hasan 'Ali, to judge from the way in which she transliterates native words, can have been able to speak little more than a broken patois, knew little of grammar, and was probably unable to read or write the Arabic character." I'm inclined to agree with him, since her transliterations are not only casual phonetic transcreations with no grounding in the script, but are also sometimes actively misleading. However, it does seem that she had some knowledge of the script: at the end of Letter 21, while describing the virtues of the bamboo, she adds, "I must not omit that even the writing-paper on which I first practised the Persian character was manufactured from the bamboo."

Mrs. Meer Hassan Ali is fascinating company: what she does know, and what she doesn't know, form a variegated and endlessly suggestive tapestry. Her threefold sense of superiority-- she is a European, a Christian, and a rational and educated person-- is frequently on view. But it's balanced by two countervailing feelings. The first is her obviously genuine affection and respect for many of the people among whom she lived, especially her father-in-law. And the second is, piquantly enough, her sense of social class: she is a lady, and "Native gentlemen" are gentlemen too, so that a sense of shared superiority often overrides religious and cultural differences. A particularly striking example of this attitude occurs in Letter 26, in which "a Native gentleman of our family" rescues a poor woman suspected of witchcraft from "the rough treatment of a lawless rabble." The rabble respond to the presence of a superior: "His appearance amongst them produced the desired effect, they were silenced by his command," and he was able to defuse the situation.

Mrs. Meer Hassan Ali is, as Crooke observes, for the most part extremely reticent about her personal and family circumstances; he provides us with all the background information he can obtain. She herself surely had a quiet, detached temperament. In Letter 19, about her stay of two years in the dilapidated old fort of Kannauj she says, "The quiet calm of this habitation, unbroken by the tumultuous sounds of a city, was so congenial to my taste, that when obliged to quit it, I felt almost as much regret as when I heard that the rains had destroyed the place which had been to me a home of peaceful enjoyment." Now the erosion of time has destroyed much of the rest of her world as well. But her letters, in which she took such a diffident pride (see the end of Letter 27), have a new home in the interconnected ethereal city we're all building together. They can now receive friendly visits from new readers around the world.

Frances Pritchett
March 2005


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