« AnteriorContinuar »
LETTERS FROM A COMPETITION WALLAH.
LETTER VIII.-ABOUT THE HINDOO CHARACTER; WITH DIGRESSIONS
HOME. CALCUTTA, April 17, 1863. ancient Italian vase ; for every detail porDEAR SIMKINS,—One morning, at the trayed in those marvellous works of art beginning of this month, as I lay be- was faithfully represented here. If one tween sleeping and waking, near the of the life-like black figures in the open window, I began to be aware of a Etruscan chamber of the British Muhideous din in an adjacent street. At seum could have walked down off the first the sound of discordant music, and back-ground of red pottery into the a confused multitude of voices, impressed midst of the road conducting to Cali me with a vague idea that a battalion of Ghaut, he would not have attracted the volunteers were passing by in marching notice of the closest observer. Every order, headed by their band. This no- half-minute poured by a troop of wortion, however, was dispelled by the shippers. First, came boys stark naked, appearance of my bearer with the tea- and painted from head to foot in imitatray, who informed ine that this was the tion of leopards and tigers, while others festival of Cali, the goddess of destruc- guided them with reins of thin cord. tion, and that all the Hindoo people had Then followed three or four strange turned out to make holiday. I imme classic figures, wearing the head-dress diately sallied forth in the direction of which is familiar to us from the existthe noise, and soon found myself amidst ing representations of bacchanalian proa dense crowd in the principal thorough- cessions, dancing in an attitude which fare leading to the shrine of the deity. recalled, spontaneously and instantly, During a few minutes I could not be- the associations of Smith's “ Dictionary lieve my eyes ; for I seemed to have of Antiquities.” The only circumstance been transported in a moment over more which was not in common between than twenty centuries, to the Athens of Tolly's “Nullah” and the Cephisus, Cratinus and Aristophanes. If it had was the censer of live charcoal which not been for the colour of the faces these men carried before them, suparound, I should have believed myself ported by wires passed through the flesh to be on the main road to Eleusis in under their armpits. Into this, from the full tide of one of the Dionysiac time to time, they throw a powder, festivals. The spirit of the scene was which produced a sudden flash and a the same, and at each step some well- most infernal smell. Behind them, his known feature reminded one irresistibly brows crowned profusely with foliage, that the Bacchic orgies sprung from the was led in mimic bonds, the chief permysterious fanaticism of the far East. sonage of the company, who was supIt was no unfounded tradition that pic- posed to be under the direct influence tured Dionysus returning from con- of the god. All around him, musicians quered India, leopards and tigers were beating tomtoms and clashing tamchained to his triumphal car, escorted bourines, like the satellites of Evius, on from the Hyphasis to the Asopus by the day when he leapt from his car bands of votaries dancing in fantastic into the arms of the forsaken Ariadne : measure to the clang of cymbals. It as he still leaps on the glowing canvas was no chance resemblance this, be- of Titian. All was headlong licence tween an Hindoo rite, in the middle of and drunken frenzy. After struggling the nineteenth century, and those wild through the throng for a mile and a revels that stream along many a Grecian half of dusty street, I came to a narrow bas-relief, and wind round many an slum which descended to the Ghaut, or
landing-place, of Cali, which lies on the nullah of the mythical hero Tolly, who, perhaps, was the Atys of this Oriental Cybele. From this lane, a passage à yard or two in breadth opened on to a dirty court in which stood the sanctuary, whence Calcutta derives its name; which was an object of awe and reverence to the surrounding population for ages before the first ship, laden with Feringhee wares, was warped up the neighbouring river. It seemed impossible to pierce the mob of devotees, and penetrate to the holy place; but not even religious madness, not even the inspiration of bang and toddy, could overcome the habitual respect paid to a white face and a pith helmet. A couple of policemen cleared a passage for me to within a few feet of the sacred image. It appeared to be a rude block, ornamented with huge glass beads; but I dare say the Palladium, which fell from heaven, was not a very elaborate device; and yet it saved the reputation of a young Roman lady, and gave a synonym to an English jury. I wonder what Mr. Edwin James conceived to be the origin of the expression, on the numerous occasions when he appealed to that institution, as the “Playdium of Brish Liberty." He probably supposed it to be the Latin for “bulwark,” or “ effective guarantee." Before I reached home, what with the jostling, and hubbub, and stench, I was very glad to get back to the society of clean, fragrant Christians. As I grew every moment more tired and hot, the exhibition seemed to savour less of the classical, and more of the diabolical. At last, I came to the ill-natured conclusion, that Satan was at the bottom of the whole business, and not the golden-haired Dionysus. The remarkably unpleasant Mænads around me suggested the idea of perspiration rather than inspiration, and I felt inclined to exclaim,Dea, magna domina Tolli, Calië dea domina, Procul a meo sit omnis tuns ore, precor, odor! Alios age hinc olentes. Alios age putridos.
This singular system of idolatry, so perfect in organization, so venerable in
its extreme antiquity, already shows evident marks of decay. The study of the history of creeds teaches us, that the laws which govern the religious opinions of mankind may be ascertained as surely as the laws which govern their political and social opinions. A rude nation is content with an absurd, irrational superstition ; while a highly civilized community requires a logical and consistent faith. You might as soon expect, in the England of the nineteenth century, to find Ptolemy the great astronomical authority, and Galen the great medical authority, as to meet with tenets such as those of the Church of Rome in the dark ages. Men who are accustomed to examine with care the principles of constitutional government, of commercial policy, of international law, of personal rights ; men who will not admit the existence of the most insignificant fact in geology or physiology, without a rigorous investigation, are not likely to be indifferent concerning truth or error in matters to which the interests of this world are as nothing in the balance. The same causes that set John Stuart Mill at work upon the questions of small holdings and limited liability, which led Maclure in quest of the North-west Passage, and Sir Charles Lyell in search offlint-knives and pre-historic menthese very causes incite adventurers of another class to seek a reason for the faith that is in them, amidst perils, to which polar bears and icebergs are a trifle. Yet, incredible as it may seem, instead of bidding them God-speed, we prosecute them, and sequester them and backbite them, and take away their good name and their fellowships. When a savant, after a faithful and diligent inquiry, arrives at a conclusion with which we disagree, we are none the less pleased that the subject has been sifted, and we buy his book, and tack some mystical letters to the end of his name. When a theological writer follows this example, we say that his number is six hundred threescore and six, and trounce him of about as many pounds a year. It is very easy for us to tell him to
believe and not to doubt; but it is not godless House of Commons !" If so easy to answer the plaintive question, clergymen step into the breach, the cry “How shall I know what I am to be- rises to a shriek : “ How dare you, who lieve ? ” If we bid him continue in “ eat the bread of the Church, revile the faith in which he was brought up, “ her service and impugn her belief? without doubt or cavil, he naturally “ Traitors ! impostors! perjured swindsuggests that on this principle the “ lers ! ill birds! pack up and begone children of Papists will be Papists, the “from the nest you have fouled !” children of Buddhists, Buddhists, the But I have wandered far enough from children of Mormons, polygamists, the Cali Ghaut. You may well imagine children of Mr. Prince, love-birds, and that such a scene of idolatrous barbarthe children of Mr. Home, media, till ism as I have described must seem the end of time.
shocking and absurd to natives educated There was some sense and consistency in European literature, and versed in in the intolerance of Philip the Second European habits of thought and busiand his spouse, who, as you observed in ness. The schoolmaster has long been a prize declamation, attached the epithet abroad, and the rationalist generally of “ bloody" to the loveliest of English treads on the heels of that functionary. names. They held that the Church The introduction of Western learning which traced back an unbroken descent and science has produced upon the to the day when Peter received the Hindoo religion the same effect that keys from the hand of her Master and was produced upon the ancient classical Founder, vas infallible and omniscient. creeds by the progress of civilization. Whatever the Church ordained to be As Cicero said of the augurs of his day, essential for salvation—prayer, penance, it is hard to conceive how one Brahman or indulgence-she must be obeyed, or can look another in the face without a the consequence would be eternal death. smile. There are some who admire the Men who acted under this impression great men of Greece and Rome, because really meant well by you when they they united philosophy to the conduct screwed you up, and flayed you alive, of public affairs. How beautiful to beand roasted you, and confiscated your hold Pericles learning from Anaxagoras property. But for Protestants, whose that the universe in general, and Aspacreed is founded upon freedom of sia in particular, was composed of homothought-who, if thought be not free, geneous atoms! Cato, on the eve of are, one and all, in a state of reproba. death, assuring Plato that he reasoned tion-for Protestants, on account of well! Cicero, in the intervals of selfhonest difference of opinion, to ban, and glorification, writing academic treatises, browbeat, and mulct, and indite each and receiving consolatory letters from other, and gratuitously forbid each other people who had sailed from Ægina and to preach in their respective dioceses, is Megara. There would be just as much an idea to the last degree monstrous sense in praising Bright for being a and incongruous. Will any one pre- Protestant as well as a demagogue, or tend to say, that there exists no fault or Pelissier for being a Roman Catholic as blemish in our Church ? If the insti. well as a Marshal. A man must have a tution is not perfect, if- like everything belief, or dis belief, of some sort or kind; else in the construction of which man and when, as in the case of Jupiter and has borne a part—reformation is needed, Vishnu, the national religion is too abfrom what quarter is the reforming surd for an enlightened man to swallow, movement to begin? When laymen he must profess himself something, if it take up the matter, the cry is, “ Hands were only an atheist. The earliest and “ off! the Church of England is not a most natural heresy is an attempt to 6 public office, or a government dock. rationalise the irrational, and extract “ yard. In the name of Heaven, do not from the follies of the old faith a con" allow our liturgy to get amidst the sistent system of morality and divinity. Towards the beginning of the present twenty, and planted under a zone where century, Ram Mohun Roy (no relation the passions are at blood-heat, you will to Lord Stanhope), struck with the idea have an idea what the state of things of divine unity, which he had learnt out here would be if it were not for from the Bible and the Koran, with the heavy hand of English authority. much audacity and ingenuity under- In all sectarian squabbles, our magistook to trace out an underlying current trates behave with the same cold justice of Monotheism in the four books of the and magnificent indifference that was Vedas, the most sacred of the Hindoo displayed by the provincial officers of Scriptures. During a residence in Eng- old Rome in the days of Paul and Barland, he regularly attended a Unitarian nabas, and I have no doubt but what place of worship. His sect went by the they get the same hard measure from name of “ Vedantists ;" in fact, the the enthusiasts whom they prevent from « Evangelicals" of the East. The ortho- tearing each other in pieces. In all dox Pundits took alarm. and declared probability, the records and traditions of him a heretic, vt iunt before they had the respective creeds preserve the name most clearly shown that he had entirely of more than one judge or collector, who failed to explain away the polytheist was rewarded for having saved the life character of the Hindoo theology. It of some bold preacher, by being handed never occurred to them to assert that down to posterity as the impersonificathis pretended new idea had been ex- tion of “carelessness." There are few ploded as far back as the reign of Shah personages in history who have been so Jehan.
unjustly used as these Roman deputies When, however, European principles and chief captains. They seem to have of criticism were applied to the Vedas, borne themselves with rare courage and grave doubts began to spring up con- judgment, to have stood on every occacerning their divine origin. One book sion between the persecutors and their was evidently the primary basis of the prey, and to have given way only other three, which were little more than when nothing short of concession could a confused liturgy. The Vedantists now avert a general uprising of a fierce and hegan to talk about “natural religion.” determined nation of fanatics. The conThey refused any longer to acknowledge duct of Lycias and Festus seems to have the high authority of the writings from been eminently just and prudent; and, which their sect received its first name, after all, poor Gallio's fault simply conand professed to believe only in the sisted in this, that when he found no pure and eternal God, or Brahma. By mention in the revised code, of the crime a strange inconsistency, they still use charged against Paul, he bundled both the old Vedic ritual, the hymns of parties out of his cutcherry. And durwhich they sing to the best music that ing the most awful and melancholy can be procured in Calcutta, which is scene that the world has ever witnessed, not saying very much for it.
when the earth trembled with horror, With such an element of discord as and the kindly sun veiled his face before the proud and bigoted Mahommedan the cruelty of man-after the Divine population scattered throughout the victim, and those women whose perfect country, it is greatly to the credit of love cast out their fear, the character our Government that religious disturb- who most deserves our pity is the timid. ances are of such rare occurrence. If you feminine, compassionate ruler, who can conceive the Catholics and Orange- pleaded hard for that sacred life against men of Ireland, each multiplied by the murderous and turbulent mob of Je
rusalem; who yielded at last in an agony i These speculative philosophers who stick of remorse and shame; and who restored to their old ritual, resemble Alcibiades, who,
to His disciples the body of their Masterin according to Mr. Grote, was “celebrated alike for his theories and his liturgy."-(Note by
the teeth of those implacable bigots, who Mr. Simkins.)
desired to pursue their revenge beyond
the limits of the grave. His cowardice seems far more venial than the dastardly desertion of those men who, after living in daily intercourse with our Saviour for the space of three years, hanging on His words, eating with Him at the same table, sleeping at His side, sharing His every toil and privation (made light, indeed, by so blessed a presence, and so deep an affection), at the first sight of sword or staff, “ forsook Him and fled.” The conduct of Judas, of Caiaphas, of Herod, of Pilate, may be explained by (alas !) ordinary human motives. But who can account for the condict of Peter and James, Andrew and Philip? In the most stormy tumult, with outrage and massacre staring them in the face, a faithful band of followers and admirers always stuck by Paul to the last On the day when “the best of men who knew not God" was mobbed by deadly enemies before a prejudiced tribunal, Plato and Crito, Apollodorus and Critobulus stood around their companion and teacher, pressed him with loving importunity to accept their money and their services, and, at the risk of their lives, schemed his escape from prison, loth to acquiesce in his fixed determination to submit to the laws of his country, however unjustly they might have been wrested by his adversaries to ensure his destruction. And yet Paul and Socrates, great and noble as they were, were nothing more than men. How then could those who had been permitted to call themselves the friends of a Divine and perfect being stoop to a baseness from which ordinary men of the world would be preserved by sentiments of honour and self-respect? It indeed required a life as long as that of John, and a fate as painful as the fate of James and Peter, to wipe out such a stain from their own conscience and from the memory of mankind.
You urge me, in all your letters, to tell you something about the aborigines of India. You write as if you were making inquiries about a set of savages, their bread-fruit, their canoes, their clubs, and the pahs from which they carry on a desultory Mars. I have not
hitherto gratified your wish, because I am one of those who think that the people of India deserve more than cursory observation, inasmuch as they are the most important class in India, for whose benefit we hold the country, and to whom we shall have one day to account for the manner in which we govern it. Extraordinary as this opinion may seem to some people, it is backed by the high authority of Sir Charles Wood and Lord Stanley, Sir Charles Trevelyan, Sir John Peter Grant, and the vast majority of the Civil Service. I hate the “damned nigger” style. One requires more than a few months to form a correct set of opinions and impressions concerning an ancient and wealthy society, with a singular and complicated organization; whose habits, instincts, and ways of thought, to a European eye, form “a mighty maze,” which, nevertheless, if it be closely examined, will be found to be “not without a plan.”
In order to lay a foundation for a conception of the native character, it is essential first to clear away all our preconceived notions of what that character ought to be. It is impossible to judge a Hindoo by any other known standard. He is not, like the North American Indian, a barbarian with a few sound ideas about the bearings of the stars and the habits of deer, and a few crude ideas about the Great Spirit and the future condition of his faithful dog. He is not, like the European of the middle ages, the member of a community, rude indeed as yet, and undeveloped, but replete with the germs of a vigorous civilization. The institutions of his country, though grotesque enough in our point of view, are elaborate and mature as any recorded in history. He belongs to a social order, which dates far back into the depths of time, with innumerable well-defined grades and classes, with titles which were borne by his forefathers, when the ancestors of English dukes still paddled about in wicker canoes, when wild in woods the marquis ran, when the Williams of the period sported a suit of blue paint, on