British Fiction, 18001829

HOCKLEY, William Browne. Pandurang Hari (1826)

Contemporary Reviews

Monthly Review, n.s. 1 (Jan 1826): 82–90.

This work may be considered in some respects as an illustration of the ‘Elements of Hindoo Law,’ which we have already noticed. (Vide p. 63.) It is an attempt to embody, into a fictitious personal narrative, the author’s knowledge of Hindoo character and life; to lay open to the English reader, under the easy and attractive form of individual adventure, all the peculiarities of Hindoo manners and customs; and to present him with a familiar picture of the general state of Society among the native population of India.

According to the usual custom in such cases, we have therefore to begin with an introduction, occupied with cursory remarks upon [82/83] the national characteristics of the inhabitants of Hindostan, and laboriously explaining the process by which the MS. ‘Memoirs of Pandurang Hari’ came into the possession of the ‘Editor.’ This, in the composition of fictitious auto-biography, is a part of the task which always moves our compassion for the author. It is exceedingly difficult to execute well; and, even when best executed, it always fails to create the illusion desired. The reader never lends his imagination to the deception; he is conscious throughout, with provoking coldness, of the attempt to impose upon him, and he is determined, à priori, not to believe in a syllable of the hacknied invention.

In a point where even originality cannot command success, the author before us has had not the slightest chance of approaching it, for he is completely an imitator. The ‘Memoirs of Pandurang Hari’ are a palpable copy of the Memoirs of Hajji Baba; and we may venture to opine pretty confidently, that if we had not previously been amused with the admirable portrait of the witty and profligate Persian, we should have seen nothing of this inferior sketch of an equally unprincipled, though less mercurial, Hindoo. A single qualification only is there, however, possessed in common by Mr. Morier, and his copyist,—an intimate acquaintance with the people and the country which they have respectively undertaken to describe. Our author has evidently resided long in western India, and lived much among the natives. He has carefully observed their manners, customs, and political institutions; and he is as familiar with the localities of the Deccan as with the geography of England.

He may be said, therefore, in common parlance, to know the people of India well,—as old residents in that country, among the Company’s civil and military servants, are too often contented with learning to know them; that is, he has noted, and with no partial eye, all their baser qualities; their abject servility, their low selfish cunning, their spirit of revenge, at once malignant and dastardly; all the vices, in a word, which the indigenous despotism of untold centuries has stamped upon the Asiatic mind. But he has seen none of the better affections among the natives of India: he has denied them the possession of the finer sympathies of our nature; and yet, without these, who shall be required to believe that even a half-civilised state of society could exist?

Still less has he been able, in any degree, to transfuse the oriental cast of thought into his pages. Here we have none of that nice keeping of sentiment, idea, and phrase, which in Hajji Baba was so wholly and thoroughly eastern; nor of that perfect orientalism which, in Lalla Rookh, was yet more extraordinary, since of all the exuberant flowers of imagery which the accomplished poet thickly scattered over that delightful production, not a single one betrayed that he had visited but in fancy the climes of the East. But here, in every sentence, in the turn of thought and expression, in dialogue, narrative, and description, the European mind is every where apparent. With our friend ‘Pandoo,’ your motley is the only wear: [83/84] the broad-cloth of his nether inexpressibles is eternally visible through the rents of his Cashemere [sic] shawl.

But in denying to the author the versatility of fancy and the finer conception of character, which were indispensable for thoroughly personating his oriental character, we must not be understood to refuse him a very considerable share of merit. If he has not altogether succeeded in giving a perfect view, he has afforded us many glimpses of Hindoo character, manners, and customs; the observation, or at least the record, of which had been almost entirely neglected by our countrymen in India; and, if he be not original in the plan of his story, the scene of it has at least the merit of novelty. With all its imperfections, the book must be welcomed as the first sketch which we have received of Hindostanee life. It is given in a lively and agreeable shape; and, in so far, it may, with truth, be pronounced both a highly amusing and an instructive little work. Of its merits, considered simply as a tale, a sufficient idea will be formed from the very brief account of the hero’s adventures, which we shall now proceed to offer.

The first pages of the ‘Memoirs of Pandurang Hari’ are only a prelude to the subsequent mystery of the tale. He was found by a Hindoo of distinction, when about five years old, with his little arm broken, and ‘lying under the hoofs of a troop of bullocks and horses, where he had been left by some one who evidently made his safety a matter of small account.’ Earlier than this he remembers absolutely nothing; yet he has marvellously ‘a clear recollection’ of this fact. His preserver was a Mahratta chieftain, who, recognising him for a child of high caste by the red mark on his forehead, had care taken of him, and brought him up as his adopted son, or protégé. He was taught to read and write by a mahouhut, or elephant-driver; and his infancy passed without any thing remarkable until he attained his sixteenth year, when, being initiated into the petty system of chicanery which surrounds the government of an eastern chief, his adventures may be said to commence.

The first of these was a worthy feat of Mahratta villainy. Having taken bribes from a ryot, or cultivator, to obtain justice from his chief for him against a man who had injured him, he mocks the complainant with empty promises of forwarding his suit, until he drives him, in desperation, to murder his adversary. Our hero then overhears the murderer confess the crime, and sees him bury the treasure of his victim. He finds, farther, that the assassin has vowed to sacrifice his life also in revenge for his extortions, and he resolves to be before-hand with him. He therefore secretly gives information, which leads to the conviction and death of the murderer, and contrives to possess himself of his ill-gotten treasure, which he secretes again. In a short time, by an intrigue of one of his own enemies about the person of the chieftain, the whole of his fraudulent and cold-blooded conduct is detected: he is stripped in turn of his plunder, narrowly escapes being strangled as an accom-[84/85]plice in the murder, and is discarded in disgrace from the service of his protector.

This is just a sample of the morality which, throughout the volumes, is attributed to the mass of native society in Hindostan. The same train of conduct pervades the whole story: not a single disinterested act of benevolence is ever recorded: in only one solitary instance is a Hindoo made to express any abhorrence at the proposal of theft, treachery, or murder; and the whole tale is an endless catalogue of crimes. All this surely must be much overdrawn.

After his dismissal from his first home, Pandurang takes service in another division of the Mahratta army of Holkar, in the war between that chieftain and Scindea, and afterwards in their coalition against the Topae Wallas, or British troops. In this part of the tale (vol. i. pp. 57–70.) we have a very animated picture of the composition and appearance of a Mahratta army. This is intermingled, however, with rather a tedious digression on Mahratta politics, and followed by a long and not very interesting account of the circumstances of the British war, which was marked by the battles of Assaye and Argaum, and the assaults of Deeg and Bhurtpoor.

At the conclusion of the war, Pandurang is thrown upon the world by the disbanding of the Mahratta army. He now betakes himself from Indore, Holkar’s capital, to seek his further fortune, and meets with the following adventure, which introduces us to the gossein, or religious mendicant of western India. The picture is evidently suggested by the lively portraiture of the dervishes of Persia in Hajji Baba. The character of the two classes is, however, really identical for imposture and extortion practised against the credulous multitude; and we give the sketch before us, both for its fidelity, which will be recognised by every resident in the East, and as it affords a favourable specimen—the only one which we shall extract—of the style of the book. Pandurang finds the gossein’s hut on fire, and the mendicant within it, buried in a heavy stupor or sleep. He drags him out of the hovel.

‘The air, assisted by a little water, restored the body to animation. He opened his eyes, exclaiming “Arry, arry!” an exclamation of surprise, and then relapsed into insensibility. More cold water flung in his withered face revived him, and he asked him “who it was that thus disturbed his slumbers?” I explained to him his danger, and that but for me he would have been suffocated or burned to death. He made no other reply than a demand for alms. I dared not discover all my wealth, but gave him a few pice, pleading my poverty for not bestowing more. I saw he had been eating bang [1], and this readily accounted for his insensibility and heavy sleep. He made no enquiry as to the safety of his habitation, nor once inquired if the fire had gone out of itself. I demanded the road to Poona. He heeded me not, but continued mum-[85/86]bling to himself, as if counting money. I repeated my questions, and he answered by asking what I wanted at Poona. He could not have put a more puzzling query to me at that moment, as I could not tell my business there myself. I spoke the troth, therefore, when I said, “I did not know: I have been turned out of Holkar’s service, and am searching my fortune elsewhere.” He ruminated some time, and then said, “Holkar is mad, Scindea is a fool, and Badjeroa, the Peeshwa, is both foolish and mad at the same time. Cringe no more to them or their underlings for bread. Have you not Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector, and Siva the destroyer for masters,—aye better masters than they? Throw aside all your notions of pomp and parade, and take up your mirchal, your pole, and your wallet, and follow me. If you must go to Poona, I will accompany you; there are fools enough there, and we may reap a pretty harvest.” On saying this, he produced those emblems of religious mendicity—the peacock’s tail, the pole, the wallet, and leopard’s skin, to swing at my back.

‘I had often heard that these gosseins realized great sums of money, and thinking, in my destitute situation, it might lead to some good, I determined to try the advice given me. My religious friend now equipped me in the proper way, but first stripped me, and in so doing discovered my hoard of rupees tied tight around my waist. He made no remark whatever on seeing them, but proceeded to grease me all over, from head to foot, and then covered me with ashes and dirt. My hair he tied up on the crown of my head. Then I had the staff of my order put into my hand, together with the peacock’s tail; the wallet and skin were slung over my shoulders; and, thus arrayed, I followed my preceptor to Poona, he being equipped in a manner similar to my own. I found on the road that my tutor’s name was Gabbage Gousla, and he appeared to be a character pretty well known every where; each traveller we met calling out, “Ram, Ram, Gabbage!” upon which Gabbage always bellowed forth some bitter complaint of hunger and poverty, and generally cheated the credulous traveller of his rupees. He remarked to me how callous the people were become, since the war, to his warnings and invocations of Ram and Seeta; “therefore,” said he, “we must cut ourselves, and let the blood flow plentifully; for it is considered as much as their lives are worth, to be the cause of spilling our blood.”—“True,” said I, “but I really hope we shall not be obliged to have recourse to this severity.” —“Well, let it be prepared at all events,” said he; “here is a very sharp knife; you need only draw the edge across your arm, and the business is done.” We entered Poona through a street of banyan shops. “Here is a harvest for us!” said Gabbage. We then stationed ourselves opposite a shop where grain was selling, and Gabbage began singing out pretty loud:—“Ram, Budjunta Ram, Sadjoo Budgelis Seeta Ram,—Ram, Ram, Seeta Ram:” No money coming, he repeated the same words again, adding, “Rass, Pandoo, rass!—cut, Pandoo, —cut.” I must own I did not relish this business at all. It appeared I was to have all the pain, and very little of the profit; so that, when he repeated the words “Cut, Pandoo, —cut,” I said, “Certainly, Ma, ha, raj,” and gave him a slice on the arm. He instantly set up a dreadful howl, scarcely equalled by that of Hybatty, when he found his treasure and life lost together irrecoverably. The old villain charged me instantly with attempting his life. He told the people we had saved a few rupees between us, which I carried about with me; that being our joint property, I wished his death, that I might [86/87] possess them all myself. I was immediately surrounded, my rupees taken from me, and I was carried before a great Brahmin, who was at the head of the police of the city. There I was stigmatized as a murderer, and had great difficulty in persuading them I was not one. The sanctity of my profession, however, saved me from condemnation or long imprisonment; but I was ordered to quit Poona directly, which no inclination of my own was wanting to second, as quickly as I could get away.’—Vol. i. pp. 99–106.

After this expulsion from Poona, our hero’s fate leads him to Bombay, where he becomes a servant, first to a shopkeeper, then in a house of agency, and, finally, he is received into government employ as a peon or messenger in the police office. Here he contrives to accumulate a considerable sum, by receiving bribes for forwarding or obstructing the business of complainants, and suffering thieves and other malefactors to escape. But he is at length implicated in a new scheme of villainy, loses his place, and is ordered out of the Company’s territories. He is now first captured by a horde of Pindarees, and forced into their service, —then taken by the English, when he becomes servant to the commandant of the fortress,—next disgraces himself again by another piece of treacherous roguery,—and, finally, is turned loose again in Poona, wretched and penniless. Here (vol. i. pp. 163–167.) we are presented with a very graphic and accurate picture of the motley oriental splendour of that city, evidently sketched from lively recollection. We are here also introduced into the intrigues of the Peeshwa’s court:—a dark, and doubtless a faithful picture of the iron despotism, the oppression, the venality, and the atrocious and silent crimes of an eastern government.

At Poona, Pandurang becomes a party in a tragical occurrence, which is related with very considerable power, and on which the whole intricate conduct of the subsequent tale may be said to hinge.—Sagoonah, a beautiful orphan girl, attracts the eye of the Peeshwa, who signifies his pleasure that she should enter his harem. One of his ministers, Trimbuckje Danglia, in performing his master’s errand, sees her, becomes enamoured of her, and makes her proposals from himself, which as well as those of the Peeshwa she indignantly rejects. Fearing her disclosure of his suit to his master, he employs Gabbage Gousla and some other gosseins to murder her. They lure her to a house in the suburbs: there, in the dead of night, they attempt to strangle her, and then cast her from a window to complete the work of death. Pandurang, wandering an outcast about the suburbs, is attracted by curiosity, on hearing shrieks, to the scene of murder. He takes up the apparently lifeless body, escapes with it before the assassins can descend into the street to remove their victim, and crosses the river to evade their pursuit. He succeeds in restoring the poor girl to life, falls violently in love with her, and secretes her from her enemies, who believe her dead. [87/88]

Then follows a plot, on the part of Pandurang, of remorseless villany. He discovers that Trimbuckje was the instigator of the crime, and that his rival Habeshee Kotwall, the minister of police, is endeavouring to fasten the guilt of it upon him. A large reward is offered by the enraged Peeshwa for the discovery of the murderer; and our virtuous hero debates which of the rival ministers, the innocent or the guilty, he shall sacrifice, that he may make his fortune with the other. He is determined at length to take the life of Habeshee, in revenge for an unjust punishment which he had received by his order from the police; and his Mahratta morality is satisfied by the reflection, that though Habeshee was innocent in this matter, he was sufficiently a monster of guilt in others. He, therefore, becomes the agent of Trimbuckje; assumes the disguise of a magician; pretends to have discovered by magic that Habeshee was the murderer; and, by his acquaintance with the circumstances of the deed, perverts them into apparently damning evidence against him. The minister of police is condemned by the Peeshwa to have his tongue torn from his mouth, and to be trampled to death by an elephant; this horrible sentence is executed; and Pandurang receives reward and employment under the villain Trimbuckje.

That worthy master of a worthy myrmidon shortly discovers, however, that Sagoonah still lives, and is secretly protected by his servant; he endeavours to inveigle her into his power; and his persecution of Sagoonah and Pandurang Hari occupies the rest of the tale, with more than one complicated underplot. Pursued by his machinations and those of other enemies of Sagoonah, the lovers undergo a series of adventures and vicissitudes rivalling in number, intricacy, and quick succession, those of the longest and most perplexing romance that ever Arab story-teller concocted for the wonder-loving patience of oriental ears. In hitherto following the fortunes of the hero regularly, we have scarcely reached the conclusion of the first volume; and it would be a work of absolute despair to attempt the continuation of the outline through the remaining two-thirds of the work, within the limits of any reasonable notice which the tale can deserve. In the sequel, the hero proves to be the lawful heir to the musnud, or throne of Satarah, in the Deccan; and Sagoonah, whose simplicity of character is really invested with the interest that belongs to innocence and beauty in unmerited persecution, is discovered to have been betrothed to him in earliest infancy. This betrothment, so sacred and indissoluble a ceremony in Hindoo life, is long the obstacle to their union, while the identity of the young Rajah is unknown. The denouement solves the difficulty; all the enemies of Pandurang and Sagoonah are destroyed; and the tale of course concludes with their happy union, and his recognition as legitimate successor to the musnud.

From this rapid and necessarily imperfect sketch of the tale, it will easily be collected that it abounds in great variety of incident and consequent interest. There are, however, several wearisome [88/89] and languid parts in the narrative. We are twice, for example, in the third volume, (pp. 60–70. 154–164.) detained by dissertations —very much out of place, and very unnatural in the assumed character and situation of the Hindoo,—upon the comparative merits of the systems of jurisprudence exercised towards the natives by the British courts of justice in Guzerat and at Poona.

Farther, it is almost impossible for the English reader to follow with any interest the intricate chain and rapid transitions of political intrigue, which are made to lead to the recovery of the rights of Pandurang and his father to the musnud of Satarah. All this, as we gather from the introduction, is intended to elucidate—and does so correctly—the character of the endless and bloody revolutions, and the strange vicissitudes of fortune, which have constantly prevailed among the native dynasties of India. But the nature of these revolutions is sufficiently familiar to us from authentic history; and there is little pleasing or romantic interest to be elicited from their repetition.

But by far the weightiest objection to the work, as a tale of human life, is its unnatural and unrelieved picture of enormous and incredible villainy, both in the hero and in every male actor of the story. The author, from whatever cause, evidently writes under violent prejudice against the natives of Hindostan. No one will doubt this after the sweeping denunciation of his preface, that ‘from the rajah to the ryot, with the intermediate grades, they are ungrateful, insidious, cowardly, unfaithful, and revengeful.’ There is, if we mistake not greatly, internal evidence in his work that he has not mingled with the better part of the native population; and we suspect that he has resided only in the western side of India, and the provinces adjacent to Bombay, in which all his scenes are laid.

That quarter of India certainly affords not the least unfavourable specimens of the native character. The Mahratta people are proverbially faithless; the Parsees of Bombay deserve our author’s condemnation of their falsehood and fraud; and western, much more than eastern India, abounds with, notoriously, the most sensual and profligate race of the whole native population—not Hindoos but Muselmans, or Musselmen as, by an unpardonable vulgarism, he styles the disciples of the Koran. But he appears to be little, if at all acquainted, with the mass of the population of the north-eastern provinces,—the inhabitants of the banks of the Ganges, for instance, the genuine seat of Hindoo worship and society.

The people of India, like the people of all other countries, are such as the virtues or vices of their governors have made them. That the mass of the Hindoo population under good government, judicious treatment, and gallant example, deserve at least the reproach neither of being cowardly nor unfaithful, may, we think, and from no light acquaintance with their character, be safely averred. And if a proof of the injustice of those charges were required, we [89/90] should at once point to the British experience of more than a century, and to the often-tried valour, the patience under hardship, and the fidelity to their leaders, by which the conduct of our numerous bodies of seapoys has almost invariably been distinguished.

[1] A preparation of opium.

Notes: Format: 3 vols 8vo; no price. Publisher: Whittaker.

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