Imagens das páginas
[blocks in formation]

have been able to comprehend, either his writings or his actions, his policy was precisely that which we must eventually follow if we desire to remain masters of India. Sir John Malcolm advocated the utmost forbearance towards the native princes, was most anxious that they should be treated with consideration, and desired, above all things, that in our dealings with them we should not only be just but merciful. At the same time he felt, and, indeed, could not avoid feeling, that our duties as a great nation by no means consisted in consulting the humours of nawabs and rajahs, but that, besides what might be due to ourselves, we had carefully to consider what was due to the people of India, invariably oppressed and rendered miserable when subjected to the sway of those rulers.

Latterly the conscience of the country has been a good deal disturbed by highly coloured pictures of our warlike proceedings in India. We have been represented as a conquering caste overthrowing venerable institutions with the sword, and violently putting an end to mild and paternal governments. We profoundly reverence the solicitude of the public, that things should not be so. Lord Ellenborough no doubt was guilty of very extraordinary caprices; but, with the exception of these, there is no act of our Indian government which might not be clearly shown to be for the advantage of mankind. Properly to estimate what we have already effected for India, it is necessary to understand the state of society which existed all over the country before we became masters of it, and which, in spite of all our efforts, exist still in many parts, and will long continue to defy our utmost vigilance. Colonel Sleeman supplies numerous illustrations both of the weakness of the former governments, and of the fearful demoralisation of the people, which may be regarded as one of its necessary


It would not, however, be dealing fairly with the subject were we to confine ourselves to the political impotence of the native rulers. That might, perhaps, be regarded rather as their misfortune than their fault. They were active perpetrators of iniquity, and still are wherever the power to be so remains with them. Not content with the revenues which the most refined arts of extortion can wring from their subjects, they constantly keep in their pay gangs of robbers and murderers, who spread themselves over the whole surface of India to commit crimes and collect booty, with which they retreat to the territories of their patrons, who afford them protection for a share of the spoil. These organised bands of criminals abound more especially in Central India, whence they issue perpetually to spread assassination and terror through the neighbouring districts of the Company's territories.

It was remarked long ago, by a very accurate observer of human society, that the vices of the great constitute the patterns which minor villains copy. It cannot accordingly surprise us to find,. that where princes do not refuse to profit by offences, which in civilised communities would bring both principals and accessories to a shameful death, the lax and profligate of inferior grades should imitate their example. The great travelling gangs of stabbers and poisoners maintained by the sovereigns excite the envy of their ambitious subjects, who tread diligently in their footsteps. Consequently assassins of various kinds prevail everywhere. Sometimes, when circumstances render it practicable, they club their courage and ingenuity, and do business on a large scale; sometimes, when their means are limited, their operations are carried on by a few partners; and occasionally, when the stars are exceedingly unpropitious, they take to the road singly or in families, and inflict upon their honest neighbours what suffering or sorrow they can. We know that not two centuries ago, the passion for poisoning prevailed widely in a neighbouring country, infecting even ladies of the highest rank, and urging them into crimes which, in some cases, were expiated on the scaffold. It will therefore scarcely surprise us to behold destitute and desperate persons, among a people besotted by the worst of superstitions, which has almost obliterated from the mind the distinction between vice and virtue, perpetrating deeds which make us shudder with horror. Colonel Sleeman's book is full of examples of such atrocities, which deserve, all of them, public attention, because they are to be imputed in part to the religion, but chiefly to the native governments of the Hindús. We select a single example, which may be regarded as one of the most touching narratives of the kind ever laid before the public:

"People of great sensibility with hearts overcharged with sorrow, often appear cold and callous to those who seem to feel no interest in their afflictions. An instance of the kind I will here mention; it is one of the thousand I have met with in my Indian rambles. It was mentioned to me one day that an old Fakeer, who lived in a small hut close by a little shrine on the side of the road near the town of Moradabad, had lately lost his son, poisoned by a party of Dhutooreeas, or professional poisoners, that now infest every road throughout India. I sent for him and requested him to tell me his story, as I might perhaps be able to trace the murderers. He did so, and a Persian writer took it down, while I listened with all the coldness of a magistrate who wanted merely to learn facts, and have nothing whatever to do with feelings. This is his story literally:

"I reside in my hut by the side of the road, a mile and a half from the town, and live upon the bounty of travellers and people of the sur

[blocks in formation]

rounding villages. About six weeks ago I was sitting by the side of my shrine after saying prayers, with my only son, about ten years of age, when a man came up with his wife, his son, and his daughter, the one a little older, and the other a little younger, than my boy. They baked and ate their bread near my shrine, and gave me flour enough to make two cakes. This I prepared and baked. My boy was hungry and ate one cake and a half; I ate only a half one, for I was not hungry. I had a few days before purchased a new blanket for my boy, and it was hanging in the branch of a tree that shaded the shrine, when these people came. My son and I soon became stupified. I saw him fall asleep, and I soon followed. I awoke again in the evening and found myself in a pool of water. I had sense enough to crawl towards my boy. I found him still breathing; and I sat by him with his head in my lap, where he soon died. It was now evening, and I got up and wandered about all night picking up straws, I know not why, I was not yet quite sensible. During the night the wolves ate my poor boy. I heard this from travellers, and went and gathered up his bones and buried them in the shrine. I did not quite recover till the third day, when I found that some washerwomen had put me in the pool, and left me there with my head out, in hopes that this would revive me; but they had no hope of my son. I was then taken to the police of the town; but the landholders had begged me to say nothing about the poisoners, lest it might get them and the village community into trouble. The man was tall and fair, and about thirty-five, the woman short, stout, and fair, and about thirty; two of her teeth projected a good deal; the boy's eyelids were much diseased.'

"All this he told me without the slightest appearance of emotion, for he had not seen any appearance of it in me or my Persian writer, and a casual European observer would perhaps have exclaimed, 'What brutes these natives are! the fellow feels no more for the loss of his only son than he would for that of a goat!' But I knew the feeling was there. The Persian writer put up his paper and closed his inkstand, and the following dialogue, word for word, took place between me and the old man.

"Question.- What made you conceal the real cause of your boy's death, and tell the police that he had been killed as well as eaten by wolves?'

"Answer. -The landholders told me that they could never bring back my boy to life, and the whole village would be worried to death by them if I made any mention of the poison.'

“Question.—And if they were to be punished for this they would annoy you?'

"Answer. Certainly; but I believe they advised me for my own good as well as their own.'

"Question. And if they should turn you away from that place, you not make another?"


“Ånswer.—' Are not the bones of my poor boy there; and the trees that he and I planted and watched together for ten years?"

"Question. Have you no other relations? What became of your boy's mother?"

"Answer. She died at that place when my boy was only three months old. I have brought him up from that age; he was my only child, and he has been poisoned for the sake of the blanket!' (Here the poor old man sobbed as if his heart-strings would break, and I was obliged to make him sit down on the floor while I walked up and down the room.)

"Question.-'Had you any children before?'

"Answer.-"Yes, sir. We had several, but they all died before their mother. We had been reduced to beggary by misfortunes, and I had become too weak and ill to work. I buried my poor wife's bones by the side of the road where she died, raised the little shrine over them, planted the trees, and there have I sat ever since by her side, with our poor boy in my bosom. It is a sad place for wolves, and we used often to hear them howling outside; but my poor boy was never afraid of them when he knew I was near him: God preserved him to me, till the sight of the new blanket, for I had nothing else in the world, made these people poison us! I bought it for him only a few days before, when the rains were coming on, out of my savings, it was all I had.' (The poor old man sobbed again and sat down while I paced the room, lest I should sob also; my heart was becoming a little too large for its apartment.) I will never,' continued he, 'quit the bones of my wife and child, and the tree that he and I watered for so many years. have not many years to live; there will I spend them, whatever the landholders may do-they advised me for my own good, and will never turn

me out.'


"I found all the poor man stated to be true; the man and his wife had mixed poison with the flour to destroy the poor old man and his son, for the sake of the new blanket, which they saw hanging in the branch of the tree and carried away with them."

The above anecdote may be said to exemplify at once the evil and the good side of the Hindú character. We shall now extract a passage which, though it may give rise to regret, that a people, in whom feelings so kindly prevail, should be subjected to the sway of so frightful a superstition, will at the same time exhibit to us the manner in which they sometimes contrive to extract a blessing, out of what in itself must be regarded as a curse. Every body has heard of the numerous pilgrimages undertaken by our Hindú subjects, often, no doubt, to gratify the passion for a wandering life, often from much worse motives. Occasionally, however, the devotee is sent forth on his long and weary errand by feelings of which the noblest people on earth might be justly proud. Colonel Sleeman supplies us with a short relation of the pilgrimage of a whole family, prompted by these better motives, which our readers will, doubtless, be glad to find here.

"One morning the old Jemadar, the marriage of whose mango-grove with the Jasmine I have already described, brought his two sons and a nephew to pay their respects to me on their return to Jubbulpoor from a pilgrimage to Jaggannath. The sickness of the youngest, a nice boy

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

A Family Pilgrimage.


of about six years of age, had caused this pilgrimage. The eldest son was about twenty years of age, and the nephew about eighteen. "After the usual compliments, I addressed the eldest son. your brother was really very ill when you set out?'


Very ill, sir, hardly able to stand without assistance.' "What was the matter with him?'

' And so

"It was what we call a drying up, or withering of the system.' “What were the symptoms?'


"Good. And what cured him, as he now seems quite well?'

"Our mother and father vowed five pair of baskets of Ganges water to Gugadhur, an incarnation of the god Seva, at the temple of Byjoonath, and a visit to the temple of Jaggannat'h.'

“And having fulfilled these vows your brother recovered?'

"He had quite recovered, sir, before we set out from Jaggannath.' "And who carried the baskets?'

66 6

'My mother, wife, cousin, myself, and little brother, all carried one pair each.

"This little boy could not, surely, carry a pair of baskets all the way ?'

"No, sir, we had a pair of small baskets made especially for him, and when within about three miles of the temple, he got down from his little pony, took up his baskets and carried them to the god; up to within three miles of the temple the baskets were carried by a Brahmin servant, whom we had taken with us to cook our food. We had with us another Brahmin, to whom we had to pay only a trifle, as his principal of fees from families in the town of Jubbulpoor, wages were made up who had made similar vows, and gave him so much a bottle for the water he carried in their several names for the god.'

"Did you give all your water to the Byjoonath temple, or carry some with you to Jaggannat'h?'

"No water is ever offered to Jaggannat'h, sir, he is an incarnation of Vishnoo.'

"And does Vishnoo never drink?'

"He drinks, sir, no doubt; but he gets nothing but offerings of food and money.'

"And what is the distance you went ?'

"From this to Bindachul, on the Ganges, two hundred and thirty miles; thence to Byjoonath, a hundred and fifty miles; and thence to Jaggannat'h, some four or five hundred miles more.'

"And your mother and wife walked all the way with their baskets?' "All the way, sir, except when either of them got sick, when she mounted the pony with my little brother till she felt well again.'

"Here were four members of a respectable family walking a pilgrimage of between twelve and fourteen hundred miles, going and coming, and carrying burdens on their shoulders, for the recovery of poor sick boy, and millions of families are every year doing the same from all parts of India. The change of air and exercise cured the boy,



2 C

« AnteriorContinuar »