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IN presenting the following pages to the Public, I have to acknowledge my obligations to the distinguished and intelligent writers on oriental subjects, from whose works I have derived very extensive and valuable assistance in the first part of this book, and have compiled the larger portion of the second. i
It has been frequently observed by those who have been acquainted with India, that although almost the whole of the wide extent of country from the southern coasts of Ceylon to the snowy range of the Himalaya mountains, and from the confines of China to the shores of Guzerat has, within the last century, come under the dominion of Great Britain, there is scarcely a spot in the civilized world so
incorrectly known to the British community in general as India.
.Tales of romance have beguiled the ardent imaginations of youth,
and tales no less fictitious and delusive have misled the more ripened and sober judgment of manhood: for, with the general or local histories of the nations and tribes of Hindustan; the positions of the several states in regard to each other; the varieties in the people; or with their religion, their customs, or their manners, even the
well-informed parts of European society have been almost as little
acquainted, as if this important and valuable portion of our empire had been placed within the ice-bound regions of the frozen oceanfi" That this has not been caused by India under our rule having possessed historians deficient in industry and research, or in the necessary qualifications to embody, in a satisfactory manner, the scientific and literary treasures which they may have discovered in their paths, the names of Sir William Jones, Sir J. Malcolm, Sir S. Raflies, Dr. Wilkins, Colonel Wilks, Messrs. Marsden, Elphinstone, Colebrooke, and many others of the most distinguished writers and oriental "scholars of the age, will prove: but it may, perhaps, be justly averred, that the taste of society has hitherto travelled but slowly in their course. India, however, and her magnificent architectural remains, her cavern temples, her sculptures, and the productions of her poets and her philosophers, will, before many years shall have passed away, he better and more generally known. It will then be seen, that while Italy and Greece have been traversed in search of their antiquities, and the deserts of Africa explored to discover the relics of Egyptian art, the possessions of our own country have contained wonders not less astonishing than those of Egypt ; sculptures which have been inferior only to those of Greece and Rome; and that the sages and poets of India have inculcated moral precepts, and displayed poetic beauties, which no country in the world, of either ancient or modern date, need be ashamed to acknowledge.
‘‘ Of the too general correctness of the above observation, an extract from the Asiatic Journal of February 1826, will afford a lamentable proof. For the veracity of the statement contained in that extract the author of this work can vouch, as the circumstances mentioned occurred under his immediate notice; the only difference from the relation being, that the parties concerned were the captain and purser of an India ship, who, from the overstock of English goods in Calcutta at the time, could not dispose of their investments in the customary wholesale manner, and in consequence opened a room, to do so as they best could. Even several years after, the author being at a well-known watering place, observed the story reiterated in a paper published in the town, and on calling at the proprietor's, who was a highly respectable librarian, to point out the folly of such credulity, be greatly astonished the person whom he saw by an explanation of the facts.
“ Seven years ago, a dealer in dress dolls at Calcutta, having received a consignment of these commodities from Europe, advertised them at that presidency in the following humorous strain :— Females raflled for: Be it known, that six fair pretty young ladies, with two sweet and engaging children, lately imported from Europe, having the roses of health blooming on their cheeks, and joy sparkling in their eyes, possessing amiable tempers, and highly accomplished, whom the most indifferent cannot behold without expressions of rapture, are to berafiled for next door to the British Gallery. Scheme: twelve tickets, at twelve rupees (£1. 10s.) each; the highest of the three throws, doubtless, takes the most fascinating."
“ So much ignorance respecting India, and credulity existed in England, that this advertisement was gravely appealed to as an evidence that a trade in women was really permitted in British India (it is surprising that the low price of the ladies did not lead to a discovery of the joke). To carry the farce still farther, a work of extensive circulation,1~ (The Percy Anecdotes, part ix, Anecdotes of Women), adopted the blunder, and prefaced the terrific advertisement with this extraordinary statement :—‘ While Britons deplore the traffic in negroes, and have abolished the slave trade, it is a fact that there are persons who actually import beautiful women to the British settlements in India, in order to sell them to the rich Nabobs or Europeans who may give a good price for them ; but, what is worse, they are sometimes played for at agame of chance. The following advertisement appeared in Grinsby’s (Greenway’s) Daily Advertiser, of the 8d September 1818, a paper printed at Calcutta.’ Then came the dreadful annunciation, to which were appended the following remarks: ‘ What a specimen of Calcutta morals does this advertisement exhibit! Surely a more abominable outrage upon morality and virtue has never
been heard of than this, which is openly practised in a settlement under British laws and British government!‘ ” 1~ And it might be added, of generally valuable intelligence.
Among the later writers on India, there have been some who, shocked at the obscenities and profanations of too considerable a portion of the modern Hindus, have scarcely allowed to this people the possession, in any degree or at any period, of either morality, literature, or science; while others again have thrown around them a mystic veil, and have imagined excellencies in them to which they have not possessed, nor can possess, a title. The truth, as is commonly the case, will, perhaps, be found in the medium. If the Hindus have numerous vices, they have also many virtues. If their ancient sculptures possess not the majesty and expression of the Grecian art, they can boast of an almost unrivalled richness and
beautiful minuteness of floral ornaments, which claim and excite our warmest admiration. If the works of their poets, some of which are exceedingly beautiful, be disfigured by monsters, it cannot be denied that Homer and Virgil are subject to similar imputations. “ If the laws of Menu, Sir W. Jones observes, abound with blemishes which cannot be justified or palliated, a spirit of sublime devotion, of benevolence to mankind, and of amiable tenderness to all sentient creatures, ‘nevertheless, pervades, adds that eminent scholar (who can never be read without respect, and seldom without conviction) the whole work. The style of it, he continues, has a certain austere majesty, that sounds like the language of legislation and extorts a respectful awe. The sentiments of independence on all beings but God, and the harsh admonitions even to kings are truly noble; and the many panegyrics on the Gayatri, the mother, as it is called of the Veda, prove the author to have adored (not the visible material sun, but) that divine and incomparably greater light (to use the words of the most venerable text in the Indian scriptures) which illumines all, delights all, from which all proceed, to which all must return, and which can alone irradiate (not our visual organs merely, but our souls and) our intellects.” Their ancient language, the Sanscrit, is described as being more perfect than the Greek,—more copious than the Latin,—and more exquisitely refined than either. It has been urged against them, by some most respectable authors, that their deities are nothing but monstrous personifications of vice ; but can it be shewn where the gods of idolaters have been otherwise? If we turn our attention to the Heathen pantheon, we shall find that the gods of Greece, Italy, and India, were not more analogous in their attributes, than in their abominations. If the Hindus have