Part 2 out of 3
Lord Bacon's apothegm was that _Eating maketh a full man_; and it
would be better to give the starving cultivator Bacon than the report
of that Commission (which we cannot name without tears and laughter)
which goes to work on the assumption that _writing maketh a full
man_--that to write over a certain area of paper will fill the
collapsed cuticles of the agricultural class throughout India.
When [Sir Richard Temple] first started the idea of holding famines, I
proposed that he should illustrate his project by stopping the pay and
allowances of the Government of India for a month. But he did not
listen to my proposal. People seldom listen to my proposals; and
sometimes I think that this accounts for my constitutional melancholy.
You will ask, "What has all this talk of food and famine to do with
the villager?" I reply, "Everything." Famine is the horizon of the
Indian villager; insufficient food is the foreground. And this is the
more extraordinary since the villager is surrounded by a dreamland of
plenty. Everywhere you see fields flooded deep with millet and wheat.
The village and its old trees have to climb on to a knoll to keep
their feet out of the glorious poppy and the luscious sugar-cane.
Sumptuous cream-coloured bullocks move sleepily about with an air of
luxurious sloth; and sleek Brahmans utter their lazy prayers while
bathing languidly in the water and sunshine of the tank. Even the
buffaloes have nothing to do but float the livelong day deeply
immersed in the bulrushes. Everything is steeped in repose. The bees
murmur their idylls among the flowers; the doves moan their amorous
complaints from the shady leafage of pipal trees; out of the cool
recesses of wells the idle cooing of the pigeons ascends into the
summer-laden air; the rainbow-fed chameleon slumbers on the branch;
the enamelled beetle on the leaf; the little fish in the sparkling
depths below; the radiant kingfisher, tremulous as sunlight, in
mid-air; and the peacock, with furled glories, on the temple tower of
the silent gods. Amid this easeful and luscious splendour the villager
labours and starves.
Reams of hiccoughing platitudes lodged in the pigeon-holes of the Home
Office by all the gentlemen clerks and gentlemen farmers of the world
cannot mend this. While the Indian villager has to maintain the
glorious phantasmagoria of an imperial policy, while he has to support
legions of scarlet soldiers, golden chuprassies, purple politicals,
and green commissions, he must remain the hunger-stricken, overdriven
phantom he is.
While the eagle of Thought rides the tempest in scorn,
Who cares if the lightning is burning the corn?
If Old England is going to maintain her throne and her swagger in our
vast Orient she ought to pay up like a--man, I was going to say; for,
according to the old Sanscrit proverb, "You can get nothing for
nothing, and deuced little for a halfpenny." These unpaid-for glories
bring nothing but shame.
But even the poor Indian cultivator has his joys beneath the clouds of
Revenue Boards and Famine Commissions. If we look closely at his life
we may see a soft glory resting upon it. I am not Mr. Caird, and I do
not intend entering into the technical details of agriculture--"_Quid
de utilitate loquar stercorandi?_"--but I would say something of that
sweetness which a close communion with earth and heaven must shed upon
the silence of lonely labour in the fields. God is ever with the
cultivator in all the manifold sights and sounds of this marvellous
world of His. In that mysterious temple of the Dawn, in which we of
noisy mess-rooms, heated courts, and dusty offices are infrequent
worshippers, the peasant is a priest. There he offers up his hopes and
fears for rain and sunshine; there he listens to the anthems of birds
we rarely hear, and interprets auguries that for us have little
The beast of prey skulking back to his lair, the stag quenching his
thirst ere retiring to the depths of the forest, the wedge of wild
fowl flying with trumpet notes to some distant lake, the vulture
hastening in heavy flight to the carrion that night has provided, the
crane flapping to the shallows, and the jackal shuffling along to his
shelter in the nullah, have each and all their portent to the
initiated eye. Day, with its fierce glories, brings the throbbing
silence of intense life, and under flickering shade, amid the soft
pulsations of Nature, the cultivator lives his daydream. What there is
of squalor, and drudgery, and carking care in his life melts into a
brief oblivion, and he is a man in the presence of his God with the
holy stillness of Nature brooding over him. With lengthening shadows
comes labour and a re-awaking. The air is once more full of all sweet
sounds, from the fine whistle of the kite, sailing with supreme
dominion through the azure depths of air, to the stir and buzzing
chatter of little birds and crickets among the leaves and grass. The
egret has resumed his fishing in the tank where the rain is stored for
the poppy and sugarcane fields, the sand-pipers bustle along the
margin, or wheel in little silvery clouds over the bright waters, the
gloomy cormorant sits alert on the stump of a dead date-tree, the
little black divers hurry in and out of the weeds, and ever and anon
shoot under the water in hot quest of some tiny fish; the whole
machinery of life and death is in full play, and our villager shouts
to his patient oxen and lives his life. Then gradual darkness, and
food with homely joys, a little talk, a little tobacco, a few sad
songs, and kindly sleep.
The villages are of immemorial antiquity; their names, their
traditions, their hereditary offices have come down out of the dim
past through countless generations. History sweeps over them with her
trampling armies and her conquerors, her changing dynasties and her
shifting laws--sweeps over them and leaves them unchanged.
The village is self-contained. It is a complete organism, protoplastic
it may be, with the chlorophyll of age colouring its institutions, but
none the less a perfect, living entity. It has within itself
everything that its existence demands, and it has no ambition. The
torment of frustrated hope and of supersession is unknown in the
village. We who are always striving to roll our prospects and our
office boxes up the hill to Simla may learn a lesson here:
Sisyphus in vita quoque nobis ante oculos est
Qui petere a populo fasces saevasque secures
Imbibit et semper victus tristisque recedit.
Nam petere imperium quod inanest nec datur umquam,
Atque in eo semper durum sufferre laborem,
Hoc est adverse nixantem trudere monte
Saxum quod tamen e summojam vertice rusum
Volvitur et plani raptim petit sequora campi.
In this idyllic existence, in which, as I have said, there is no
ambition, several other ills are also wanting. There is, for instance,
no News in the village. The village is without the pale of
intelligence. This must indeed be bliss. Just fancy, dear Vanity, a
state of existence in which there are no politics, no discoveries, no
travels, no speculations, no Garnet Wolseleys, no Gladstones, no
Captain Careys, no Sarah Bernhardts! If there be a heaven upon earth,
it is surely here. Here no Press Commissioner sits on the hillside
croaking dreary translations from the St. Petersburg press; here no
_Pioneer_ sings catches with Sir John Strachey in Council. But here
the lark sings in heaven for evermore, the sweet corn grows below, and
the villager, amid these quiet joys with which the earth fills her
lap, dreams his low life.--ALI BABA, K.C.B.
THE OLD COLONEL
[Illustration: THE OLD COLONEL--"Ripening for pension."]
[November 15, 1879.]
The old Indian Colonel ripening for pension on the shelf of General
Duty is an object at once pitiful and ludicrous. His profession has
ebbed away from him, and he lies a melancholy derelict on the shore,
with sails flapping idly against the mast and meaningless pennants
streaming in the wind.
He has forgotten nearly everything he ever learnt of military duty,
and what he has not forgotten has been changed. It is as much as he
can do to keep up with the most advanced thoughts of the Horse Guards
on buttons and gold lace. Yet he is still employed sometimes to turn
out a guard, or to swear that "the Service is going," &c.; and though
he has lost his nerve for riding, he has still a good seat on a
He is a very methodical old man. He rises at an early hour, strolls
down to the club on the Mall--perhaps the Wheler Club, perhaps some
other--has his tea, newspaper, and gossip there, and then back to his
small bungalow, [where he turns out his servants for swearing parade.
Each one gets it pretty hot; and then breakfast]. After breakfast he
arrays himself for the day in some nondescript white uniform, and with
a forage cap stuck gaily on one side of his head, a cheroot in his
mouth, and a large white umbrella in his hand, he again sallies forth
to the Club. An old horse is led behind him.
Now the serious business of life again begins--to get through the day.
There are six newspapers to read, twelve pegs to drink,
four-and-twenty Madras cheroots to smoke, there is kindly tiffin to
linger over, forty winks afterwards, a game of billiards, the band on
the Mall, dinner, and over all, incessant chatter, chatter, old
scandal, old jokes, and old stories. Everyone likes the old Colonel,
of course. Everyone says, "Here comes poor old Smith; what an infernal
bore he is!" "Hulloa, Colonel, how are you? glad to see you! what's
the news? how's exchange?"
The old Colonel is not avaricious, but he saves money. He cannot help
it. He has no tastes and he draws very large pay. His mind, therefore,
broods over questions relating to the investment of money, the
depreciation of silver, and the saving effected by purchasing things
at co-operative stores. He never really solves any problem suggested
by these topics. His mind is not prehensile like the tail of the
Apollo Bundar; everything eludes its grasp, so its pursuits are
terminable. The old Colonel's cerebral caloric burns with a feeble
flicker, like that of Madras secretariats, and never consumes a
subject. The same theme is always fresh fuel. You might say the same
thing to him every morning, at the same hour till the crack of doom,
and he would never recollect that he had heard your remark before.
This certainly must give a freshness to life and render eternity
The old Colonel is not naturally an indolent man, but the prominent
fact about him is that he has nothing to do. If you gave him a
sun-dial to take care of, or a rain-gauge to watch, or a secret to
keep, he would be quite delighted. I once asked Smith to keep a secret
of mine, and the poor old fellow was so much afraid of losing it that
in a few hours he had got everybody in the station helping him to keep
it. It always surprises me that men with so much time on their hands
do not become Political Agents.
Sometimes our old Colonel gets into the flagitious habit of writing
for the newspapers. He talks himself into thinking that he possesses a
grievance, so he puts together a fasciculus of lop-sided sentences,
gets the ideas set straight by the Doctor, the spelling refurbished
by the Padre, and fires off the product to the _Delhi Gazette_
or the _Himalayan Chronicle_. Then days of feverish excitement
supervene, hope alternating with fear. Will it appear? Will the
Commander-in-Chief be offended? Will the Government of India be angry?
What will the Service say?
The old Colonel is always rather suspicious of the great cocked-hats
at head-quarters. He knows that to maintain an air of activity they
must still be changing something or abolishing something, and he is
always afraid that they will change or abolish him. But how could they
change the old Colonel? In a regiment he would be like Alice in
Wonderland; on the Staff he would be like old wine in a new bottle.
They might make him a K.C.B., it is true; but he does not belong to
the Simla Band of Hope, and stars must not be allowed to shoot madly
from their sphere. As to abolishing the old Colonel, this too presents
its difficulties, for Sir Norman Henry and all the celebrated
cocked-hats at home and abroad look upon the Indian Staff Corps as
Pygmalion looked on his Venus. They dote on its lifeless charms, and
(figuratively) love to clasp it in their foolish arms. [Now the old
Colonel is the trunk of this Frankenstein--to change the scene. So we
must not abolish the old Colonel.]
It is better to dress him up in an old red coat, and strap him on to
an old sword with a brass scabbard, that he may stand up on high
ceremonials and drink the health of the good Queen for whom he has
lived bravely through sunshine and stormy weather, in defiance of
epidemics, retiring schemes and the Army Medical Department. It is
good to ask him to place his old knees under your hospitable board,
and to fill him with wholesome wine, while he decants the mellow
stories of an Anglo-India that is speedily dissolving from view.
The old Colonel has no harm in him; his scandal blows upon the
grandmothers of people that have passed away, and his little
improprieties are such as might illustrate a sermon of the present
day. [A rabbit might play with him if there were no chutni lying
But you must never speak to him as if his sun were setting. He is as
hopeful as a two-year-old. Every Gazette thrills him with vague
expectations and alarms. If he found himself in orders for a Brigade
he would be less surprised than anyone in the Army. He never ceases to
hope that something may turn up--that something tangible may issue
from the circumambient world of conjecture. But nothing will ever turn
up for our poor old Colonel till his poor old toes turn up to the
daisies. This change only, which we harshly call "Death," will steal
over his prospects; this new slide only will be slipped into the magic
lantern of his existence, accompanied by funeral drums and slow
Soon we shall hardly be able to decipher his name and age on the
crumbling gravestone among the weeds of our horrible station
cemetery--but what matters it?
"For his bones are dust,
And his sword is rust,
And his soul is with the saints, we trust."
ALI BABA, K.C.B.
THE CIVIL SURGEON
"Throw physic to the dogs, I'll none of it."
[November 22, 1879.]
Perhaps you would hardly guess from his appearance and ways that he
was a surgeon and a medicine-man. He certainly does not smell of
lavender or peppermint, or display fine and curious linen, or tread
softly like a cat. Contrariwise.
He smells of tobacco, and wears flannel underclothing. His step is
heavy. He is a gross, big cow-buffalo sort of man, with a tangled
growth of beard. His ranting voice and loud familiar manner amount to
an outrage. He laughs like a camel, with deep bubbling noises. Thick
corduroy breeches and gaiters swaddle his shapeless legs, and he rides
a coarse-bred Waler mare.
I pray the gods that he may never be required to operate upon my eyes,
or intestines, or any other delicate organ--that he may never be
required to trephine my skull, or remove the roof of my mouth.
Of course he is a very good fellow. He walks straight into your
drawing-room with a pipe in his mouth, bellowing out your name. No
servant announces his arrival. He tramples in and crushes himself into
a chair, without removing his hat, or performing any other high
ceremonial. He has been riding in the sun, and is in a state of
profuse perspiration; you will have to bring him round with the
national beverage of Anglo-India, a brandy-and-soda.
Now he will enter upon your case. "Well, you're looking very blooming;
what the devil is the matter with you? Eh? Eh? Want a trip to the
hills? Eh? Eh? How is the bay pony? Eh? Have you seen Smith's new
This is very cheerful and reassuring if you are a healthy man with
some large conspicuous disease--a broken rib, cholera, or toothache;
but if you are a fine, delicately-made man, pregnant with poetry as
the egg of the nightingale is pregnant with music, and throbbing with
an exquisite nervous sensibility, perhaps languishing under some vague
and occult disease, of which you are only conscious in moments of
intense introspection, this mode of approaching the diagnosis is apt
to give your system a shock.
Otherwise it may be bracing, like the inclement north wind. But,
speaking for myself, it has proved most ruinous and disastrous. Since
I have known the Doctor my constitution has broken up. I am a wreck.
There is hardly a single drug in the whole pharmacopoeia that I can
take with any pleasure, and I have entirely lost sight of a most
interesting and curious complaint.
You see, dear Vanity, that I don't mince matters. I take our Doctor as
I find him, rough and allopathic; but I am sure he might be improved
in the course of two or three generations. We may leave this, however,
to Nature and the Army Medical Department. Reform is not my business.
I have no proposals to offer that will accelerate the progress of the
Doctor towards a higher type.
Happily his surgical and medicinal functions claim only a portion of
his time. He is in charge of the district gaol, a large and
comfortable retreat for criminals. Here he is admirable. To some eight
or nine hundred murderers, robbers, and inferior delinquents he plays
the part of _maitre d'hotel_ with infinite success. In the whole
country side you will not find a community so well bathed, dressed,
exercised, fed and lodged as that over which the Doctor presides. You
observe on every face a quiet, Quakerish air of contentment. Every
inmate of the gaol seems to think that he has now found a haven of
If the sea-horse on the ocean
Own no dear domestic cave,
Yet he slumbers without motion
On the still and halcyon wave;
If on rainy days the loafer
Gamble when he cannot roam,
The police will help him so far
As to find him here a home.
This is indeed a quiet refuge for world-wearied men; a sanctuary
undisturbed by the fears of the weak or the passions of the strong.
All reasonable wants are gratified here; nothing is hoped for any
more. The poor burglar burdened with unsaleable "grab" and the
reproaches of a venal world sorrowfully seeks an asylum here. He
brings nothing in his hand; he seeks nothing but rest. He whispers
through the key-hole--
Nudus castra peto.
Look at this prisoner slumbering peacefully beside his _huqqa_ under
the suggestive bottle tree (there is something touching in his
selecting the shade of a _bottle_ tree: Horace clearly had no _bottle_
tree; or he would never have lain under a strawberry (and cream)
tree). You can see that he has been softly nurtured. What a sleek,
sturdy fellow he is! He is a covenanted servant here, having passed an
examination in gang robbery accompanied by violence and prevarication.
He cannot be discharged under a long term of years. Uncovenanted
pilferers, in for a week, regard him with respect and envy. And
certainly his lot is enviable; he has no cares, no anxieties. Famine
and the depreciation of silver are nothing to him. Rain or sunshine,
he lives in plenty. His days are spent in an innocent round of duties,
relieved by sleep and contemplation of [Greek: to on]. In the long
heats of summer he whiles away the time with carpet-making; between
the showers of autumn he digs, like our first parents, in the Doctor's
garden; and in winter, as there is no billiard-table, he takes a turn
on the treadmill with his mates. Perhaps, as he does so, he recites
Charles Lamb's Pindaric ode:--
That by thy motion proper
(No thanks to wind or sail, or toiling rill)
Grinding that stubborn-corn, the human will,
Turn'st out men's consciences,
That were begrimed before, as clean and sweet
As flour from purest wheat,
Into thy hopper.
Yet sometimes a murmur rises like a summer zephyr even from the soft
lap of luxury and ease. Even the hardened criminal, dandled on the
knee of a patriarchal Government, will sometimes complain and try to
give the Doctor trouble. But the Doctor has a specific--a brief
incantation that allays every species of inflammatory discontent.
"Look here, my man! If I hear any more of this infernal nonsense, I'll
turn you out of the gaol neck and crop." This is a threat that never
fails to produce the desired effect. To be expelled from gaol and
driven, like Cain, into the rude and wicked world, a wanderer, an
outcast--this would indeed be a cruel ban. Before such a presentiment
the well-ordered mind of the criminal recoils with horror.
The Civil Surgeon is also a rain doctor, and takes charge of the
Imperial gauge. If a pint more or a pint less than usual falls, he at
once telegraphs this priceless gossip to the Press Commissioner,
Oracle Grotto, Delphi, Elysium. This is one of our precautions to
guard against famine. Mr. Caird is the other.
[I was once in a very small station where our Civil Surgeon was an
Eurasian. He was a pompous little fellow, but a capital doctor,
gaoler, and metereologist.
"Omnis Aristippum decint, color et status, et res."
We liked him so much that we all got ill; crime increased, the gaol
filled, and no one ever passed the rain-gauge without either emptying
it or pouring in a brandy-and-soda. With women and children he was a
great favourite; for he had not become brutalised by familiarity with
suffering in hospitals. His heart was still tender, his voice soft,
and he had a gentle way with his hands. I never knew anyone who was so
unwilling to inflict pain; yet he was not unnerved when it had to be
done. But, poor little physician! he was not able to cure himself when
fever laid her hot hand on him. He tried to go on with his work and
live it down; but the recuperative forces of Nature were weak within
him, and he died. "The good die first, and those whose hearts are dry
as summer dust burn to the socket." Our cow-buffalo doctor is still
alive, I fear.]--ALI BABA, K.C.B.
[November 29, 1879.]
I have come out to spend a day in the jungle with him, to see him play
on his own stage. His little flock of white tents has flown many a
march to meet me, and have now alighted at this accessible spot near a
poor hamlet on the verge of cultivation. I feel that I have only to
yield myself for a few days to its hospitable importunities and it
will waft me away to profound forest depths, to the awful penetralia
of the bison and the tiger. Even here everything is strange to me; the
common native has become a Bheel, the sparrowhawk an eagle, the grass
of the field a vast, reedy growth in which an elephant becomes a mere
field mouse. Out of the leaves come strange bird-notes, a strange
silence broods over us; it is broken by strange rustlings and cries;
it closes over us again strangely. Nature swoons in its glory of
sunshine and weird music; it has put forth its powers in colossal
timber and howling beasts of prey; it faints amid little wild flowers,
fanned by breezes and butterflies.
My heart beats in strange anapaests. This dream world of leaf and bird
stirs the blood with a strange enchantment. The Spirit of Nature
touches us with her caduceus:--
Fair are others, none behold thee;
But thy voice sounds low and tender
Like the fairest, for it folds thee
From the sight, that liquid splendour;
And all feel, yet see thee never,
As I feel now ....
Our tents are played upon by the flickering shadows of the vast
pipal-tree that rises in a laocooen tortuosity of roots out of an old
well. The spot is cool and pleasant. Round us are picketed elephants,
camels, bullocks, and horses, all enjoying the shade. Our servants are
cooking their food on the precincts; each is busy in front of his own
little mud fireplace. On a larger altar greater sacrifices are being
offered up for our breakfast. A crowd of nearly naked Bheels watch the
rites and snuff the fragrant incense of venison from a respectable
distance. Their leader, a broken-looking old man, with hardly a rag
on, stands apart exchanging deep confidences with my friend the
Shikarry. This old Bheel is girt about the loins with knives, pouches,
powder-horns, and ramrods; and he carries on his shoulder an aged
flintlock. He looks old enough to be an English General Officer or a
Cabinet Minister; and you might assume that he was in the last stage
of physical and mental decay. But you would be quite wrong. This old
Bheel will sit up all night on the branch of a tree among the horned
owls; he will see the tiger kill the young buffalo tied up as a bait
beneath; he will see it drink the life-blood and tear the haunch; he
will watch it steal away and hide under the _karaunda_ bush; he will
sit there till day breaks, when he will creep under the thorn jungle,
across the stream, up the scarp of the ravine, through the long grass
to the sahib's camp, and give the word that makes the hunter's heart
dance. From the camp he will stride from hamlet to hamlet till he has
raised an army of beaters; and he will be back at the camp with his
forces before the sahib has breakfasted. Through the long heats of the
day he will be the life and soul of the hunt, urging on the beaters
with voice and example, climbing trees, peeping under bushes, carrying
orders, giving advice, changing the line, until that supreme moment
when shots are fired, when the rasping growl tells that the shots have
taken effect, and when at length the huge cat lies stretched out dead.
And all this on a handful of parched grain!
[Is this nothing?
Why then the world, and all that's in't, is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing, Ali Baba's nothing.]
My friend the Shikarry delights to clothe himself in the coarse
fabrics manufactured in gaol, which, when properly patched and
decorated with pockets, have undoubtedly a certain wild-wood
As the hunter does not happen to be a Bheel with the privileges of
nakedness conferred by a brown skin, this is perhaps the only
practical alternative. If he went out to shoot in evening clothes, a
crush hat, and a hansom cab, the chances are that he would make an
example of himself and come to some untimely end. What would the
Apollo Bundar say? What would the Bengali Baboo say? What would the
sea-aye-ees say? Yes, our hunter affects coarse and snuffy clothes;
they carry with them suggestions of hardship and roughing it; and his
hat is umbrageous and old.
As to the man under the hat, he is an odd compound of vanity,
sentiment, and generosity. He is as affected as a girl. Among other
traits he affects reticence, and he will not tell me what the plans
for the day are, or what _khabbar_[W] has been received. Knowing
absolutely nothing, he moves about with a solemn and important air,
[as if six months gone with a _bandobast_[X]]; and he says to me,
"Don't fret yourself my dear fellow; you'll know all about it time
enough. I have made arrangements." Then he dissembles and talks of
irrelevant topics transcendentally. This makes me feel such a poor
pen-and-ink fellow, such a worm, such a [Famine-commissioner, such a]
With this discordant note still vibrating we go in to breakfast; and
then, dear Vanity, he _bucks_ with a quiet, stubborn determination
that would fill an American editor or an Under-Secretary of State with
despair. [His lies are really that awful (as the Press Commissioner
would say) which you couldn't tell as what he was joking, or
inebriated, or drawing your leg.] He belongs to the twelve-foot-tiger
school; so, perhaps, he can't help it.
If the whole truth were told, he is a warm-hearted, generous, plucky
fellow, with boundless vanity and a romantic vein of maudlin sentiment
that seduces him from time to time into the gin-and-water corner of an
Indian newspaper. Under the heading of "The Forest Ranger's Lament,"
or "The Old Shikarry's Tale of Woe," he hiccoughs his column of sickly
lines (with St. Vitus's dance in their feet), and then I believe he
feels better. I have seen him do it; I have caught him in criminal
conversation with a pen and a sheet of paper; bottle at hand--
A quo, ceu fonte perenni,
Vatum Pieriis ora rigantur aquis.
In appearance he is a very short man with a long black beard, a
sunburnt face, and a clay pipe. He has shot battalions of tigers and
speared squadrons of wild pig. He is universally loved, universally
admired, and universally laughed at.
He is generous to a fault. All the young fellows for miles round owe
him money. He would think there was something wrong if they did not
borrow from him; and yet, somehow, I don't think that he is very well
off. There is nothing in his bungalow but guns, spears, and hunting
trophies; he never goes home, and I have an idea that there is some
heavy drain on his purse in the old country. But you should hear him
troll a hunting song with his grand organ voice, and you would fancy
him the richest man in the world, his note is so high and triumphant!
So when in after days we boast
Of many wild boars slain,
We'll not forget our runs to toast
Or run them o'er again;
And when our memory's mirror true
Reflects the scenes of yore,
We'll think of _him_ it brings to view,
Who loved to hunt the boar.
ALI BABA, K.C.B.
THE GRASS-WIDOW IN NEPHELOCOCCYGIA
[Illustration: THE GRASS WIDOW--"Sweet little Mrs. Lollipop."]
Her bosom's lord sits lightly on his throne?
[December 6, 1879]
Little Mrs. Lollipop has certainly proved a source of disappointment
to her lady friends. They have watched her for three seasons going
lightly and merrily through all the gaieties of Cloudland; they have
listened to the scandal of the cuckoos among the pine-trees and
rhododendrons, but they have not caught her tripping. Oh, no, they
will never catch her tripping. She does not trip for their amusement:
perhaps she trips it when they go on the light fantastic toe, but
there is no evidence; there is only a zephyr of conjecture, only the
world's low whisper not yet broken into storm--not yet.
Yes, she is a source of disappointment to them. They have noted her
points; her beauty has burned itself into their jealousy; her merry
laugh has fanned their scorn; her bountiful presence is an affront to
them, as is her ripe and lissom figure. They pronounce her morally
unsound; they say her nature has a taint; they chill her popularity
with silent smiles of slow disparagement. But they have no
particulars; their slander is not concrete. It is an amorphous
accusation, sweeping and vague, spleen-born and proofless.
She certainly knows how to dress. Her weeds sit easily and smoothly on
their delightful mould. You might think of her as a sweet, warm statue
painted in water-colours. (Who wouldn't be her Pygmalion?) If she adds
a garment it is an improvement; if she removes a garment it is an
improvement; if she dresses her hair it is better; if she lets it fall
in a brown cascade over her white shoulders it is still better; when
it is yet in curl-papers it is charming. If you smudge the tip of her
nose with a burnt cork the effect is irresistible; if you stick a
flower in her hair it is a fancy dress, a complete costume--she
becomes Flora, Aurora, anything you like to name. Yet I have never
clothed her in a flower, I have never smudged her nose with a burnt
cork, I have never uncurled her hair. Ali Baba's character must not go
drifting down the stream of gossip with the Hill Captains and the
Under-Secretaries. But I hope that this does not destroy the argument.
The argument is that she is quite too delightful, and therefore blown
upon by poisonous whispers.
Her bungalow is an Elysium, of course; it is a cottage with a
verandah, built on a steep slope, and buried deep in shrubbery and
trees. Within all is plain, but exquisitely neat. A wood fire is
burning gaily, and the kindly tea-tray is at hand. It is five o'clock.
Clean servants move silently about with hot water, cake, &c. The
little boy, a hostage from papa in the warm plains below, is sitting
pensive, after the fashion of Anglo-Indian children, in a little
chair. His bearer crouches behind him. The unspeakable widow, in a
tea-gown dimly splendid with tropical vegetation in neutral tints,
holds a piece of chocolate in her hand, while she leans back in her
fauteuil convulsed with laughter. (It is not necessary to say that Ali
Baba is relating one of his improving tales.) How pretty she looks,
showing her excellent teeth and suffused with bright warm blushes,
[which, I beg leave to explain, proceed from drinking hot tea and
indulging in immoderate laughter, not from listening to A.B.'s
improving tales!] As I gaze upon her with fond amazement, I murmur
Mine be a cot beside the hill;
A tea-pot's hum shall soothe my ear,
A widowy girl, that likes me still,
With many a smile shall linger near.
I have been asked to write a philosophical minute on the mental and
moral condition of delightful Mrs. Lollipop's husband, who lives down
in the plains. I have been requested by the Press Commissioner to
inquire in Government fashion, with pen and ink, as to whether the
complaisant proprietor of so many charms desires to have a recheat
winded in his forehead, and to hang his bugle in an invisible
baldrick; whether it is true in his case that Love's ear will hear the
lowest cuckoo note, and that Love's perception of gossip is more soft
and sensible than are the tender horns of cockled snails. Towards all
these points I have directed my researches. I have resolved myself
into a Special Commission, and I have sat upon grass-widowers _in
camera_. If I sit a little longer a Report will be hatched, which, of
course, I shall take to England, and when there I shall go to the
places of amusement with the Famine Commission, and have rather a good
time of it. Already I can see, with that bright internal eye which
requires no limelight, grim Famine stalking about the Aquarium after
dinner with a merry jest preening its wings on his lips.
But what has all this talk of country matters to do with little Mrs.
Lollipop? Absolutely nothing. She thinks no ill of herself. She is the
most charitable woman in the world. There is no veil of sin over her
eye; no cloud of suspicion darkens her forehead; no concealment feeds
upon her damask cheek. Like Eve she goes about hand in hand with her
friends, in native innocence, relying on what she has of virtue. Sweet
simplicity! sweet confidence! My eagle quill shall not flutter these
Have you ever watched her at a big dance? She takes possession of some
large warrior who has lately arrived from the battle-fields of Umballa
or Meerut, and she chaperones him about the rooms, staying him with
flagons and prattling low nothings. The weaker vessel jibs a little at
first; but gradually the spell begins to work and the love-light
kindles in his eye. He dances, he makes a joke, he tells a story, he
turns round and looks her in the face. He is lost. That big centurion
is a casualty; and no one pities him. "How can he go on like that,
odious creature!" say the withered wall-flowers, and the Hill Captains
fume round, working out formulae to express his baseness. But he is
away on the glorious mountains of vanity; the intoxicating atmosphere
makes life tingle in his blood; he is an [Greek: aerobataes], he no
longer treads the earth. In a few days Mrs. Lollipop will receive a
post-card from the Colonel of her centurion's regiment.
MY DEAR MRS.
Lollipop, dic, per omnes
Te deos oro, Robinson cur properes amando
Perdere? cur apricum
Oderit campum, patiens pulveris atque solis.
Ten to one an Archdeacon will be sent for to translate this. Ten to
one there is a shindy, ending in tea and tearful smiles; for she is
bound to get a blowing up.
After what I have written I suppose it would be superfluous to affirm
with oaths my irrefragable belief in Mrs. Lollipop's innocence; it
would be superfluous to deprecate the many-winged slanders that wound
this milk-white hind. If, however, by swearing, any of your readers
think I can be of service to her character, I hope they will let me
know. I have learnt a few oaths lately that I reckon will unsphere
some of the scandal-mongers of Nephelococcygia. I had my ear one
morning at the keyhole when the Army Commission was revising the
cursing and swearing code for field service.--(Ah! these dear old
Generals, what depths of simplicity they disclose when they get by
themselves! I sometimes think that if I had my life to live over again
I would keep a newspaper and become a really great General. I know
some five or six obscure aboriginal tribes that have never yet yielded
a single war or a single K.C.B.)
But this is a digression. I was maintaining the goodness of Mrs.
Lollipop--little Mrs. Lollipop! sweet little Mrs. Lollipop! I was
going to say that she was far too good to be made the subject of
whisperings and innuendoes. Her virtue is of such a robust type that
even a Divorce Court would sink back abashed before it, like a guilty
thing surprised. Indeed, she often reminds me of Caesar's wife.
The harpies of scandal protest that she dresses too low; that she
exposes too freely the well-rounded charms of her black silk
stockings; that she appears at fancy-dress balls picturesquely
unclothed--in a word, that the public sees a little too much of little
Mrs. Lollipop; and that, in conversation with men, she nibbles at the
forbidden apples of thought. But all this proves her innocence,
surely. She fears no danger, for she knows no sin. She cannot
understand why she should hide anything from an admiring world. Why
keep her charms concealed from mortal eye, like roses that in deserts
bloom and die? She often reminds me of Una in Hypocrisy's cell.
I heard an old Gorgon ask one of Mrs. Lollipop's _clientele_ the other
day whether he would like to be Mrs. Lollipop's husband. "No," he
said, "not her husband; I am not worthy to be her husband--
"But I would be the necklace
And all day long to fall and rise
Upon her balmy bosom
With her laughter or her sighs;
And I would lie so light, so light,
I scarce should be unclasped at night."
That old Gorgon is now going through a course of hysterics under
medical and clerical advice. Her ears are in as bad a case as Lady
Macbeth's hands. Hymns will not purge them.--ALI BABA, K.C.B.
THE TRAVELLING M.P.
THE BRITISH LION RAMPANT
[December 13, 1879.]
There is not a more fearful wild fowl than your travelling M.P. This
unhappy creature, whose mind is a perfect blank regarding
_Faujdari_[Y] and _Bandobast_,[Z] and who cannot distinguish the
molluscous Baboo from the osseous Pathan, will actually presume to
discuss Indian subjects with you, unless strict precautions be taken.
When I meet one of these loose M.P.'s ramping about I always cut his
claws at once. I say, "Now, Mr. T.G., you must understand that,
according to my standard, you are a homunculus of the lowest type.
There is nothing I value a man for that you can do; there is nothing I
consider worth directing the human mind upon that you know. If you ask
for any information which I may deem it expedient to give to a person
in your unfortunate position, well and good; but if you venture to
argue with me, to express any opinion, to criticise anything I may be
good enough to say regarding India, or to quote any passage relating
to Asia from the works of Burke, Cowper, Bright, or Fawcett, I will
hand you over to Major Henderson for strangulation, I will cause your
body to be burnt by an Imperial Commission of sweepers, and I will
mention your name in the _Pioneer_."
In dangerous cases, where a note-book is carried, your loose M.P. must
be made to reside within the pale of guarded conversation. If you are
wise you will speak to him in the interrogative mood exclusively; and
you will treat his answers with contumelious laughter or disdainful
About a week after your M.P. has landed in India he will begin his
great work on the history, literature, philosophy and social
institutions of the Hindoos. You will see him in a railway carriage
when stirred by the [Greek: oistros] studying Forbes's Hindustani
Manual. He is undoubtedly writing the chapter on the philology of the
Aryan Family. Do you observe the fine frenzy that kindles behind his
spectacles as he leans back and tries to eject a root? These pangs are
worth about half-a-crown an hour in the present state of the book
market. One cannot contemplate them without profound emotion.
The reading world is hunger-bitten about Asia, and I often think I
shall take three months' leave and run up a _precis_ of Sanskrit and
Pali literature, just a few folios for the learned world. Max Mueller
begs me to learn these languages first; but this would be a toil and
drudgery, whereas to me the pursuit of literary excellence and fame is
a mere amusement, like lawn-tennis or rinking. It is the fault of the
age to make a labour of what is meant to be a pastime.
Telle est de nos plaisirs la surface legere;
Glissez, mortels, n'appuyez pas.
The travelling M.P. will probably come to you with a letter of
introduction from the last station he has visited, and he will
immediately proceed to make himself quite at home in your bungalow
with the easy manners of the Briton abroad. He will acquaint you with
his plans and name the places of interest in the neighbourhood which
he requires you to show him. He will ask you to take him, as a
preliminary canter, to the gaol and lunatic asylum; and he will make
many interesting suggestions to the civil surgeon as to the management
of these institutions, comparing them unfavourably with those he has
visited in other stations. He will then inspect the Brigadier-General
commanding the station, the chaplain, and the missionaries. On his
return--when he ought to be bathing--he will probably write his
article for the _Twentieth Century_, entitled "Is India Worth
Keeping?" And this ridiculous old Shrovetide cock, whose ignorance and
information leave two broad streaks of laughter in his wake, is turned
loose upon the reading public! Upon my word, I believe the reading
public would do better to go and sit at the feet of Baboo Sillabub
Thunder Gosht, B.A.
What is it that these travelling people put on paper? Let me put it in
the form of a conundrum. _Q._ What is it that the travelling M.P.
treasures up and the Anglo-Indian hastens to throw away? _A._
Erroneous, hazy, distorted first impressions. Before the eyes of the
griffin, India steams up in poetical mists, illusive, fantastic,
subjective, ideal, picturesque. The adult _Qui Hai_ attains to prose,
to stern and disappointing realities; he removes the gilt from the
Empire and penetrates to the brown ginger-bread of Rajas and Baboos.
One of the most serious duties attending a residence in India is the
correcting of those misapprehensions which your travelling M.P.
sacrifices his bath to hustle upon paper. The spectacled people
embalmed in secretariats alone among Anglo-Indians continue to see the
gay visions of griffinhood. They alone preserve the phantasmagoria of
bookland and dreamland. As for the rest of us:--
Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight:
Baboos and Rajas and Indian lore
Move our faint hearts with grief, but with delight
No more--oh, never more!
It is strange that one who is modest and inoffensive in his own
country should immediately on leaving it exhibit some of the worst
features of Arryism; but it seems inevitable. I have met in this
unhappy land, countrymen (who are gentlemen in England, Members of
Parliament, and Deputy Lieutenants, and that kind of thing) whose
conduct and demeanour while here I can never recall without tears and
blushes for our common humanity. My friends witnessing this emotion
often suppose that I am thinking of the Famine Commission.
[I am an Anglo-Indian cherishing many a burning Anglo-Indian
prejudice, and I should be sorry if from what I have written here it
does not sufficiently appear that I cherish a burning prejudice
against the British Tourist in India, who comes out to get up India
and to do India; not against the tourist who comes out to shoot or to
play the fool in a quiet unostentatious way.]
As far as I can learn, it is a generally received opinion at home that
a man who has seen the Taj at Agra, the Qutb at Delhi, and the Duke at
Madras, has graduated with honours in all questions connected with
British interests in Asia; and is only unfitted for the office of
Governor-General of India from knowing too much.--ALI BABA, K.C.B.
"Her life is lone. He sits apart;
He loves her yet: she will not weep,
Tho' rapt in matters dark and deep
He seems to slight her simple heart.
"For him she plays, to him she sings
Of early faith and plighted vows;
She knows but matters of the house,
And he, he knows a thousand things."
[December 20, 1879.]
I first met her shepherding her little flock across the ocean. She was
a beautiful woman, in the full sweetness and bloom of life. [The
mystery of early wifehood and motherhood gave a pensiveness to her
soft eyes; but her voice and manner disclosed the cheerful confidence
of perfect health and a pure heart.] Her talk was of the busy husband
she had left, the station life, the attached servants, the favourite
horse, the garden, and the bungalow. Her husband would soon follow
her, in a year, or two years, and they would return together; but they
would return to a silent home--the children would be left behind. She
was going home to her mother and sisters; but there had been changes
in this home. So her thoughts were woven of hopes and fears; and, as
she sat on deck of an evening, with the great heart of the moon-lit
sea palpitating around us, and the homeless night-wind sighing through
the cordage, she would sing to us one of the plaintive ballads of the
old country, till we forgot to listen to the sobbing and the trampling
of the engines, and till all sights and sounds resolved themselves
into a temple of sentiment round a charming priestess chanting low
anthems. She would leave us early to go to her babies. She would leave
us throbbing with mock heroics, undecided whether we should cry, or
consecrate our lives to some high and noble enterprise, or drink one
more glass of hot whiskey-and-water. She was kind, but not
sentimental; her sweet, yet practical "good-night" was quite of the
work-a-day world; we felt that it tended to dispel illusions.
She had three little boys, who were turned out three times a day in
the ultimate state of good behaviour, tidiness, and cleanliness, and
who lapsed three times a day into a state of original sin combined
with tar and ship's grease. These three little boys pervaded the
vessel with an innocent smile on their three little faces, their
mother's winning smile. Every man on the ship was their own familiar
friend, bound to them by little interchanges of biscuits, confidences,
twine, and by that electric smile which their mother communicated, and
from which no one wished to be insulated. Yes, they quite pervaded the
vessel, these three little innocents, flying that bright and friendly
smile; and there was no description of mischief suitable for three
very little boys that they did not exhaust. The ingenuity they
squandered every day in doing a hundred things which they ought not to
have done was perfectly marvellous. Before the voyage was half over we
thought there was nothing left for them to do; but we were entirely
mistaken. The daily round, a common cask would furnish all they had to
ask; to them the meanest whistle that blows, or a pocket-knife, could
give thoughts that too often led to smiles and tears.
Their mother's thoughts were ever with them; but she was like a hen
with a brood of ducklings. They passed out of her element, and only
returned as hunger called them. When they did return she was all that
soap and water, loving reproaches, and tender appeals could be; and as
they were very affectionate little boys, they were for the time
thoroughly cleansed morally and physically, and sealed with the
absolution of kisses.
I saw her three years afterwards in England. She was living in
lodgings near a school which her boys attended. She looked careworn.
Her relations had been kind to her, but not warmly affectionate. She
had been disappointed with the welcome they had given her. They seemed
changed to her, more formal, narrower, colder. She longed to be back
in India; to be with her husband once more. But he was engrossed with
his work. He wrote short letters enclosing cheques; but he never said
that he missed her, that he longed to see her again, that she must
come out to him, or that he must go to her. He could not have grown
cold too? No, he was busy; he had never been demonstrative in his
affection; this was his way. And she was anxious about the boys. She
did not know whether they were really getting on, whether she was
doing the best for them, whether their father would be satisfied. She
had no friends near her, no one to speak to; so she brooded over these
problems, exaggerated them, and fretted.
The husband was a man who lived in his own thoughts, and his thoughts
were book thoughts. The world of leaf and bird, the circumambient
firmament of music and light, shone in upon him through books. A book
was the master key that unlocked all his senses, that unfolded the
varied landscape, animated the hero, painted the flower, swelled the
orchestra of wind and ocean, peopled the plains of India with
starvelings and the mountains of Afghanistan with cut-throats. Without
a book he moved about like a shadow lost in some dim dreamland of
Everyone knew he was a scholar, and his thoughts had once or twice
rung out to the world clear and loud as a trumpet-note through the
oracles of the Press. But in society he was shy, awkward, and uncouth
of speech, quite unable to marshal his thoughts, deserted by his
memory, abashed before his own silences, and startled by his own
words. Any fool who could talk about the legs of a horse or the height
of the thermometer was Prospero to this social Caliban.
He felt that before the fine instincts of women his infirmity was
especially conspicuous, and he drifted into misogyny through
bashfulness and pride; and yet misogyny was incompatible with his
scheme of life and his ambition. He felt himself to be worthy of the
full diapason of home life; he desired to be as other men were,
besides being something more.
[Greek: Kakon gynaikes all' homos, o daemotai,
Ouk estin oikein oikian aneu kakou.
Kai gar to gaemai, kai to mae gaemai, kakon.]
So he married her who loved him for choosing her, and who reverenced
him for his mysterious treasures of thought.
There was much in his life that she could never share: but he longed
for companionship in thought, and for the first year of their married
life he tried to introduce her to his world. He led her slowly up to
the quiet hill-tops of thought where the air is still and clear, and
he gave her to drink of the magic fountains of music. Their hearts
beat one delicious measure. Her gentle nature was plastic under the
poet's touch, wrought in an instant to perfect harmony with love, or
tears, or laughter. To read aloud to her in the evening after the
day's work was over, and to see her stirred by every breath of the
thought-storm, was to enjoy an exquisite interpretation of the poet's
motive, like an impression bold and sharp from the matrix of the
poet's mind. This was to hear the song of the poet and Nature's low
echo. How tranquilising it was! How it effaced the petty vexations of
the day!--"softening and concealing; and busy with a hand of healing."
Tale tuum carmen nobis, divine poeta,
Quale sopor fessis in gramine, quale per aestum
Dulcis aquae saliente sitim restinguere rivo.
But with the advent of babies poetry declined, and the sympathetic
wife became more and more motherly. The father retired sadly into the
dreamland of books. He will not emerge again. Husband and wife will
stand upon the clear hill-tops together no more.
Neither quite knows what has happened; they both feel changed with an
undefined sorrow, with a regret that pride will not enunciate. She is
now again in India with her husband. There are duties, courtesies,
nay, kindnesses which both will perform, but the ghost of love and
sympathy will only rise in their hearts to jibber in mockery words and
phrases that have lost their meaning, that have lost their
"O love! who bewailest
The frailty of all things here,
Why choose you the frailest
For your cradle, your home, and your bier?
"Its passions will rock thee
As the storms rock the raven on high;
Bright reason will mock thee
Like the sun from a wintry sky.
"From thy nest every rafter
Will rot, and thine eagle home
Leave thee naked to laughter
When leaves fall and cold winds come."
ALI BABA, K.C.B.
ALI BABA ALONE
THE LAST DAY
"Now the last of many days,
All beautiful and bright as thou,
The loveliest, and the last is dead,
Rise, memory, and write its praise."
[December 27, 1879.]
How shall I lay this spectre of my own identity? Shall I leave it to
melt away gracefully in the light of setting suns? It would never do
to put it out like a farthing rushlight after it had haunted the Great
Ornamental in an aurora of smiles. Is Ali Baba to cease upon the
midnight without pain? or is he to lie down like a tired child and
weep out the spark? or should he just flit to Elysium? There, seated
on Elysian lawns, browsed by none but Dian's (no allusion to little
Mrs. Lollipop) fawns, amid the noise of fountains wonderous and the
parle of voices thunderous, some wag might scribble on his door, "Here
lies Ali Baba"--as if glancing at his truthfulness. How is he to pass
effectively into the golden silences? How is he to relapse into the
still-world of observation? Would four thousand five hundred a month
and Simla do it, with nothing to do and allowances, and a seat beside
those littered under the swart Dog-Star of India? Or is it to be the
mandragora of pension, that he may sleep out the great gap of _ennui_
between this life and something better? How lonely the Government of
India would feel! How the world would forget the Government of India!
Voices would ask:--
Do ye sit there still in slumber
In gigantic Alpine rows?
The black poppies out of number
Nodding, dripping from your brows
To the red lees of your wine--
And so kept alive and fine.
Sometimes I think that Ali Baba should be satisfied with the
oblivion-mantle of knighthood and relapse into dingy respectability in
the Avilion of Brompton or Bath; but since he has taken to wearing
stars the accompanying itch for blood and fame has come:--
How doth the greedy K.C.B.
Delight to brag and fight,
And gather medals all the day
And wear them all the night.
The fear of being out-medalled and out-starred stings him:--
[Consimili ratione ab eodem saepe timore
Macerat invidia, ante oculos ilium esse polentem,
Illum aspectari, claro qui incedit honore,
Ipsi se in tenebris volvi caenoque queruntur
Insereunt partim statuarum et nominis ergo.]
Thus the desire to go hustling up the hill to the Temple of Fame with
the other starry hosts impels him forward. If you mix yourself up with
K.C.B.'s and raise your platform of ambition, you are just where you
were at the A B C of your career. Living on a table-land, you
experience no sensation of height. For the intoxicating delights of
elevation you require a solitary pinnacle, some lonely eminence. Aut
Caesar, aut nullus; whether in the zenith or the Nadir of the world's
But how much more comfortable in the cold season than the chill
splendours of the pinnacles of fame, where "pale suns unfelt at
distance roll away," is a comfortable bungalow on the plains, with a
little mulled claret after dinner. Here I think Ali Baba will be
found, hidden from his creditors, the reading world, in the warm light
of thought, singing songs unbidden till a few select cronies are
wrought to sympathy with hopes and fears they heeded not--before the
To this symposium the A.-D.-C.-in-Waiting has invited himself on
behalf of the Empire. He will sing the Imperial Anthem composed by Mr.
Eastwick, and it will be translated into archaic Persian by an
imperial Munshi for the benefit of the Man in Buckram, who will be
present. The Man in Buckram, who is suffering from a cold in his
heart, will be wrapped up in himself and a cocked hat. The Press
Commissioner has also asked for an invitation. He will deliver a
sentiment:--"Quid sit futurum eras fuge quaerere." A Commander-in-Chief
will tell the old story about the Service going to the dogs; after
which there will be an interval of ten minutes allowed for swearing
and hiccuping. The Travelling M.P. will take the opportunity to jot
down a few hasty notes on Aryan characteristics for the _Twentieth
Century_ before being placed under the table. The Baboo will
subsequently be told off to sit on the Member's head. During this
function the Baboo will deliver some sesquipedalian reflections in the
rodomontade mood. The Shikarry will then tell the twelve-foot-tiger
story. Mrs. Lollipop will tell a fib and make tea; and Ali Baba
(unless his heart is too full of mulled claret) will make a joke. The
company will break up at this point, after receiving a plenary
dispensation from the Archdeacon.
Under such influences Ali Baba may become serious; he may learn from
the wisdom of age and be cheered by the sallies of youth. But little
Mrs. Lollipop can hardly be called one of the Sallies of his youth.
Sally Lollipop rose upon the horizon of his middle age. She boiled up,
pure blanc-mange and roses, over the dark brim of life's afternoon, a
blushing sunrise, though late to rise, and most cheerful. Sometimes
after spending an afternoon with her, Ali Baba feels so cheered that
the Government of India seems quite innocent and bright, like an old
ballerina seen through the mists of champagne and limelight. He walks
down the Mall smiling upon foolish Under Secretaries and fat Baboos.
The people whisper as he passes, "There goes Ali Baba"; and echo
answers "Who is Ali Baba?" Then a little wind of conjecture breathes
through the pine-trees and names are heard.
It is better not to call Ali Baba names. Nothing is so misleading as a
vulgar nomenclature. I once knew a man who was called "Counsellor of
the Empress" when he ought to have had his photograph exposed in the
London shop-windows like King Cetewayo, K.C.M.G. I have heard an
eminent Frontier General called "Judas Iscariot," and I myself was
once pointed out as a "Famine Commissioner," and afterwards as an
expurgated edition of the Secretary to the Punjab Government. People
seemed to think that Ali Baba would smell sweeter under some other
name. This was a mistake.
Almost everything you are told in Simla is a mistake. You should never
believe anything you hear till it is contradicted by the _Pioneer_. I
suppose the Government of India is the greatest _gobemouche_ in the
world. I suppose there never was an administration of equal importance
which received so much information and which was so ill-informed. At a
bureaucratic Simla dinner-party the abysses of ignorance that yawn
below the company on every Indian topic are quite appalling!
I once heard Mr. Stokes say that he had never heard of my book on the
Permanent Settlement; and yet Mr. Stokes is a decidedly intelligent
man, with some knowledge of Cymric and law. I daresay now if you were
to draw off and decant the law on his brain, it would amount to a full
dose for an adult; yet he never heard of my book on the Permanent
Settlement. He knew about Blackstone; he had seen an old copy once in
a second-hand book shop; but he had never heard of my work! How
loosely the world floats around us! I question its objective reality.
I doubt whether anything has more objectivity in it than Ali Baba
himself. He was certainly flogged at school. Yet when we now try to
put our finger on Ali Baba he eludes the touch; when we try to lay him
he starts up gibbering at Cabul, Lahore, or elsewhere. Perhaps it is
easier to imprison him in morocco boards and allow him to be blown
with restless violence round about the pendant world, abandoned to
critics: whom our lawless and uncertain thoughts imagine howling.
[Ali Baba! I know not what thou art, but know that thou and I must
part; and why or where and how we met, I own to me's a secret yet. Ali
Baba, we've been long together through pleasant and through cloudy
weather; 'tis hard to part when things are dear, bar silver, piece
cloth, bottled beer, then steal away with this short warning: choose
thine own winding-sheet, say not good-night here, but in some brighter
binding, sweet, bid me good morning.]--ALI BABA, K.C.B.
EXTRACTS FROM _SERIOUS REFLECTIONS AND OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS_.
BY "OUR POLITICAL ORPHAN."
_The Bombay Gazette Press_, 1881.
THE TEAPOT SERIES
[January 5, 1880.]
MY DEAR MRS. SMITH,
I cannot understand why Mrs. Smith, with her absurd figure--for really
I can apply no other adjective to it--should wear that most absurdly
tight dress. Some one should tell her what a fright it makes of her.
She is nothing but convexities. She looks exactly like an hour-glass,
or a sodawater machine. At a little distance you can hardly tell
whether she is coming to you, or going away from you. She looks just
the same all round. People call her smile sweet; but then it is the
mere sweetness of inanity. It is the blank brightness of an empty
chamber. She sheds these smiles upon everyone and everything, and they
are felt to be cold like moonshine. Speaking for myself, these
_eau-sucre_ smiles could not suckle my love. I would languish upon
them. My love demands stronger drink. Mrs. Smith's features are good,
no doubt. Her eyes are good. An oculist would be satisfied with them.
They have a cornea, a crystalline lens, a retina, and so on, and she
can see with them. This is all very satisfactory, I do not deny, as
far as it goes. Physiologically her eyes are admirable; but for
poetry, for love, or even for flirting, they are useless. There is no
significance in them, no witchery, no suggestiveness. The aurora of
beautiful far-away thoughts does not coruscate in them. Her eyelids
conceal them, but do not quench them. They would be nothing for
winking, or tears. If she winked at me, I should not jump into the
air, as if shot in the spine, with my blood tingling to my
extremities; my heart would not beat like a side-drum; my blushes
would not come perspiring through my whiskers. Her winking would
altogether misfire. Why? Because her winking would be physiological
and not erotic. If you ever learnt to love her, it would not be for
any lovelight in her eye; it would never be the quick, fierce, hot,
biting electric passion of the fleshly poets, it would be what a
chemist might call the "eremacausis" kindled by habit. Mrs. Smith's
tears are quite the poorest product of the lachrymal glands I have
ever seen. They are simply a form of water. They might dribble from an
effete pump; they might leak from a worn-out _mashq_.[AA] I observe
them with pity and regret. Their drip has no echo in my bosom; it
produces no stalactites of sympathy in my heart.
I have often been told that her nose was good--and good it
unquestionably is--good for blowing; good for sneezing; good for
snoring; good for smelling; a fine nose for a catarrh. But who could
play with it? Who could tweak it passionately, as a prelude to
kissing? Who could linger over it tenderly with a candle, or a lump of
mutton fat, when cold had laid its cruel hand upon it? It is not
tip-tilted like a flower; it is not whimsical with some ravishing and
unexpected little crook. It is straight, like a mathematical line. But
it has no parts. Her cheeks are round and fair. Each has its dimple
and blush. They are thoroughly healthy, Mrs. Smith's digestion is
unexceptionable. You might indicate the contour of these cheeks with a
pair of compasses; you might paint them with your thumb. Poor Mrs.
Smith's talk, or babble rather, is of her husband, her children, her
home. It is a mere purring over them. She never cuts them to pieces,
and holds them up to scorn and mockery. She never penetrates their
weaknesses. She does not even understand that Smith is a common-place,
stereotyped kind of fellow, exactly like hundreds of other men in his
class. She does not appear to notice the ghastly defects in his
education, tastes, and character, which gape before all the world
else. She does not see that he is without the _morbidezza_ of culture;
that he finds no _appogiatura_ in art; that he never rises at
midnight, amid lightning and rain, to emit an inarticulate cry of
aesthetic anguish in some metrical construction of the renaissance
period. She does not miss in him that yearning after the unattainable,
which in some mysterious wise fills us with a mute despair; which has
in it yet I know not what of sweetness amid the delirious aspirations
with which it distracts us. She cannot know, with her base instincts
dragging her down to the hearth-level of home and child, the material
gracelessness of her husband, equally incapable of striking an
Anglo-Saxon, or a mediaeval attitude; and with his blood flushed,
healthy face unable to realize in his expression that divine sorrow
which can alone distinguish the man of culture from ordinary
Englishmen, or the anthropoid apes. She will never know what vibrates
so harshly on us--the want of feeling for colour which is displayed in
the coarse tone of his brown hair. So in regard to her children, the
mind of Mrs. Smith is quite uncritical. Look at that baby, like a
thousand other babies you see every day. It has not a single
idiosyncrasy on which anyone above the intellectual level of a
_cretin_ could hang an affection. Its porcine eyes twinkle dimly
through rolls of fat; it splutters and puffs, and its habits are
simply abominable. What a gross home for that life's star, which hath
had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar! The star is quenched
in fat; it has exchanged the music of the spheres for a hideous
caterwauling! Yet Mrs. Smith loves that child, and gobbles over it,
descending to its abysses of grossness.
Her house is one of many in a long unlovely street; it is furnished
according to the most corrupt dictates of bestial Philistinism--that
is, with a view to comfort. There are no subtle harmonies in the
papers and chintzes; there are no hidden suggestions of form and tone
in the cornices and bell handles; all is barren of proportion,
concord, and meaning. Still, this poor woman, with her inartistic eye
and foolish heart, loves this wretched shelter, and would pour out her
idiotic tears if she were leaving it for Paradise.
But if we descend from our aesthetic heights to the lowly level of the
biped Smith, we may see Mrs. S. in a totally different atmosphere, and
certain lights and shadows will play about her with a radiance not
altogether without beauty. She is a single-minded woman, anxious to
make her husband and children comfortable and happy in their
home,--and dreaming of nothing beyond this. She is full of homely
wisdom; a hundred little economies she practises with forethought and
unwearying assiduity tend to make her husband and children love her
and regard her as a paragon of domestic policy. Her husband's
affection and her children's affection are all the world to her; music
and painting and poetry, Mr. Ruskin, Phidias, Praxiteles, Holman Hunt,
and Mr. Whistler pale away into shadows of shadows in presence of the
indications of love she receives from that baby. And this intense
single-minded love elevates her within its own compass. She sees in
that baby's eyes the light that never was on sea or land, the
consecration and the mother's dream. She broods over it till she
effects for it in her own maternal fancy an apotheosis; and round its
image in her heart there glows a bright halo of poetry. She sees
through the fat. The grossness disappears before her rapt gaze. There
remains the spirit from heaven:--
Sweet spirit newly come from Heaven
With all the God upon thee, still
Beams of no earthly light are given
Thy heart e'en yet to bless and fill.
Thy soul a sky whose sun has set,
Wears glory hovering round it yet;
And childhood's eve glows sadly bright
Ere life hath deepened into night.
So with the husband; so with the home; a glory gathers round them,
which she alone, the intense worshipper, sees; and this unaesthetic
Mrs. Smith, altogether unsatisfactory to the artistic eye, most
practical, most commonplace, carries within her some of the Promethean
flame, and is worthy of that halo of homely joy and affection with
which she is crowned.
[February 19, 1880.]
I first met him driving home from cutcherry in his buggy. He was a fat
man in the early afternoon of life. In his blue eyes lay the mystery
of many a secret salad and unwritten milk-punch; but though he smoked
the longest cheroots of Trichinopoly and Dindigul, his hand was still
steady and still grasped a cue or a long tumbler, with the unerring
certainty of early youth and unshaken health.
Of an evening he would come over to my bungalow in a friendly way; he
would "just drop in," as he used to say, in his pleasant offhand
fashion, and he would irrigate himself with my brandy and soda, amid
genial smiles and a brandishing of his long cheroot, playfully
indicating his recognition of a stimulant with which he had been long
As he began to glow with conversation and brandy, he would call for
cards and play ecarte with me, until the room gradually resolved
itself into one of the circles of some Californian Inferno, with a
knave of spades digging the diamonds out of my heart and clubbing my
He would leave me throbbing with the eructation of oaths and the
hollow aching of an empty purse, and uncertain whether to give up
cards and liquor for hymns and Government paper or whether to call him
back and take fortune by storm. But he had gone off with a resolute
"good night" that tended to dispel illusions; he had gone to his own
No. 1 Exshaw and his French novels, which he read as he lay on his
solitary bachelor couch.
Yes,--his bachelor couch, for he was not married. He had loved much
and often. He had loved a great many people in different stations of
life, but they did not marry him. He was, upon the whole, glad that
they did not marry him; for they were often married to other people,
and he would have been lonely with one, dissatisfied with two, and
embarrassed with more; so he continued his austere bachelor life; and
always tried to love unostentatiously somebody else's wife.
He loved somebody else's wife, because he had no wife of his own, and
the heart requires love. It was very wrong of him to love somebody
else's wife, and to sponge thus on affections which belonged to
another; but then he had nothing puritanical or pharisaical in his
nature; he was too highly cultivated to be moral, and arguing the
point in the mood of sweet _Barbara_, he had often succeeded in
persuading pretty women that he did right in loving them, though their
household duties belonged to another.
I have said that he was too highly cultivated to be religious. He was
exceedingly emotional and intellectual; and the procrustean bed of a
creed would have been intolerable torture to him. Life throbbed around
him in an aurora of skittles. The world of morality only raised a
languid smile, or tickled an appetite pleased with novelty. An
archdeacon, or a book of sermons delighted him. He would play with
them and ponder over them, as if they were old china, or curious
etchings. But he was never profane, especially before bishops, or
children, and he always went to church on Sunday morning.
He went to church on Sunday morning, because it was quaint and
old-fashioned to do so, and because he loved to see the women of his
acquaintance in their devotional moods and attitudes. There was hardly
any mood or attitude in which he did not love to see a woman, partly
because he was full of human sympathy and tenderness, and partly for
other reasons. I suppose he was a student of human nature, though he
always repudiated the notion of being a student of anything. He said
that life was too short for serious study, and that every kind of
pursuit should be tempered with fooling; while to prevent fooling
becoming wearisome it should always be dashed with something earnest,
as the sodawater is dashed with brandy, or the Government of India
with Mr. Whitley Stokes.
Nigrorum memor, dum licet, ignium,
Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem:
Dulce est desipere in loco.
But besides being a man of pleasure and a capital billiard player, he
was a Collector in the North-Western Provinces--a man who sat at the
receipt of custom under a punkah, and read his _Pioneer_. The Lord
High Cockalorum at Nynee Tal, Sir Somebody Thingmajig,--I am speaking
of years ago--did not like him, I believe; but nobody thought any the
worse of him for this; and although he continued to be a Collector
until the shades of evening, when all his contemporaries had retired
into the Dreamland of Commissionerships, he still loved and was loved;
and to the very last he read his French novels and quoted Horace,
sitting peacefully on the bank while the stream of promotion rolled
on, knowing well that it would roll on _in omne aevum_, and not caring
a jot whether it did, or did not. What was a seat at the Sadr
Board[BB] to him, a seat among the solemn mummies of the service? He
would not object to lie in the same graveyard with them; but to sit at
the same board while this sensible warm motion of life still continued
was too much; this could never be. He belonged to a higher order of
spirits. As a boy he had not bartered the music of his soul for
Eastern languages and the Rent Law; and as an old man he would not sit
in state with corpses faintly animated by rupees.
To the last he mocked promotion; he mocked, till the dread mocker laid
mocking fingers on his liver, and till gibe and laughter were silenced
for evermore. So the Collector died, the merry Collector; and "where
shall we bury the merry Collector?" became the last problem for his
friends to deal with. I was in far away lands at the time with another
friend of his--we mourned for the Collector.
We would have buried him in soft summer weather under sweet arbute
trees, near the shore of some murmuring Italian sea. The west wind
should whisper its grief over his grave for ever:--
"Thou who didst waken from his summer-dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay
Lull'd by the coil of his crystalline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss and flowers."
Blue-eyed girls have bound his dear head with garlands of the amorous
rosemary. The echoes of sea-caves would have chanted requiems until
time should be no more. Embalmed in darkness the nightingale would
nightly for ever pour forth her soul in profuse strains of
inconsolable ecstasy; by day the dove should moan in the flickering
shade until the sun should cease to roll on his fiery path:--
"Where through groves deep and high,
Sounds the far billow,
Where early violets die under the willow.
There, through the summer day,
Cool streams are laving;
There, while the tempests sway,
Scarce are boughs waving;
There thy rest should'st thou take,
Parted for ever,
Never again to wake: never, O never!"
With tender hand we would have traced on his memorial urn some
valediction--not without hope--of love and friendship.
It was otherwise. He was buried during a dust-storm in a loathsome
Indian cemetery. No friend stood by the grave. A hard priest
reluctantly pattered an abbreviated service: and people whispered that
it was not well with the Collector's soul. He is now forgotten.
But, dear friend, thy memory blossoms in my heart for ever, thy merry
laugh will still sound in my ear:--
"Abiding with me till I sail
To seek thee on the mystic deeps,
And this electric force, that keeps
A thousand pulses dancing, fail."
THE GRYPHON'S ANABASIS
[March 29, 1880.]
For some days the moustaches had been assuming a fiercer curl; more
and more troopers had been added to the escort; the Lord whispered in
the unreluctant ear softer and softer nothings; the scarlet runners
bowed lower and lower; and it was rumoured that the Lord had given the
Gryphon a pot of his own club-mutton hair-grease. It would be a halo.
This development of glory must have a limit: a feeling got abroad that
the Gryphon must go.
The Commander-in-Chief would come up to him bathed in smiles and say
nothing; at other times with tears in his eyes he would swear with far
resounding, multitudinous oaths to accompany the Gryphon. One day
Wolseley's pocket-book and a tooth-brush would be packed in tin; next
day they would be unpacked. The vacillation was awful; it amounted to
an agony; it involved all the circles; the newspapers were profoundly
The Gryphon starts. Editors forget their proofs; Baboos forget Moses;
mothers forget their cicisbeos. The mind of Calcutta is turned upon
A thousand blue eyes and ten thousand black focus him. He takes his
seat. A double-first class carriage has been reserved. The
Superintendent-General of Balloons and Fireworks appears on the
platform: the Gryphon steps out, takes precedence of him, and then
returns to his carriage. The excitement increases. Pre-paid telegrams
are flashed to Bombay, Madras, Allahabad, and Lahore; the engine
whistles "God save the Queen-Empress and the Secretary to the Punjab
Government;" and the train pours out its glories into the darkness.
My Lord is deeply stirred. He believes the Asian mystery has been
solved. He returns to Government House and gives vent to his
overwrought feelings in smoke--Parascho cigarettes; then he telegraphs
himself to sleep. Dreams sweep over him, issuing from the fabled gates
of shining ivory.
Meanwhile the Gryphon speeds on, yearning like a god in pain for his
far-away aphelion in Kabul. Morning bashfully overtakes him; and the
train dances into stations festooned with branches of olive and palm.
A _feu-de-joie_ of champagne corks is fired; special correspondents in
clean white trousers enliven the scene; Baron Reuter's ubiquitous
young man turns on rapturous telegrams; and a faint smile dawns darkly
on the Gryphon's scorn-worn face.
Merrily shrieks the whistling engine as the Punjab comes sliding down,
the round world to welcome its curled darling. It spurns with
contemptuous piston the vulgar corn-growing provinces of Couper; it
seeks the fields that are sown with dragon's teeth; it hisses forward
with furious joy, like the flaming chariot of some Heaven-booked
Prophet. Already Egerton anticipates its welcome advent. He can hardly
sit still on his pro-consular throne; he smiles in dockets and
demi-officials; he walks up and down his alabaster halls, and out into
his gardens of asphodel, and snuffs the air. It is redolent with some
rare effluvium; pomatum-laden winds breathe across the daffadown
dillies from the warm chambers of the south. A cloud crosses His
Honour's face, a summer cloud dissolving into sunshine. "It is the
pomade of Saul:--but it is our own glorious David whose unctuous curls
carry the Elysian fragrance." Then taking up his harp and dancing an
ecstatic measure, he sings--
"He is coming, my Gryphon, my swell;
Were it ever so laden with care,
My heart would know him, and smell
The grease in his coal-black hair."
The whole of the Punjab is astir. Deputy Commissioners, and Extra
Assistant Commissioners, and Kookas, and Sikhs, and Mazhabi-Sikhs
crowd the stations; but the Gryphon passes fiercely onwards. The light
of battle is now in his eye; he is in uniform; a political sword hangs
from his divine waist; a looking-glass poses itself before him. Life
burns wildly in his heart: time throbs along in hot seconds; Eternity
unfolds around her far-receding horizons of glory.
The train emits telegrams as it hurls itself forward: "the Gryphon is
well:--he is in the presence of his Future:--History watches him:--he
is drinking a peg:--the _Civil and Military Gazette_ has caught a
glimpse of him:--glory, glory, glory, to the Gryphon, the mock turtle
is his wash-pot, over Lyall will he cast his shoe."
Earthquakes are felt all along the line from Peshawar to Kabul.
Strings of camels laden with portmanteaus stretch from the rising to
the setting sun. The whole of the Guides and Bengal Cavalry have
resolved themselves into orderlies, and are riding behind the Gryphon.
Tens of thousands of insurgents are lining the road and making holiday
to see the Gryphon pass.
Kabul is astir. Roberts, with bare feet and a rope round his neck,
comes forward, performs _Kadambosi_ and presents the keys of Sherpur
to the Gryphon, who hands them graciously to his Extra Assistant
Deputy Khidmatgar General. The wires are red hot with messages: "The
Gryphon is taking a pill; the Gryphon is bathing; the Gryphon is
breakfasting; the Gryphon is making a joke; the Gryphon has been
bitten by a flea; the wound is not pronounced dangerous, he is
recovering slowly:--Glory, glory to the Gryphon--Amen, amen!"--
YOUR POLITICAL ORPHAN.
THE ORPHAN'S GOOD RESOLUTIONS
[June 8, 1880.]
Part I.--Persons I will try to avoid.
" II.--Things I will try to avoid.
" III.--Habits I will try to avoid.
" IV.--Opinions I will try to avoid.
" V.--Circumstances I will try to avoid.
* * * * *
PART I.--BAD COMPANY.
PERSONS I WILL TRY TO AVOID.
He has a villa in the country; but his place of business is in town;
somewhere near Sackville Street. Vulgarity had marked him for her own
at an early age. She had set her mark indelibly on his speech, his
manners, and his habits. When ten years old he had learned to aspirate
his initial vowels; when twelve he had mastered the whole theory and
practice of eating cheese with his knife; at seventeen his mind was
saturated with ribald music of the Vaudeville type.
Reader, you anticipate me? You suppose I refer to one of Mr.
Gladstone's new Ministers, or to one of Lord Beaconsfield's new
You are, of course, mistaken. My man is a tailor; one of the best
tailors in the world. He has made hundreds of coats for me; and he has
sent me hundreds of circulars and bills.
Now, however, he has lost my address, and there seems a coolness
between us. We stand aloof; the scars remaining.
His name is Sartor, and I owe him a good deal of money.
He is always up to the Hills when the weather is unpleasant on the
plains. Butterfly-collecting, singing to a guitar passionate songs of
love and hate, and lying the live-long day on a long chair with a long
tumbler in his hand, and a volume of Longfellow on the floor, are his
characteristic pursuits. It is needless to say that he is the
Accountant-General, and the last man in the world to suppose that I
have given myself ten days' privilege leave to the Hills on urgent
private affairs,--_affairs de coeur_, and _affairs de rien_, of sorts.
His head is shaved to the bone; his face, of the Semitic type, is most
sinister, truculent, and ferocious; his filthy Afghan rags bristle
with knives and tulwars. He carries five or six matchlocks under one
arm, and a hymn book, or Koran, under the other. He is in holy
orders--a Ghazi! A pint, or a pint and a half, of my blood, would earn
for him Paradise, with sharab, houris, and all the rest of it.
He was once an exceedingly pleasant fellow, full of talk and anecdote.
We were at school together. He was captain of our eleven and at the
head of the sixth form. I looked up to him; quoted him; imitated him;
lent him my pocket money. Afterwards a great many other people lent
him their money too, and played _ecarte_ with him; yet at no period of
his life was he rich, and now he is decidedly poor. Still the old love
of borrowing money and playing _ecarte_ burns hectically in his bosom,
and with years a habit of turning up the king has grown upon him. No
one likes to tell him that he has acquired this habit of turning up
the king; he is so poor!
She was rather nice-looking once, and I amused myself with fancying
that I loved her. She was to me the summer pilot of an empty heart
unto the shores of nothing. It was then that I acquired that facility
in versification which has since so often helped to bind a book, or
line a box, or served to curl a maiden's locks. She, learned reams of
those verses by heart, and still repeats them. Her good looks and my
illusions have passed away: but those verses--those thrice accursed
verses, remain. How they make my ears tingle! How they burn my cheeks!
Will time, think you, never impair her infernal memory?
I lisp a little, it is true; but, thank goodness, no longer in
numbers. I only lisp a little when any occasion arises to utter
sibilant sounds; on such occasions this little girl, the only child of
her mother, and she a widow, mimics my infirmity. The widow is silly
and laughs nervously, as people with a fine sense of humour laugh in
church when a book falls. This laugh of the widow is not easy to bear;
for she is pretty. Were she not pretty her mocking child would come, I
ween, to some untimely end.
My Lord is, more or less, admired by two or three young ladies I know;
and when he puts his arm round my neck and drags me up and down a
crowded ball-room I cannot help wishing that they were in the pillory
instead of me. I really wish to be polite to H.E., but how can I say
that I think he was justified in finessing his deficit and playing
How can I agree with him when he says that Abdur Rahman will come
galloping in to Cabul to tender his submission as soon as he receives
Mr. Lepel Griffin's photograph neatly wrapped up in a Post Office
Order for two lakhs of rupees? And then that Star of India he is
always pressing on me! As I say to him,--what should I do with it?
I can't go hanging things round my neck like King Coffee Calcalli, or
the Emperor of Blue China.
But soon it will not be difficult for me to avoid my Lord: for
"Sic desideriis icta fidelibus
Quaerit patria Caesarem."
He still smiles when we meet; and I don't think any the less of him
because he was called "Bumble" at school and afterwards made Governor
of Bombay. Men drift unconsciously into these things. But when I
happen to be near him he has a nervous way of lunging with his stick
that I can't quite get over. They say he once dreamt that I had poked
fun at him in a newspaper; and the hallucination continues to produce
an angry aberration of his mind, coupled with gnashing of the teeth
and other dangerous symptoms.
He is a huge gob of flesh, which is perhaps animated dimly by some
spark of humanity smouldering filthily in a heart cancerous with
money-grubbing. His whole character and mode of life stink with
poisonous exhalations in my moral nostrils. Nature denounces, in her
loud commination service, his clammy hand, his restless eye, his
sinister and bestial mouth. Why should he waken me from the dreams of
literature and the low music of my own reflections to disgorge from
the cesspool of his mind the impertinent questions and the loathsome
compliments which form his notion of conversation? He has come to "pay
his respects." I abhor "his respects." He is rich:--What is that to
me? He is powerful with all the power of corruption: I scorn his
power, I figuratively spit upon it. He is perhaps the man whom the
Government delights to honour. More shame to the Government! A bully
at home, and a tyrant among his own people, on all sides dastardly and
mean, he is a bad representative of a gentle and intellectual race,
that for its heroic traditions, its high thoughts, its noble language
and its exquisite urbanity has been the wonder of the whole world
since the dawn of history.
A cocked hat, a tailcoat with gold buttons and a rapier:--"See'st thou
not the air of the court in these enfoldings? Hath not his gait in it
the measure of the court? Receives not thy nose court-odour from him?
Reflects he not on thy baseness court-contempt?" Observe how
mysterious he is: consider the secrets burning on his tongue. He is
all asides and whispers and winks and nods to other young popinjays of
the same feather. He could tell you the very brand of the pills the
Raja is taking: he receives the paltriest gossip of the Nawab's court
filtered through a lying vakeel. Ten to one he carries in his pocket a
cipher telegram from Simla empowering him to confer the title of
_Jee_[CC] on some neighbouring Thakor. Surely it is no wonder that he
believes himself to be the hub of creation. Within a radius of twenty
miles there is no one even fit to come between the wind and his
nobility. If he should ever catch hold of you by the arm and take you
aside for a moment from the madding crowd of a lawn-tennis party to
whisper in your ear the arrival of a complimentary _Kharita_ and a
pound of sweetmeats from the Foreign Office for the Jam of Bredanbatta
you should let off smiles and blushes in token of the honour and glory
thus placed at your credit.
All Assistant-Magistrates on their first arrival in this country,
stuffed like Christmas turkeys with abstracts and notes, the pemmican
of school-boy learnings, are more or less a weariness and a bore; but
the youth who comes out from the admiring circle of sisters and aunts
with the airs of a man of the world and the blight of a premature
_ennui_ is peculiarly insufferable. Of course he has never
known at home any grown-up people beyond the chrysalis stage of
undergraduatism, except to receive from them patronising hospitalities
and little attentions in the shape of guineas and stalls at the opera,
such as good-natured seniors delight to show to promising young
kinsmen and friends. Yet his talk is of the studio, the editor's room,
and the club; it is flavoured with the _argot_ of the great world, the
half world and Bohemia; he flings great names in your face, dropping
with a sublime familiarity the vulgar prefixes of "Mr." and "Lord,"
and he overwhelms you with his knowledge of women and their wicked
ways. Clever Ouida, with her tawdry splendours, her guardsmen, her
peers, her painters and her Aspasias, and the "society papers," with
their confidences and their personalities, have much to answer for in
the case of this would-be man of the world.
SOME OCCULT PHENOMENA
[October 21, 1880.]
There were thirteen of them, and they sat down to dinner just as the
clock in the steeple chimed midnight. The sheeted dead squeaked and
gibbered in their graves; the owl hooted in the ivy. "For what we are
going to receive may the Secret Powers of Nature and the force of
circumstances make us truly thankful," devoutly exclaimed the domestic
medium. The spirits of Chaos and Cosmos rapped a courteous
acknowledgment on the table. _Potage a la sorciere_ (after the famous
recipe in Macbeth) was served in a cauldron; and while it was being
handed round, Hume recited his celebrated argument regarding miracles.
He had hardly reached the twenty-fifth hypothesis, when a sharp cry
startled the company, and Mr. Cyper Redalf, the eminent journalist,
was observed to lean back in his chair, pale and speechless. His whole
frame was convulsed with emotion; his hair stood erect and emitted
electro-biological sparks. The company sat aghast. A basin of soup
dashed in his face and a few mesmeric passes soon brought him round,
however; and presently he was able to explain to the assembled
carousers the cause of his agitation. It was a recollection, a tender
memory of youth. The umbrella of his boyhood had suddenly surged upon
his imagination! It was an umbrella from which he had been parted for
years: it was an umbrella round which had once centred associations
solemn and mysterious. In itself there had been nothing remarkable
about the umbrella. It was a gingham, conceived in the liberal spirit
of a bygone age; such an umbrella as you would not easily forget when
it had once fairly bloomed on the retina of your eye; yet an everyday
umbrella, a commonplace umbrella half a century ago; an umbrella that
would have elicited no remark from our great-grandmothers, hardly a
smile from our grandmothers; but an umbrella well calculated to excite
the affections and stimulate the imagination of an impulsive,
high-spirited, and impressionable boy. It was an umbrella not easily
forgotten; an umbrella that necessarily produced a large and deep
impression on the mind.
All present were profoundly moved; a feeling of dismay crept over
them, defacing their festivity. Tears were shed. Only from one pair of
damp eyes did any gleam of hope or comfort radiate.
A distinguished foreigner, well known in the uttermost spirit-circles,
wiped from his brow drops of perspiration which some dream had
loosened from his brain. He felt the tide of psychic force beating
upon the high shores of his heart. He was conscious of a
constitutional change sweeping like a tempest over his protoplastic
tissue. He felt that the secret fountains of his being were troubled
by the angel of spirit-rapping, and that his gross, unbelieving
nature stepped down, bathed, and was healed. The Moses of the
spirit-wilderness struck the rock of his material life, and occult
dynamics came welling forth from the undiscovered springs of
consciousness. His mortal statics lost their equilibrium in a general
flux of soul. A cyclone raged round his mesmeric aura. He began to
apprehend an epiphany of electro-biological potentiality. The fierce
light that never was in kerosine or tallow dawned round him; matter
melted like mist; souls were carousing about him; the great soul of
nature brooded like an aurora of clairvoyance above all; his awful
mediumhood held him fiercely in her mystic domination; and things grew
to a point. From the focus of the clairvoyant aurora clouds of
creative impulse gathered, and sweeping soulward were condensed in
immaterial atoms upon the cold peaks of Purpose. Thus a spiritual
gingham impressed upon his soul of souls a matrix, out of which, by a
fine progenitive effort, he now begets and ejects a materialized
gingham into a potato-plot of the garden without.
The thing is patent to all who live above the dead-level of vulgar
imbecility. No head of a department could fail to understand it.
Indeed, to such as live on the uplands of speculation, not only is the
process lucid in itself, but it is luciferous, illuminating all the
obscure hiding-places of Nature. It is the magic-lantern of creation;
it is the key to all mysticism, to the three-card trick, and to the
basket-trick; it sheds a glory upon thimble-rigging, a halo upon
legerdemain; it even radiates vagabond beams of splendour upon
pocket-picking and the cognate arts. It explains how the apples get
into the dumpling; how the milk comes out of the cocoanut; how the
deficit issues from the surplus; how matter evolves itself from
nothing. It renders the hypothesis of a First Cause not only
unnecessary, but exquisitely ludicrous. Under such dry light as it
offers to our intelligence the whole epos of Christianity seems a
But I anticipate conclusions. We must go back to the dinner-party and
to Mr. Cyper Redalf, who has been restored to consciousness, and who
still is the object of general sympathy; for it is not until the
disturbance in the distinguished foreigner's nerve aura has amounted
to a psychic cyclone that the company perceive his interesting
condition, and begin to look for a manifestation. The hopes of some
fondly turn to raps, others desire the pressure of a spirit hand, or
the ringing of a bell, or the levitation of furniture, or the sound of
a spirit voice, the music of an immaterial larynx. Dinner is soon
forgotten; the thing has become a _seance_, hands are joined, the
lights are instinctively lowered, and the whole company, following an
irresistible impulse, march round and round the room, and then out
into the darkness after the soul-stirred foreigner, after the
foreigner of distinction. Is it unconscious cerebration that leads
them to the potato-plot, or is it the irresistible influence of some
Supreme Power, something more occult and more interesting than God,
that compels them to fall on their knees, and grub with their hands in
the recently manured potato-bed? I must leave this question
unanswered, as a sufficiently occult explanation does not occur to me:
but suffice it to say that this search after truth, this burrowing in
the gross earth for some spiritual sign, appears to me a spectacle at
once inspiring and touching. It seems to me that human life has seldom
had anything more beautiful and more ennobling to show than these
postmaster-generals, boards of revenue, able editors, and foreigners