I extract the following few lines from a well known literary journal as a kind of excuse for venturing, unasked, upon a scrap of autobiography. As long as critics content themselves with bedevilling one's style, discovering that one's slang is "vulgar," and one's attempts at drollery “failures,” one should, methinks, listen silently to their ideas of "gentility," and accept their definitions of wit,-reserving one's own opinion upon such subjects. For the British author in this, our modern day, engages himself as Clown in a great pantomime, to be knocked down, and pulled up, slashed, tickled and buttered a discretion for the benefit of a manual-pleasantry-loving Public. So it would be weakness in him to complain of bruised back, scored elbows and bumped head. Besides, the treatment you receive varies prodigiously according to the temper and the manifold influences from without that operate upon the gentleman that operates upon you. For instance-
"Tis a failure at being funny," says surly
Aristarchus, when, for some reason or other, he dislikes you or your publisher.
"It is a smart book," opines another, who has no particular reason to be your friend.
"Narrated with freshness of thought," declares a third, who takes an honest pride in "giving the devil his due."
"Very clever," exclaims the amiable critic, who for some reason or other likes you or your publisher.
"There is wit and humour in these pages," says the gentleman who has some particular reason to be your friend.
"Evinces considerable talent."
And, "There is genius in this book," declare the dear critics who in any way identify themselves or their interests with you.
Now for the extract,
" Mr. Burton was, it appears, stationed for five years in Scinde with his regiment, and it is due to him to say, that he has set a good example to his fellow-subalterns by pursuing so diligently his inquiries into the language, literature and customs of the native population by which he was surrounded. We are far from accepting all his doctrines on questions of Eastern policy especially as regards the treatment of natives; but we are sensible of the value of the additional evidence which he has brought forward on many important questions. For a young man, he seems to have adopted some very extreme opinions; and it is perhaps not too much to say, that the fault from which he has most to fear, not only as an author, but as an Indian officer, is, a disregard of those well-established rules of moderation which no one can transgress with impunity."
The greatest difficulty a raw writer on Indian subjects has to contend with, is a proper comprehension of the ignorance crasse which besets the mind of the home-reader and his oracle the critic. What a knowledge these lines do show of the opportunity for study presented to the Anglo-Indian subaltern serving with his corps! During the few months when I did duty with mine, we were quartered at Gharra, a heap of bungalows surrounded by a wall of milk-bush; on a sandy flat, near a dirty village whose timorous inhabitants shunned us as walking pestilences. No amount of domiciliary visitings would have found a single Scindian book in the place, except the accounts of the native shopkeepers; and, to the best of my remembrance, there was not a soul who could make himself intelligible in the common medium of Indian intercourse,-Hindostani. An ensign stationed in Dover Castle might write Ellis's Antiquities; a sous-lieutenant with his corps at Boulogne might compose the Legendaire de la Morinie, but Gharra was sufficient to paralyse the readiest pen that ever coursed over foolscap paper.
Now, waiving with all due modesty the unmerited compliment of "good boy," so gracefully tendered to me, I proceed to the judgment which follows it, my imminent peril of "extreme opinions." If there be any value in the "additional evidence" I have "brought forward on important questions," the reader may, perchance, be curious to know how that evidence was collected. So without further apology, I plunge into the subject.
After some years of careful training for the church in the north and south of France, Florence, Naples and the University of Pisa, I found myself one day walking the High Street, Oxford, with all the emotions which a Parisian exquisite of the first water would experience on awaking at 3 P.M.,-in "Dandakaran's tangled wood."
To be brief, my "college career" was highly unsatisfactory. I began a "reading man," worked regularly twelve hours a day, failed in everything-chiefly, I flattered myself, because Latin hexameters and Greek iambics had not entered into the list of my studies,-threw up the classics, and returned to old habits of fencing, boxing, and single-stick, handling the "ribbons," squiring dames, and sketching facetiously, though not wisely, the reverend features and figures of certain half-reformed monks, calling themselves "fellows." My reading also ran into bad courses,-Erpenius, Zadkiel, Falconry, Cornelius Agrippa, and the Art of Pluck.
At last the Affghan war broke out. After begging the paternal authority in vain for the Austrian service, the Swiss guards at Naples, and even the Legion etrangere, I determined to leave Oxford, coute qui coute. The testy old lady, Alma Mater, was easily persuaded to consign, for a time, to "country nursing" the froward brat who showed not a whit of filial regard for her. So, after two years, I left Trinity without a "little go" in a high dog-cart,-a companion in misfortune too-tooing lustily through a "yard of tin," as the dons stared up from their game of bowls to witness the departure of the forbidden vehicle. Thus having thoroughly established the fact that I was fit for nothing but to be "shot at for sixpence a day," and as those Affghans (how I blessed their name!) had cut gaps in many a regiment, the "relieving officer" thought proper to provide me with a commission in the Indian army, and to start me as quickly as feasible for the "land of the sun."
So, my friends and fellow soldiers, I may address you in the words of the witty thief,-slightly altered from Gil Blas, Blessings on the dainty pow of the old Dame who turned me out of her house; for had she shown clemency I should now doubtless be a dyspeptic don, instead of which I have the honour to be a lieutenant, your comrade.
As the Bombay pilot sprang on board, Twenty Mouths agape over the gangway, all asked one and the same question. Alas! the answer was a sad one! - the Afghans had been defeated - the Avenging Army had retreated-peace was restored to Asia! The Twenty Mouths all ejaculated a something unfit for ears polite.
To a mind thoroughly impressed with the sentiment that
“Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long,"
the position of an ensign in the Hon. E.I. Company's Service is a very satisfactory one. He has a horse or two, part of a house, a pleasant mess, plenty of pale ale, as much shooting as he can manage, and an occasional invitation -to a dance, where there are thirty-two cavaliers to three dames, or to a dinner party when a chair unexpectedly falls vacant. But some are vain enough to want more, and of these fools was I.
In India two roads lead to preferment. The direct highway is "service;"- getting a flesh wound, cutting down a brace of natives, and doing something eccentric, so that your name may creep into a despatch. The other path, study of the languages, is a rugged and tortuous one, still you have only to plod steadily along its length, and, sooner or later, you must come to a staff appointment. Bien entendu, I suppose you to be destitute of or deficient in Interest whose magic influence sets down you at once, a heaven-born staff officer, at the goal which others must toil to reach.
A dozen lessons from Professor Forbes and a native servant on board the John Knox, enabled me to land with eclat as a griff, and to astonish the throng of palanquin bearers that jostled, pushed, and pulled me at the pier head, with the vivacity and nervousness of my phraseology. And I spent the first evening in company with one Dossabhoee Sorabjee, a white-bearded Parsee, who, in his quality of language-master had vernacularized the tongues of Hormuzd knows how many generations of Anglo-Indian subalterns.
The corps to which I was appointed, was then in country quarters at Baroda in the land of Guzerat; the journey was a long one, the difficulty of finding good instructors there was great, so was the expense, moreover fevers abounded, and, lastly, it was not so easy to obtain leave of absence to visit the Presidency, where candidates for the honours of language are examined. These were serious obstacles to success; they were surmounted however in six months, at the end of which time I found myself in the novel position of "passed interpreter in Hindostani."
My success, for I had distanced a field of eleven, encouraged me to a second attempt, and though I had to front all the difficulties over again, in four months my name appeared in orders as qualified to interpret in the Guzerattee tongue.
Meanwhile the Ameers of Scinde had exchanged their palaces at Hyderabad for other quarters not quite so comfortable at Hazareebagh, and we were ordered up to the Indus for the pleasant purpose of acting police there. Knowing the conqueror's chief want, a man who could speak a word of his pet conquests' vernacular dialect, I had not been a week at Kurrachee before I found a language-master and a book. But the study was undertaken in vita Minerva. We were quartered in tents, duststorms howled over us daily, drills and brigade parades were never ending, and, as I was acting interpreter to my regiment, courts martial of dreary length occupied the best part of my time. Besides, it was impossible to work in such an atmosphere of discontent. The seniors abhorred the barren desolate spot, with all its inglorious perils of fever, spleen, dysentery, and congestion of the brain, the juniors grumbled in sympathy, and the staff officers, ordered up to rejoin the corps-it was on field service-complained bitterly of having to quit their comfortable appointments in more favoured lands without even a campaign in prospect. So when, a month or two after landing in the country, we were transferred from Kurrachee to Gharra-purgatory to the other locale-I threw aside Scindee for Maharattee, hoping, by dint of reiterated examinations, to escape the place of torment as soon as possible. It was very like studying Russian in an English country town; however, with the assistance of Molesworth's. excellent dictionary, and the regimental Pundit, or schoolmaster, I gained some knowledge of the dialect, and proved myself duly qualified in it at Bombay. At the same time a brother subaltern and I had jointly leased a Persian Moonshee, one Mirza Mohammed Hosayn of Shiraz, - poor fellow, after passing through the fires of Scinde unscathed, he returned to his delightful land for a few weeks to die there! -and we laid the foundation of a lengthened course of reading in that most elegant of oriental languages.
Now it is a known fact that a good staff appointment has the general effect of doing away with one's bad opinion of any place whatever. So when, by the kindness of a friend whose name his modesty prevents my mentioning, the Governor of Scinde was persuaded to give me the temporary appointment of Assistant in the Survey, I began to look with interest upon the desolation around me. The country was a new one, so was its population, so was their language. After reading all the works published upon the subject, I felt convinced that none but Mr. Crow and Capt. J. McMurdo had dipped beneath the superficies of things. My new duties compelled me to spend the cold season in wandering over the districts, levelling the beds of canals, and making preparatory sketches for a grand survey. I was thrown so entirely amongst the people as to depend upon them for society, and the "dignity," not to mention the increased allowances of a staff officer, enabled me to collect a fair stock of books, and to gather around me those who could make them of any use. So, after the first year, when I had Persian at my fingers' ends, sufficient Arabic to read, write, and converse fluently, and a superficial knowledge of that dialect of Punjaubee which is spoken in the wilder parts of the province, I began the systematic study of the Scindian people, their manners and their tongue.
The first difficulty was to pass for an Oriental, and this was as necessary as it was difficult. The European official in India seldom, if ever sees anything in its real light, so dense is the veil which the fearfulness, the duplicity, the prejudice and the superstitions of the natives hang before his eyes. And the white man lives a life so distinct from the black, that hundreds of the former serve through what they call their "term of exile," without once being present at a circumcision feast, a wedding, or a funeral. More especially the present generation, whom the habit and the means of taking furloughs, the increased facility for enjoying ladies' society, and, if truth be spoken, a greater regard for appearances if not a stricter code of morality, estrange from their dusky fellow subjects every day and day the more. After trying several characters, the easiest to be assumed was, I found, that of a half Arab, half Iranian, such as may be met with in thousands along the northern shore of the Persian Gulf. The Scindians would have detected in a moment the difference between my articulation and their town, had I attempted to speak their vernacular dialect, but they attributed the accent to my strange country, as naturally as a home-bred Englishman would account for the bad pronunciation of a foreigner calling himself partly Spanish, partly Portuguese. Besides, I knew the countries along the Gulf by heart from books, I had a fair knowledge of the Shieh form of worship prevalent in Persia, and my poor Moonshee was generally at hand to support me in times of difficulty, so that the danger of being detected,-even by a "real Simon Pure,"-was a very inconsiderable one.
With hair falling upon his shoulders, a long beard, face and hands, arms and feet, stained with a thin coat of henna, Mirza Abdullah of Bushire-your humble servant, gentle reader -set out upon many and many a trip. He was a Bazzaz, a vender of fine linen, calicoes and muslins ,;-such chapmen are sometimes admitted to display their wares even in the sacred harem by “fast" and fashionable dames;-and he had a little pack of bijouterie and virtu reserved for emergencies. It was only, however, when absolutely necessary that he displayed his stock-in-trade; generally, he contented himself with alluding to it on all possible occasions, boasting largely of his traffic, and asking a thousand questions concerning the state of the market. Thus he could walk into most men's houses quite without ceremony;-even if the master dreamed of kicking him out, the mistress was sure to oppose such measure with might and main. He secured numberless invitations, was proposed to by several papas, and won, or had to think he won, a few hearts; for he came as a rich man and he stayed with dignity, and he departed exacting all the honours. When wending his ways he usually urged a return of visit in the morning, but he was seldom to be found at the caravanserai he specified-was Mirza Abdullah the Bushiri.
The timid villagers collected in crowds to see a kind of Frank in a sort of Oriental dress, riding spear in hand, and pistols in holsters, towards the little encampment pitched near their settlements. But regularly every evening on the line of march the Mirza issued from his tent and wandered amongst them, collecting much information and dealing out more concerning an ideal master,-the Feringhee supposed to be sitting in state amongst the Moonshees, the Scribes, the servants, the wheels, the chains, the telescopes and the other magical implements in which the camp abounded. When travelling, the Mirza became this mysterious person's factotum; and often had he to answer the question how much his perquisites and illicit gains amounted to in the course of the year.
When the Mirza arrived at a strange town, his first step was to secure a house in or near the bazaar, for the purpose of evening conversazioni. Now and then he rented a shop and furnished it with clammy dates, viscid molasses, tobacco, ginger, rancid oil and strong-smelling sweetmeats; and wonderful tales Fame told about these establishments. Yet somehow or other, though they were more crowded than a first-rate milliner's rooms in Town, they throve not in a pecuniary point of view; the cause of which was, I believe, that the polite Mirza was in the habit of giving the heaviest possible weight for their money to all the ladies,-particularly the pretty ones,-that honoured him by patronizing his concern.
Sometimes the Mirza passed the evening in a mosque listening to the ragged students who, stretched at full length with their stomachs on the dusty floor, and their arms supporting their heads, mumbled out Arabic from the thumbed, soiled, and tattered pages of theology upon which a dim oil light shed its scanty ray, or he sat debating the niceties of faith with the long-bearded, shaven-pated, blear-eyed and stolid faced genius loci, the Mullah. At other times, when in merrier mood, he entered uninvited the first door, whence issued the sounds of music and the dance; -a clean turban and a polite bow are the best "tickets for soup " the East knows. Or he played chess with some native friend, or he consorted with the hemp-drinkers and opium-eaters in the estaminets, or he visited the Mrs. Gadabouts and Go-betweens who make matches amongst the Faithful, and gathered from them a precious budget of private history and domestic scandal.
What scenes he saw! what adventures he went through! But who would believe, even if he ventured to detail them?
The Mirza's favourite school for study was the house of an elderly matron on the banks of the Fulailee River, about a mile from the Fort of Hyderabad. Khanum Jan had been a beauty in her youth, and the tender passion had been hard upon her, at least judging from the fact that she had fled her home, her husband, and her native town, Candahar, in company with Mohammed Bakhsh, a purblind old tailor, the object of her warmest affections.
“Ah, he is a regular old hyaena now," would the Joan exclaim in her outlandish Persian, pointing to the venerable Darby as he sat at squat in the cool shade, nodding his head and winking his eyes over a pair of pantaloons which took him a month to sew, “a regular old hyeana now, but you should have seen him fifteen years ago, what a wonderful youth he was!”
The knowledge of one mind is that of a million-after a fashion. I addressed myself particularly to that of "Darby ;" and many an hour of tough thought it took me before I had mastered its truly Oriental peculiarities, its regular irregularities of deduction, and its strange monotonous one-idea'dness.
Khanum Jan's house was a mud edifice occupying one side of a square formed by tall, thin, crumbling mud walls. The respectable matron's peculiar vanity was to lend a helping hand in all manner of affaires du coeur. So it often happened that Mirza Abdullah was turned out of the house to pass a few hours in the garden. There he sat upon his felt rug spread beneath a shadowy tamarind, with beds of sweet-smelling basil around him, his eyes roving over the broad river that coursed rapidly between its wooded banks and the groups gathered at the frequent ferries, whilst the soft strains of mysterious, philosophical, transcendental Hafiz were sounded in his ears by the other Meerza, his companion, Mohammed Hosayn-peace be upon him!
Of all economical studies this course was the cheapest. For tobacco daily, for frequent draughts of milk, for hemp occasionally, for the benefit of Khanum Jan's experience, for four months' lectures from Mohammed Bakhsh, and for sundry other little indulgences, the Mirza paid, it is calculated, the sum of six shillings. When he left Hyderabad, he gave a silver talisman to the dame, and a cloth coat to her protector: long may they live to wear them!
Thus it was I formed my estimate of the native character. I am as ready to reform it when a man of more extensive experience and greater knowledge of the subject will kindly show me how far it transgresses the well-established limits of moderation. As yet I hold, by way of general rule, that the Eastern mind I talk of the nations known to me by personal experience - is always in extremes; that it ignores what is meant by "golden mean," and that it delights to range in flights limited only by the ne plus ultra of Nature herself. Under which conviction I am open to correction.
In conclusion, a word with the critic about his "particular mode of spelling Indian proper names." As long as the usus ”Quem penes arbitrium eat et jus, et norms loquendi," spells or mispells Mecca, Delhi and Bombay after its own arbitrary fashion, so long from maps, reports and works intended for popular use, it will reject Makkeh or Mukku, Dihli or Dihlee, Mombai or Bombaee. This is only reasonable; why should we write Naples "Napoli" or Austria "Oesterreich ?" Besides the vulgar one, there are two systems for Romanizing the Oriental alphabet: that of Sir W. Jones,-as he proposed it, or as it has been modified by later authorities,- elegant enough and scholar-like, but unintelligible to any save the linguist; and secondly, Dr. Gilchrist's "Ultimatum," clumsy, unsightly and, withal, uncommonly hard to be understood. We require another, free from the defects of its predecessors, but how the want is to be supplied I know not.
En attendant, in a work intended for the general reader, I write the word as he would write it himself, were it read out to him, and as he would find it in his map, "Scinde." When composing for the Orientalist, that is or is about to be, I adopt the common modification of Sir W. Jones's system as used by the Indian lexicographers, and indite the name Sindh or Sindhu. And I venture to opine that the brain which finds any absurd confusion in these two different ways must be itself the generator of that absurdity and confusion.
I conclude as I began, with ascribing this introduction of irrelevant matter, upon a very uninteresting subject, to the "extreme opinions" formed, one is puzzled to say where, but propounded with much majesty by king WE from his proper throne-the four legged stool.
And so, long-suffering reader, fare thee well !