« PreviousContinue »
We shall have some difficulty in persuading ourselves that such images 'harmonize with the light and sportive solemnities of which the poem treats, or that the attempts at wit and levity, with which they are combined, can be otherwise than discordant to every ear. In the powerful and dignified species of poetry' in which our country has a higher claim to superiority than in any other which could be named, disease, decay, and death, objects from which the human mind must always recoil at the first glance, acquire the most powerful of all charms from the trains of moral reflection and accordant images' which it exhibits. In the old grotesque Dances of Death, however ludicrous the contrast afforded by some of the figures may have been, the sensation ultimately excited was only a sorrowful smile for the vainglory and transitory bloom of dust and ashes: but the sportiveness of our author is akin to the merriment of a lazar-house muse, and must always appear painful to those who have sustained the most searching of all trials, the premature loss of youthful worth or beauty, and irrelevant even to those who have been exempted from them.
We have now noticed some of the merits and many of the faults of this unknown writer. His incontestible talents and the assiduous care which he has bestowed upon the poem deserve the warmest praise. In submitting our observations to the public we have endeavoured, as far as the frailty of our critical nature would allow us, to avoid that species of criticism which in the noble language of one who had suffered from it,
makes a learned and a liberal soul
And the dumb candle saw his pinching throes.' And in this instance, if we have ventured to enlarge upon the author's failings, we have been excited to do so merely because he has laboured hard to warp his genius, and to deprive himself of the meed which he might so fairly have claimed.
Art. IX.-Oriental Memoirs : selected and abridged from a
Series of Familiar Letters written during Seventeen Years' Residence in India: including Observations on Parts of Africa and South America, and a Narrative of Occurrences in four India Voyages. Illustrated by Engravings from Original Drawings.
By James Forbes, F.R.Š. &c. Four vols. 4to. London. 1813. 'SEEING the Almighty,' says an old traveller, hath given me
grace to return to my native country, after having for eighteen years coasted and travelled in the Indies, I thought it good, as
briefly as I could, to write and set forth this voyage made by me, with the marvellous things I have seen in my travels; the mighty princes that govern those countries; their religion and faith that they have; the rites and customs which they use and live by; of the divers success that happened unto me, and how many of these countries are abounding in spices, drugs, and jewels. And that my countrymen may more commodiously rejoice at this my travel, I have caused it to be printed in this order; and I now present it to thee, gentle and loving reader, by whom, for the varieties of things herein contained, I hope that it shall be with great delight received. And thus God of his goodness keep thee! With this beautiful passage from Cæsar Fredericke, as a motto, Mr. Forbes introduces his magnificent work. He must be an ungrateful reader whom such a text does not predispose to be pleased. This disposition is increased by the preface. There the author tells us that he left England before he had attained his sixteenth year, with a little know: ledge of drawing, and an ardent desire to see and note the manners of foreign countries. At that early age he began the materials from which these volumes are composed. His drawings and letters occupy fifty-two thousand pages, contained in a hundred and fifty folio volumes, the work of his own hands. They formed the principal recreation of his life. The pursuit beguiled the monotony of four India voyages, and cheered his solitary residence in the interior of that country; softeved the long period of absence from his native land, and afterwards mitigated the rigour of captivity and the sure of domestic sorrow. Drawing,' he says, ' to me had the same charm as music to the soul of harmony. In my secluded situation in Guzerat I seemed to be blest with another sense. My friends in India were happy to enlarge my collection; the sportsman suspended his career after royal game to procure me a curiosity; the Hindoo often brought a bird or insect for delineation, knowing it would then regain its liberty; and the Brahmin supplied specimens of fruit and flowers from his sacred inclosures.' From these pursuits, so delightful, so useful, and so honourable, it was Mr. Forbes's fortune to derive a great and unforeseen benefit. Being among the English travellers who were detained in France by the villainous treachery of Buonaparte, he obtained his deliverance as a man of letters: in his application to the National Institute, he stated that he had devoted some time to the task of preparing a selection from his voluminous papers for the press; and that on his return he hoped to complete the undertaking. This statement he felt as having in some degree pledged him to the publication, though diffidence had long prevented him from performing what he once (and properly) thought a duty to his friends and country. Still he says, that without the encouragement and assistance of Sir Charles Malet, to
whom the work is dedicated, he should have shrunk from thus appearing before the public as an author. The volumes were published at his own cost, and a work more splendid or more complete in its decorations we have seldom seen.
In these days the critic who finds no fault with the book before him is suspected of adulation. The fault here is that Mr. Forbes has filled too many pages with quotations from modern and contemporary writers ; many of them very worthless in themselves, and all taking up room which might have been appropriated to better matter. Having noticed this, we shall adhere to the principle that in books of this nature it behoves the critic to read, learn, and be thankful.
Mr. Forbes embarked as a writer for Bombay in the year 1765: : on the voyage he experienced more frightful circumstances than tempest; the ship took fire; when they had overcome this danger, the scurvy commenced its dreadful ravages on board; and calms and contrary winds delayed them on their way till they were reduced to their last cask of water, when they came in sight of the coast of Malabar. He arrived in Bombay in his seventeenth year, unknown, friendless, and forsaken, except by the captain of the ship, whose kindness had been unremitted, and whose friendship Mr. Forbes says he has continued to enjoy during forty-six years. The relation under whose care he went out, without other patronage, or recommendation of any kind, lost his health and spirits during the voyage, and seems to have lost his feeling also. He was left on board, after the captain and every other passenger bad quitted the ship; and while the officers and men were busily employed in unlading the cargo, 'I found myself,' says the author, ' a solitary deserted being, without a letter to offer, or the knowledge of a single individual on the island.' Having heard his guardian mention the name of a gentleman with whom he intended to reside while the ship remained at Bombay, the youth, upon landing, inquired for this person's house, and was told that a noble colonnade, under which he then stood, formed part of the mansion. With an anxious heart he ventured up a broad flight of stairs leading to the colonnade, from which he saw the family sitting at their dessert in a large saloon.
My guardian gave me a sort of reprimand for the intrusion, but introduced me as a young gentleman, with the appointment of a writer, who had left England under his protection, and whom he meant to have sent for from the ship when he had provided a lodging. His friend pitied my situation, and felt for the cool reception of a bashful youth from one who had promised to extend over him the wings of parental love. If the reception of one was cool, that of the other was truly warm : he then took me by the hand, and for forty years never let it go; he immediately introduced me to his wife and family, encouraged me by the
kindest attention, supplied me with money, and told me to consider his house as my own.
So I ever found it in India, and for twenty years after my return to England, where I trod the walk of private life; while my friend, with an ample fortune, and abilities equal to his station, filled a seat in parliament, became a director and chairman of the East India company, and purchased one of the finest estates in Hertfordshire, where he lived many years a blessing to all around him. To him I was entirely indebted for my appointment to Baroche, and consequently for the independence I now enjoy. From the first hour I saw him until the day of his death, at the venerable age of fourscore, he was indeed my friend !-ii. 535.
It would have been unjust to Mr. Forbes to relate these circumstances in any other language than his own.
Bombay in 1766 was not what it is now,—the change, it may almost be called the revolution, in English manners, which fifty years have produced, has extended to our settlements in India. The English then inhabited the town,-now they reside entirely at their country villas, and only go to the fort in the morning to transact their business. Then early hours were kept--every body dined at one o'clock; and comfort rather than splendour characterized the mode of life. The younger classes thought there was rather too much subordination and economy; on the latter score they had reason to complain; it was barely possible for a writer, with the utmost frugality, to subsist upon his pay: the income did not exceed £65 a year. Mr. Forbes says he often went supperless to bed when the day closed, because he could not afford either supper or candle. If governments are sometimes guilty of a prodigal expenditure, they are at other times not less censurable for a hard-hearted economy. The civil servants at Bombay repeatedly represented to the Court of Directors the inadequacy of their salary to their unavoidable expenses,—to the common and indispensable necessaries of life; --they complained of the grievous and palpable injustice that the allowance of a civil servant continued the same through every rank, whether he had served the company one hour or one-and-twenty years; whether he were fresh arrived and without acquaintance, or whether his first wants were increased by a climate-worn constitution, a decent regard of appearances, and a degree of conformity to the manners of the place, requisite to preserve acquaintances and the good opinion of the world: they represented that they who signed the memorial, (Mr. Forbes, then a senior merchant, was one,) after having laboured in the service of the company from twelve to upwards of fourteen years, were worse than expelled from it; for they were left without adequate means of subsistence from their employers; and precluded from benefiting by the opportunities that offered to those who were not in their service, A statement was
annexed of the fate of the Company's civil servants from the year 1755 to 1777, when the last memorial was presented. Of seventyfive gentlemen who belonged to the establishment in the former year, three had gone to England with fortunes, and eight-and-forty had died in India, eight of whom had acquired, or had a prospect of acquiring, fortunes; but twenty-five had died bankrupts, and the other fifteen possessed of little more than was sufficient to pay for their funerals, though many of them had been from twelve to twenty years in the service. This memorial produced its proper effect.
The author's first journey on the continent of India was to Dazagon in Concan, at that time belonging to the Mahrattas, whither he went for the use of the hot springs. This village is situated about thirty miles inland up the Baucoote, in a beautiful country. Delighted with the sight of a fine river winding through an extensive valley, and forming numerous islands, –a home view rich with agriculture and enliveued by fisheries, green hills bounding it, and high mountains closing in the scene,-he seated himself at sunrise, when he first beheld this lovely scene, under a mango tree, and began to sketch the landscape before him. Not having gone from Bombay before, where the temperature is mitigated by the sea breezes, and which the hot winds never reach, Mr. Forbes was yet a stranger to the inclemency of an Indian climate. In less than an hour, he says, the sky appeared like a glow of fire. He was now in a country where the thermometer standing in the house was usually at about 80° at sunrise, and often rose to 112° by noon! when the water at mid-day was more than tepid, and the black wood furniture became like heated metal. In consequence of the heat the author and his friends generally placed their beds under a mango grove; till one night the smell of a goat, which had been recently killed and hung upon a tree, attracted a tiger. The beast rushed close by Mr. Forbes's bed, who had just time to get into the house before he saw him return with his prey, was well that their visitor, on this occasion, thought goat's flesh more savoury than man’s. Mr. Forbes kept a chamelion here for several weeks; its general colour was a pleasant green,' spotted with pale blue, and its customary changes were to a bright yellow, a dark olive, and a dull green. When irritated, or when a dog approached, in which case fear perhaps produced the same effect as anger,* the body was considerably inflated, and the skin clouded like tortoiseshell, in shades of yellow, orange, green, and black: it was under these passions that it appeared to most advantage. But
* Hasselquist says that the chanielion seldon changes colour unless it is angry, and then from an iron grey to a yellow or greenish hue, evidently occasioned by gall.