A History of the Sepoy War in India, 1857-8 (by John William Kaye)
The events by which Englishmen, to adopt the phrase of an eminent author, have been of late amazed and 'bewildered' are not opportune for a consideration of the literature of past wars. Attention is literally absorbed by the multiplicity of harrowing details given by a whole army of war correspondents. The proportions of the present struggle are gigantic. Its issues are complicated and vast. Its effects will influence the social and national feelings of generations not yet born. And, in contemplating the enormous hosts, the scientific methods of destruction, the outpouring of life and treasure, and the deadly grapple of two great military Powers, we feel tempted to forget all previous contests for empire or for existence, and to say with Dr. Johnson, 'Let me never hear of the Punic wars again.' Yet the story of the Indian mutiny, or the Sepoy war as Mr. Kaye prefers to call it, is one of surpassing interest to all Englishmen who rightly value those Eastern possessions which we hold by a judicious combination of moral ascendency with physical force. Fourteen years ago, at a period almost equidistant from the Crimean and the Italian wars, Europe looked with varied feelings of envy, dislike, and admiration at the isolated bands of Englishmen who were resolutely bent on winning battles or retaining provinces against enormous odds. The story has been told, in parts, by many graphic pens; but by no one so qualified to combine a mass of conflicting, ample, or ill-assorted materials into one consistent whole, as the practised author before us.
Mr. Kaye brings to his task a variety of qualifications not often united in the same individual. He has a great command of language and a full and flowing style. The story of the Afghan war, as told by him in two goodly volumes, has all the power and significance of a Greek Trilogy. His biographies of such statesmen as Metcalfe and Malcolm have been welcomed by the Indian administrator at his desk as well as by the English student in the library. No writer is more jealous of our national reputation as conquerors or rulers, and none has shown greater willingness to recognise the merits of those from whose policy he may have reason to dissent. But many readers who know the author only as the first of writers on Anglo-Indian subjects or as Political Secretary at the India Office, may not be aware that Mr. Kaye was, in his early years, a lieutenant in the Bengal Artillery. He left India about a quarter of a century ago, on account of failing health. But even at that time he was favourably known to the Anglo-Indian public as a writer; and his early productions of Peregrine Pulteney and Long Engagements contain graphic and faithful pictures of social and domestic life in India, and stand out in happy contrast to those vulgar tales and flashy novels which describe a sensational elopement at the hills, an improbable boar hunt in the plains, and an administration conducted by rogues or idiots, on principles borrowed from a corrupt French prefecture or a Russian police office. Mr. Kaye's practical experience at the old headquarters of the Bengal Artillery near Calcutta, in Southern India, and in Arracan, is a guarantee for his accuracy in military and political details. He has even more than that knowledge of evolution which Scott acquired from service with the Edinburgh volunteers in 1798, and Gibbon from a commission in the Hampshire militia. His present occupation gives him an insight into everything of importance with regard to our frontier policy, our treatment of Indian feudatories, and the principles which now actuate the Viceroy as the unquestioned representative of the Queen of England and the Mogul Emperor. He has lived in constant communication with statesmen and administrators of every rank. Large masses of familiar and private correspondence have been freely placed at his disposal. He has ready access to the vast stores of information which the official pen of viceroys and secretaries has sent home to be stored up at Westminster. And, consequently, when we regard his past associations and his present employment, his experience in literature, his opportunities for collecting accurate information, and his political training, it may safely be conceded that no writer has commenced such a task with greater advantages, or is more likely to produce an historical narrative which shall be accurate without being wearisome, and full but not overflowing; which shall illustrate the most striking differences in the British and the Asiatic character, and which shall rise to the just level of the great arguments and the exciting topics with which the historian of 1857 must necessarily deal.
The first volume of the work was published five years before the second. As so often happens in these literary ventures, the author has somewhat miscalculated the extent of his materials and the proportions of his work. In the volume published in 1865 he had given us his own view of the causes and origin of discontent amongst
the Sepoys. This led him. to examine narrowly the very foundations on which our Indian Empire rested, the motives which had actuated successive rulers in undertaking wars, in annexing provinces, and in civilising the population, and the general effect on the minds of princes and peoples of the measures which had tended to feed national vanity or to build up individual reputation. And though some critics and administrators did not wholly concur in the strictures of the author with regard to particular statesmen, or were not prepared to endorse all the inferences which he drew from facts stated with fairness and not disputed in essentials, yet all men agreed in reading and praising the work as one in which a mass of information was collected and set out with undeniable ability, and which was a valuable record of the efforts of a dominant Power to do justice to the most solemn trust ever delegated to any nation distinguished both in commerce and in war.
Mr. Kaye, at the close of his first volume, left his readers on the tiptoe of expectation at the outbreak of Meerut. It was then understood in literary and Anglo-Indian circles, though perhaps without any solid grounds for the belief, that the task of the author would be accomplished in three volumes. The second was to contain the whole history of the outbreak, battles, sieges, and retributive operations. The third and last was to be taken up with an account of the changes in the Constitution, and in the remedial measures by which Lord Canning endeavoured to substitute order for chaos, and generous trust and loyal submission in the place of frenzied alarm or inveterate dislike. It seems, however, tolerably clear that the original limits of the work on the above programme must be exceeded. That a good deal of ground is got over in the present volume, and that it is full of life and interest, we readily admit; but a series of vast and connected operations remains to be described. Delhi is not taken; Lucknow is not relieved; Lord Clyde is never mentioned; Sir Hugh Rose has not appeared in Central India, or even at Bombay. The author, not unnaturally, is perplexed by the multitude of similar and thrilling events occurring in the course of a week in half a dozen quarters of the empire. Tacitus, in his Annals, because he adhered to his plan of compressing into each year all the events which belonged to it, had, we know, to rush from the Rhine to Egypt, and from a conflagration in the City to an embassy from the Parthian king. Mr. Kaye, in the same way, has to explain to his readers how, during those well-remembered months of May and June 1857, in different parts of the empire, treasuries were 'looted,' prison bars burst open, gray-haired colonels were shot down while haranguing their petted Sepoys, and mothers and children were exposed to insult and pitiless attack. There was a horrible likeness in many of those frantic outbursts of Asiatic devilry. But Mr. Kaye has managed his abundant materials with much discrimination and method, and has, practically, divided his second volume into three main parts. One series of chapters describes the outbreak at Meerut and the seizure of Delhi. Another series is taken up with the awful massacres of Cawnpore and the retributive march of Neill and Havelock from Calcutta. The third division treats of the siege of Delhi, and, as a consequence, of the strenuous efforts which were made by Lord Lawrence, then Chief Commissioner, not only to preserve order in the Pnnjaub, but to make that province the base of operations against the rebel city. This arrangement strikes us not only as judicious, but as the best that could be made. But the upshot is that we hold Mr. Kaye to be committed to four volumes; nothing less can do justice to the gallantry of his countrymen and to the firmness and policy of Lord Canning.
A review of the main features and of some of the principal topics of this volume is due to Mr. Kaye, as far as space will permit. Mr. Kaye explains with perspicuous brevity the circumstances under which the old East India Company had allowed Delhi to remain the residence of the successors and descendants of Tamerlane. In the commencement of this century the ambition of the French was shattered and the Mahratta Confederacy broken up by Wellesley in the cabinet and by Lake in the field. But with a respect for fallen royalty which was closely allied to weakness, we permitted three generations of puppet kings to retain something of the external pomp and pageantry which appertain to kingcraft. The allowance for the royal family was left at more than £100,000 a year. Certain districts were exempted from the operation of the ordinary laws and courts, and were attached to the royal person. Residents and agents, and even secretaries on the part of the Governor-General, went through the degrading ceremony of presenting offerings of fealty to the Great Mogul. Until a comparatively recent period money was coined in his name, and the royal era was current in public proceedings and in legal tribunals. It is true that these acts of apparent homage and submission were not conceded without some opposition on the part of clear-sighted and independent officials, or without decided misgivings in the minds of British statesmen. The palace at Delhi became a seething caldron of corruption and intrigue. Gradually, however, one exemption or privilege after another was taken away. The rupee of the Company took the place of the gold mohur of the Emperor. The juloos or royal era no longer headed formal proceedings. The kingly pension was not diminished, nor was the substantial comfort impaired; but men of decided views and undoubted prescience began openly to discusa the propriety of extinguishing the titular dignity of these mock emperors, and even of removing them from a place which was replete with tempting historical associations, and which might, at any moment, become a source of positive menace to our power. At length, a question which had suggested itself, though dimly, to such men as Lord Metcalfe and Lord Ellenborough, assumed, in the vigorous and trenchant minutes of Lord Dalhousie, the following proportions and shape. Recognising fully the evils, moral and political, to which the retention of the king at Delhi gave rise, Lord Dalhousie boldly proposed that, on the death of the present incumbent, the kingly title should be abolished; that the palace should become an arsenal and be kept as a British post, and that the king should go forth to reside at the Kootub, some eleven miles to the south-west of Delhi, remarkable as the burial-place of members of the royal family, and known for its imposing minor or pillar, the highest and the most striking in the world.
The receipt of Lord Dalhousie's proposals in England was followed by a sharp discussion amongst the Directors, and by a conflict of that body with the Board of Control. This contest was ended by instructions to the Governor- General, issued from the Board, but through the Court, empowering him to act on his own views. But Mr. Kaye tells us that when Lord Dalhousie 'learnt in what a hotbed of contention the despatch was being reared, he wisely hesitated to act on its contents,' and, 'to his honour,' 'deferred to the opinions expressed by the majority of the Court, and by others not in the Court whose opinions were entitled to equal respect.' Now the facts lucidly given by the author lead, to our thinking, to a very different inference. Mr. Kaye has expressed in no measured but in just language the iniquities and the abominations of the palace. He has deliberately recorded his conviction that the so-called humiliations inflicted on the inmates of the palace were the inevitable consequences of British supremacy; that it may be questioned 'whether a single man, to whoso opinion any weight of authority can fairly be attached, has ever doubted the wisdom of these excisions'—to wit, the abolition of the kingly era, of the royal rupee, and of the degrading obeisance; that, in the interests of humanity, we might have done even more; and that there was undoubted wisdom in that portion of Lord Dalhousie's minute which pointed out the dangerous position of a fort at Delhi, dominating over the city, tempting intriguers, and menacing the great magazine. Yet Mr. Kaye apparently rejoices in the triumph of the majority of the Directors who had opposed Lord Dalhousie and the President of the Board of Control, and to whose opposition it was mainly due that the wise suggestions of the Governor-General were not acted on, and that in the end they fell through after further discussion. He describes this party as 'powerful in intellect, more powerful still in its unflinching honesty and candour, and its inalienable sense of justice.' That the conservative party, which always musters strongly at an Oriental court, at a board like that in Leadenhall Street, or at a council like that now sitting at Westminster, contains many honest, upright, and intellectual men, who in their day have done admirable service' to the State, we are quite ready to admit. But if we admit their candour and respect their motives, we must demur to their sagacity and statesmanship, and must look on them as quite incapable of taking in those changes in public policy and internal reforms which had been rendered not only expedient but imperative by the sheer progress of events. There are always some excellent men whose thoughts will not widen with the process of the suns. It is quite certain that Lord Canning, with but a few months' experience of India, not only came to some conclusions identical with those of Lord Dalhousie, but saw, with even greater distinctness, the social, military, and political dangers arising out of our injudicious retention of a rallying-point for intrigue. But the events of 1857 are a commentary on the whole contest far more significant and decisive than any argument or weight of authority which we could adduce. Early in 1857 Delhi was the very centre of disaffection and treachery; and how the mutineers at Meerut and elsewhere fled to the capital, used the king's name and standard, and made the palace a reeking shambles, is known to everyone, and is the subject of some of Mr. Kaye's most brilliant chapters. The deduction, then, which ought to follow from the obstructiveness of some of the old Court of Directors is, not that we should deliver funeral harangues about their candour and their justice, but that we should boldly denounce timidity and deprecate twaddle wherever we find them, especially when these qualities have thwarted a sound and just policy, and have intensified the calamities of rebellion and war.
Mr. Kaye, in his preface, tells us the principles by which he has been actuated in describing events so recent, some of the actors in which are still living. As we interpret his remarks, he speaks freely of all, but with marked forbearance in the case of those who are dead and can no longer defend themselves. Yet in no place has he been neglectful of the first duty of an historian, ne quid falsi . . . ne quid veri non audeat. It is impossible even now to read his account of the vacillation and helplessness of the officials at Meerut, or of the inconceivable folly which selected the spot for the entrenchment at Cawnpore, without a feeling of indignation or shame. We have no time to go minutely through the accounts of the successive outbreaks by which the country either fell into the hands of the rebels, or became a mere reflection of anarchy and chaos when the representatives of our authority were withdrawn.
But Mr. Kaye brings out very ably and clearly the important part which individual character played at this crisis. Where there was incompetence, hesitation, or credulity the rebels did exactly as they pleased. The same hideous programme was played out at stations very remote from each other. The details varied; the chief features were identical. Where there was incapacity, officers gray in the service, or mere boys, were shot down by troops wearing medals or decorations which they had gained while serving in our ranks; the houses were burnt and plundered; the treasury was sacked; the convicts of the gaol and the refuse of the city or bazaar fraternised; all external symbols of British rule and authority were blown up or defaced; and the men with white faces either lay dead in the gutters or were seeking shelter in the jungles. Where, on the contrary, there were two or three men who feared no responsibility, and who had heads to conceive and hands to execute, the whole scene was changed. Intending mutineers were disarmed, waverers were brought over, disaffected Mahometans or Hindus were awestruck by timely and wholesome exhibitions of severity; public authority was hardly interrupted for a day, nor was an ounce of silver taken from the public till. For if, on the one hand, we had to deplore the catastrophes of Meernt, Jullundur, Loodiana, and above all of Cawnpore, there was something to command admiration and to restore confidence in the splendid tenacity and the rapidity of execution which were displayed by soldiers and civilians at Lahore, Peshawur, and Benares. Nowhere have Englishmen performed deeds so calculated to vindicate the national claim to ascendency and empire, or to impress the natives with a humiliating but very fortunate sense of their inability to act long in concert or to shake India from our grasp.
Enlightened public opinion has never been divided as to the merits of the officials in the province of Punjaub, who, from the very first, took in the whole danger and devised the remedy. But the services rendered to the State by Lord Lawrence, who at that time was Chief Commissioner, and by a band of his trusted subordinates, appear, on calm reflection and after the lapse of years, even greater than they are usually accounted. It is quite true that there were some special circumstances in the administration of the province and in the character of the people that favoured our cause. The Sikh had an old grudge against the Poorbea soldier, or 'Down-Easter' as this epithet might be rendered. The government of the Punjaub, for eight years after its conquest and annexation, had been entrusted to very able hands, had been conducted with great vigour and tact, and had been signally cherished and encouraged by the Supreme Government. A considerable portion of the English soldiery then serving in India occupied Peshawur, the cantonment of Mean Meer near Lahore, and other important stations. The influential chiefs on the Sutlej, who had been protected by the diplomacy of Metcalfe from the aggressions of Runjeet Singh, warmly espoused our cause and kept open the communication between Umballa and Delhi. But it would have been quite possible for feeble hands and hazy intellects to have thrown these advantages away. The intrepid soldiers and civilians stationed by the Indus, the Ravi, and the Sutlej, pressed them to their utmost, and generally seemed to know exactly where audacity terminates and mere rashness begins. It was a happy moment when the local authorities conceived the idea of a movable column, and when it was placed under the command of such a dashing officer as Sir Neville Chamberlain. The effect of this was that a compact body of troops, thoroughly equipped and splendidly led, was ready to move at once wherever mutiny was threatened, instead of waiting till treasuries were invaded and bungalows were in a blaze. In truth, as Lord Lawrence forcibly pointed out in one of his letters to General Anson, there is no period of Indian history when rapid and bold action has not been successful. The celebrated maxim of Danton has, in India, nerved many a hand and filled many a bright page in history. Clive crossing the river at Plassey, Wellesley rushing on the Mahratta batteries at Argaum, Gillespie galloping to the relief of Vellore, Fitzgerald charging round the little hill of Seetabuldi, Hardinge and Gough attacking the Sikh lines at Ferozeshah on the afternoon of a brief winter's day, as soon as they were joined by the brigade under General Littler; these and many others are instances of that lofty confidence and that supreme contempt of difficulties which, when joined to some strategic skill, have proved as effective as our arms of precision, our rigid discipline, and our serried ranks. To these fine chapters must now be added several others, and no Englishman can read without a glow of satisfaction those animated pages in which Mr. Kaye narrates the spirited doings of the council of war at Peshawur, and the great disarmament of the Sepoy regiments at the morning parade near Lahore. O, si sic omnia! Mr. Kaye is fully justified in saying that it rested with the Chief Commissioner not only to save the province, but to save the empire; not only to anticipate anarchy and rebellion in the mixed population of Sikhs and Mahometans, but to collect and send forth troops beyond his own sphere of action, who should confront rebellion in its head quarters and should recapture the city. And here Mr. Kaye lets the general public, perhaps for the first time, into the secret of one point which was hotly debated. In the eyes of the Chief Commissioner the recapture of Delhi was of such paramount importance that it dwarfed by comparison every other object. To effect this Lord Lawrence was prepared to give up the Peshawur valley to the Ameer of Cabul and to retire to the Indus. Such a decision could perhaps be only justified on the ground that in this way and in no other could Delhi be taken. But able pens, on the other side, pointed out the extreme value of that outpost or bulwark, and the impolicy of any retrograde movement which would turn friends into waverers, and waverers into active foes. The arguments for not yielding an inch of ground were put forward with great point and earnestness, and we have no doubt that they were sound, and that the abandonment of the frontier across the Indus would have been a desperate measure, to be resorted to when everything else had failed. But the opponents of the secession went much too far, on the other hand, in thinking that the siege of Delhi might be raised without irretrievable disaster. Fortunately, the progress of events and the determined front shown solved the difficulty without compelling a resort to either alternative. Peshawur was not abandoned, and Delhi was eventually retaken by British and Punjaubi troops without the addition of a single bayonet from England. But Lord Lawrence was essentially right in attaching immeasurable importance to a successful siege. The eyes of all India were directed to the imperial city. The rebels, strengthened by almost weekly additions from revolted brigades in divers parts of Upper India, seemed to taunt and defy our forces. Neither enemies nor adherents had forgotten that, half a century previously, we had been compelled to raise the siege of Bhurtpore. There was no doubt in the minds of men who took not a local but an imperial view of the situation, that to take the Mogul capital was to strike a blow at the very heart of the rebellion, and to satisfy friends, enemies, and those who faced both ways, that the final extinction of the revolt was a mere question of exertion and time.
In the volume before us, however, that decisive blow is not struck. The situation of the British army before Delhi was in every sense peculiar, and the story of June, July, and August 1857, as told by Mr. Kaye, is one of gallant straggles but deferred hopes. Within less than a month from the outbreak at Meerut, in spite of heat and the incompetence of the commissariat, a compact force had certainly taken up a strong position before the walls. A brigade under General Wilson set out from Meerut, twice routed the mutineers by the Hindun river, and effected a junction with the columns of General Barnard, when the combined forces were again completely successful in a third action, -which was known as that of Budlee-ka-Serai. That the mutineers, though outnumbering our forces, should not withstand the well-directed fire of the Bengal Artillery and the rush of the British infantry, and that they should take refuge within the red walls of the capital, was just what everyone expected. But when we had once occupied the ridges and the old cantonments, the aspect of affairs was entirely changed. The mutineers had powerful guns, inexhaustible stores of ammunition, the traditions of history to encourage them, and bulwarks under which to fight. The consequence was that the story of Sebastopol was repeated. The besieging army found itself almost besieged. It is still a question amongst military men whether our little army could not on arrival have taken Delhi by a coup-de-main. And it is quite certain that the practicability of this step was urged on the General in command by a knot of gallant young officers; and that on more than one occasion active preparations were made for an assault. But from misapprehension of orders on the part of one officer, from indecision and doubt, or some other grave causes, the hazard was not run; and for three months the operations, which are detailed with great force, accuracy, and animation, took somewhat the following shape. The mutineers from their battlements sent shot and shell, at long ranges, into the very middle of our camp. Our artillery, though served splendidly, was wholly unable to silence this fire, or even to reply to it with effect. Our force was numerically small; it was subject to loss by disease, while some portion was not to be trusted. The rebels, as we have remarked, were receiving frequent additions from regiments and even brigades which had revolted at large stations, and which, after the usual atrocities, had marched straight to the capital. As these new allies flocked to the city they were sent out to have their 'baptism of fire,' with the double purpose of proving their fidelity and prowess, and of affording us no respite. It mattered not that they were invariably routed and had to get back to their cover. Our men, meanwhile, had no peace. They were disturbed at the bath and at the midday meal, when the sun was at its fiercest; attempts were made to attack our rear and to interrupt our convoys; our pickets were shot at from gardens and inclosures; mistakes occurred from the similarity of dress, bugles, and accoutrements; and it became evident that until reinforced we could not hope to see the inside of Delhi, even if we could calculate on maintaining our position in the teeth of serious losses, and against the attacks of an emboldened enemy. To those who were then in India, and who look back on the history of the mutiny, there was no darker period of depression and danger than the first three weeks of August. Delhi had not fallen; Cawnpore had indeed been recaptured; but Lucknow was not relieved. Reinforcements were only just arriving from England, and were on the seaboard. We were making no progress; and, at such a crisis, and with an Asiatic people, not to advance was in reality to go back. But by the end of August our prospects brightened. Nicholson with his movable column had arrived in camp, and had fought a splendid battle in the rear of our forces. One of the most skilful of our engineers had taken the exact measure of his antagonists; the siege train, protected by the loyal Sikh feudatories on the Sutlej, was at hand; and the exertions of Lord Lawrence had collected a force which, however small when compared with that of the rebels, proved itself adequate to the task of assaulting batteries, though manned by skilled and desperate artillerymen; and, what was of even greater importance, of clearing out and holding the city whenever the walls might be gained. It will be for Mr. Kaye, in his next volume, to tell us how the victory was won, to be dimmed by the loss of such a general as Nicholson. But the great episode of the small force that resolutely kept the Flagstaff Tower and the Observatory with unfailing courage and unimpaired cheerfulness, with all its incidents of personal prowess and chivalrous daring, may be read by all with pride and admiration, especially at a time when a display of the same qualities may, at any moment, be required from many who are now calmly sitting by their firesides or lounging in the streets.
It was a natural consequence of the total disruption of intercourse, and of the scope which such a Hydra as the mutiny afforded to individual energy and talent, that the figure of Lord Canning is less prominent in this volume than those who honour his memory would desire. The statesman from England was in the Gangetic Delta: and it became impossible for him to retain the supreme control or even the partial direction of events which succeeded each other in dissolving views of bloodshed and fire. When telegraph wires were cut, early posts had ceased, and intelligence could only be transmitted by stray messengers, officers had constantly to act on their own judgment, and to hope for confirmation or subsequent indemnity. It may, however, be fairly questioned whether all the measures taken by the Supreme Council at Calcutta were judicious and suited to the crisis. It was unquestionably a mistake to receive with marked coldness or indifference the spirited and timely offer of the inhabitants of Calcutta for the enrolment of a corps of volunteers. It was also a mistake to treat the press conducted by Englishmen just as we treated the mischievous productions emanating from disloyal and seditious natives. But of the dignity, fortitude, and calmness shown by Lord Canning there should be but one opinion. After a brief tenure of office, and without having paid a single visit to any part of Upper India, he was suddenly called on to face one of the most terrible ordeals that had ever tested human foresight and skill. And we see him, in these pages, straining every nerve to reinforce Benares and the Doab of Hindustan, to procure troops from Ceylon, China, and England, to narrow the circle of the mutiny, and to limit the spread of discontent. Men keeping important posts, or watching densely-crowded cities, were cheered or rewarded by a few lines written by the hand of the Governor-General, in that language which he wielded with such stately dignity and grace. By edict and by example he firmly checked the effusion of innocent blood and the excesses of retribution; and to his efforts, if to those of any one individual, it is owing that the mutiny did not bequeath to his successors an undying legacy of religious antipathies and of national hate. But the subsequent volumes will, in all probability, be more fitted to bring out the really noble points in Lord Canning's character; to show how he could reward devotion and cast a veil over error; and how he shaped the outlines of a grand and a regal policy which was at last rendered possible by the quelling of the mutiny, and by the assumption of the Government in the name of the Queen.
Mr. Kaye's service in India has not only guaranteed him immunity from absurd misconceptions of Anglo-Indian life and phraseology, but it has imparted a lively and a picturesque character to his descriptions of scenery and to his estimates of men. It was said of Lord Macaulay that his celebrated essays on Indian generals or administrators derived interest from the local knowledge which such a mind naturally acquired and digested in his four years' residence, during which, though he visited the Neilgherries, he never went much higher up the river Hooghly than Barrackpore. Mr. Kaye is not one of those educated Englishmen who cannot tell whether Holkar is a Hindu or a Mahometan, or who won the battle of Buxar; and he may even be credited with a knowledge of the subtler distinctions existing between a Rani and a Kirani, and between the Karkoons of the island of Bombay and the Monsoons of the Bay of Bengal. Some of his descriptions of celebrated Indian forts and stations are accurate and graphic. The holy city of Benares with its temples, landing-stairs, and devotees; the junction of the two sacred rivers at the fort of Allahabad; the large, dusty, and straggling station of Cawnpore, which, as a military post, had, in late years, somewhat diminished in importance; Delhi with its mosques of architectural beauty, its stately houses, red walls, and green retreats; Roorkee developed from an obscure village to a huge workshop: these and other places, with their distinguishing characteristics, are all hit off with remarkable neatness and skill. Nor is the work wanting in animated portraits of soldiers and civilians whose spirits or calm courage seemed to rise with the crisis, and also, by their promptness of conception and execution, almost tempt us to forgive the blunders of incapacity and irresolution elsewhere. We forbear to draw marked attention to the names of men still living; but, with regard to the dead, the sketches of Herbert Edwardes, soldier, politician, and administrator—of John Nicholson, born to rule wild tribes and to win battles—and of Havelock, the God-fearing Puritan, who was the first to stem the tide of rebellion, and to prevail against numbers by pure strategy— appear to us excellent specimens of literary workmanship. Whatever opinion Anglo-Indians may entertain regarding Mr. Kaye's political bias or personal predilections, there can be no doubt of the skill which he manifests as a painter in the grouping of materials, or in the spread of colours on the canvas. The facts and figures buried in solid blue books have all been disinterred, sifted, and digested; while private correspondence, personal recollections, and familiar intercourse, have supplied the animation and life. In the background the picture is lurid with the flames or dark with the smoke of rebellion and anarchy: in the front, stand out prominently those exiles of undaunted hearts, ready hands, and magical influence, who, under God's providence, preserved from dissolution our vast and magnificent dependency, and elevated the character of our nation in the eyes of the world.
As critics it is our duty to note a few literary blemishes which somewhat detract from the merits of the work. There is always a difficulty in dealing with contemporary events and in making the petty and familiar incidents of daily life harmonise with the full and commanding style of an historical narrative. Not that we in the least object to the introduction of topics or of anecdotes which impart vitality to the account, or that we are at all oppressed with any consequential notions of 'the dignity of history.' But we should have wished some things to have been called by their own simple names. Havelock's men do not drink 'beer' before they rush on the enemy, but they arc 'primed with good libations of malt liquor'! Yet when General Neill had to recruit his exhausted physical energies, we are very properly told that he had to drink champagne and water, and not that he sustained himself by resort to what Mr. Tennyson calls 'the foaming grape of Eastern France.' Then again we have in the siege of Cawnpore an example of translation from ordinary language into the 'grand style' which Mr. Matthew Arnold would scarcely approve. The guns of the unfortunate garrison suffered damage from the enemy's fire; and from this and other causes the canisters could not be driven home. The difficulty was overcome, we are informed, by the 'gentlewomen of Cawnpore, who gave up perhaps the most cherished components of their feminine attire to improvise what was needed.' On turning to a foot-note extracted from the narrative of one of the few survivors of the massacre, we find that, in plain language, the ladies gave up their stockings, and that these articles were charged with the contents of the shot-cases and rammed down the guns! An amusement common enough at stations in the interior of Indian Presidencies is elevated into dignity by the following remarks: 'Accompanied by his daughters, he (Sir H. Wheeler) often went out in pursuit of a jackal, with a few imported hounds which he kept for the purpose; and there was still enough of the fire of the sportsman in the ashes of the veteran, to suffer him, in the crisp air of the early morning, to enjoy the pleasures of the chase.' A subaltern or young civilian would epitomise the above sentence into something of the following: 'The General commanding was a fine old fellow, who kept a bobbery pack in the cold season.' Now and then, but rarely we admit, there is an instance of mere literary amplification or of the introduction of epithets because they have a ringing sound. The troopers of the 3rd Cavalry, who commenced the outbreak, were hastening towards Delhi on the memorable night of the 11th of May, with, we are reminded, the sound of carbines and rifles and 'the roar of the guns, with their deadly showers of grape and canister,' ringing in their ears. From this a casual reader might have imagined that the mutineers had got away from Meerut after experiencing severe loss. But the truth is, that nothing practically was done towards attacking the rebels protecting the station, although the authorities had at their disposal artillery, rifles, and carabineers: and only a few pages before we had been informed that even when our troops had turned out equipped for a fight, 'a few harmless rounds of grape were fired into the obscurity of the night.' A more splendid soldier than General Nicholson scarcely existed, but we can hardly credit what the author gives as a report, namely, that during the pursuit of the mutineers from the Fort at Hote-Murdan, 'the tramp of his war-horse was heard miles off.' We do not see how the hoofs of one horse should make a much greater sound than the clattering of two rough-shod ponies, nor are we able to credit General Nicholson with a seat like that of the Wild Huntsman, or the Demon-Lover in Scott's version of Burger's Leonore, who went 'tramp, tramp, across the land; splash, splash, across the sea.' The expression 'rotting royalty,' though forcible and quite true when applied to the festering corruption of the palace of Delhi, is hardly suited for a history, though it might be used in a trenchant speech or an indignant article. And Avatar is not happily applied to an expected Mahometan priest or prophet who was to restore the wealth and splendour of Mussulman dynasties. Avatar, as Mr. Kaye knows perfectly well, is a pure Sanskrit word, originally used for the periodical appearances of the incarnate Vishnu on the earth, of which nine are passed and the tenth is yet to come.
The above blemishes do not seriously detract from the merit of the work. A few actual errors of fact or orthography must now be noticed. The name of the civilian who gave evidence at the trial of the King of Delhi is Sannders, and not Sanders, and this gentleman is now our able Resident at Hyderabad. The intriguing queen was Zeenut, and not Zeemut. For Mr. T. C. Wilson read Mr. J. C. Wilson. The magistrate of Delhi at the time of the outbreak was not Sir Thomas, but Sir John Theophilus Metcalfe; and though wo do not ask for Oriental pedantry in the spelling of Eastern names, we protest against metamorphoses of Oriental nomenclature into genuine Anglo-Saxon. No Sepoy's name could be Bridge-Mohnn. What is meant is, no doubt, Brij-Mohun. A well-known missionary at Benares is Leupolt, and not Leupholt. One of the officers slain at Cawnpore was Vibart, and not Vilbart. A platform, in Hindi, is not ' chaboutree,' but chaboutara. Mutiny, wickedness, or depravity would be fãsad, and not fissad. The Holy War, so often preached by Mahometan fanatics, is Jihad, and not Jaidad. This latter phrase is not, indeed, 'Heaven bless us! a thing of naught,' but it means property, or an assignment in land, and has nothing to do with battles and sieges. The deputy-commissioner of Loodiana was Mr. G., and not Mr. M. Ricketts, though we are bound to state that the wrong initial is given in a formal report by another officer. Mr. M. Ricketts was unfortunately amongst the officials murdered at Shahjehanpore, in Rohileund. The late Mr. Blake, of the Civil Service, was killed many years ago in a tumult at Jyepore, the beautiful city just visited by the Viceroy, and not at Jagpoor. But the error appears to originate with Colonel Sleeman in his Rambles of an Indian Official. Many people would imagine that an English officer whose 'skull' was 'clove to the brain ' by a despairing trooper could not have survived. The officer to whom we allude is Colonel James Hills, who figures nobly in one of the most stirring episodes of the camp before Delhi, and who is, we are happy to say, still alive and wearing the Victoria Cross for his gallant conduct. It is fair to state, however, that in a foot-note Mr. Kaye quotes from Colonel Hills' own account of the occurrence. And as Colonel H. is not an Irishman he could not have written about his own death. But the phrase 'clove to the brain' applied to an officer still living strikes us as somewhat sensational. We trust that Mr. Kaye may have an early opportunity of rectifying the above slight errors or misprints in his second edition.
There are some other statements and remarks in regard to which critics familiar with Indian topics may have ground of objection. At page 123 Mr. Kaye admits that there are many things which in the month of May 1857 'might have been done better if the future had been clearly revealed to those who had the conduct of affairs.' And he then proceeds to say that we 'must judge men according to the light of the day which shone upon them, not the light of the morrow which had not yet broken when they were called on to act.' This strikes us as a rather perilous doctrine to be applied to the conduct of affairs in the hands of ministers or statesmen at a national crisis. Statesmen are selected, elevated to particular posts, paid by the Treasury, and trusted by the people, precisely on the supposition that they are wiser and more prescient than other people. We credit them not only with lofty purpose and good faith, but with insight into motives, with calculation of consequences, and with some prevision of events. We applaud their political sagacity when they come up to this standard, and we cease to believe in them when they signally fail. Even a eainit lupinum may be wise after the event, and we all know what is proverbially said to be the master or teacher of fools. Why, it may be asked, when General Hewitt had mismanaged matters at Meerut, was General Lloyd allowed to retain the command at Dinapore? And why, if disarmament had been successfully carried out at more than one station by the Punjaub authorities, was the same measure not resorted to by those of Calcutta in regard to native regiments in Behar, while we had English bayonets near Patna? We admit that had this been done, as it easily might have been, history would not have had to record the splendid defence of Arrak by its garrison of civilians and Sikhs. But Lord Lawrence and his subordinates did not wait for 'to-morrow's light.' They acted boldly on the occurrences of to-day, and their success in crushing rebellion or in anticipating it suggests the enquiry why policy should change with the latitude, or why what was done on the banks of the Ravi or the Jhelum should have been unattempted on the banks of the Ganges. The country would not record its belief in the firmness and diplomacy of Lord Granville at the present moment, if it thought that he was waiting for some revelation of the future, independent of that which can be gathered from his own insight into character and his power of drawing correct inferences from the position of Cabinets and the course of events.
We are unable to accept, in the literal or the broad sense which the words imply, the author's statement that in parts of the Empire other than the Punjanb there 'might be seen something almost amounting to fusion between the Hindnised Mahometan, and the Mahometanised Hindu.' The Hindu may ape the dress and imitate the manners of Englishmen, but between Hindu and Mahometan there is, in all parts of India, still as wide a gulf as ever. Not a year passes in which the peace of a great city or a populous mart is not endangered by some riot about a mosque near which a pig has been slaughtered, or a temple into which beef has been thrown; and were it not for the staff of the policeman and the presence of the English magistrate, there would be broken bones and bloody heads on both sides. That Mahometan chiefs or landholders may have Hindus for their agents and managers, and vice versâ; that men of different creeds may, under our levelling rule, meet on the same council and sit on the same committee ; and that, like Shylock, the one may buy, sell, talk, and walk with the other, is all very true. But the Hindu makes no proselytes from other sects, and the Mussulman still preaches the spread of his own creed by sword and fire. The angularities which Mr. Kaye alludes to are still, we think, sharp and protruding; and union by the social board or the altar is just as far off as it was in the days of Akbar or Shah Jehan.
We might also be permitted to doubt whether the number of mosques — not temples — in the Hindu city of Benares is as many as 272, had not Mr. Kaye quoted Mr. Sherring as his authority; and we have looked over the excellent map of the Cawnpore Station at page 277 without finding the Subahdar's Tank, so often mentioned in contemporary accounts, indicated by name, although those who are familiar with the locality can make out its position. Hurdeo, we beg to observe, is not the Oriental equivalent for fisherman. The Temple of Hurdeo is the Temple of Siva, the destroyer in the Hindu Triad, from Hara, an epithet of that deity. We believe that Mr. Kaye himself is perfectly well aware of this, but the collocation of words used by him might lead the unwary to think that fisherman is the translation of Hurdeo. We suspect that, as so often happens all over India, a temple to Hur, Hara, or Siva, had been erected at the expense of a fisherman, or of a number of persons of that caste, in a fit of piety, or on some lucky windfall.
But, with these criticisms, we are ready to give all praise to Mr. Kaye for the spirit in which he writes, for the honesty of his endeavours, for his dispassionate estimate of characters and measures, for his general fidelity and liveliness, and for his high moral tone. By no writer have the heroism, the endurance, the energetic lives, and the noble deaths of Englishmen and Englishwomen, been so worthily commemorated. Nowhere is there a trace of exultation such as might escape from the lips of one who was telling the story of unsuspecting confidence requited by foul treachery, and who might rejoice in any retribution which overtook a host of incarnate fiends. Stories of mutilation (which, indeed, disappeared before the investigation of the late excellent Lady Canning, who herself saw every lady that passed through Calcutta from the Upper Provinces) are mentioned by Mr. Kaye only to be discredited; and the same fate in Mr. Kaye's hands attends the report of writings said to have been discovered on the walls of the slaughter-house at Cawnpore. They were bungling forgeries made by excited soldiers. The extraordinary inconsistency of the mutineers, and instances of their romantic attachment and even chivalrous courtesy, are well brought out in contrast to their deeds of ferocity and violence. Due praise is given to the princes who adhered to our cause, from the Sikh chiefs down to the Afghan pensioner Jan Fishan Khan, whose name, it may readily be conceived, was speedily metamorphosed in the English ranks into John Fisher. And in his earnestness not to palliate retribution exacted by young men of hot blood and ardent imagination, Mr. Kaye even condescends to quote such a work as the Travels of a Hindu, by Bholanath Chundra, a writer who never went near the scene of the mutiny when it was raging, who is singularly inaccurate in his account even of places which he has visited, and who writes just as a Bengali might be expected to write.
We take leave of Mr. Kaye with a feeling of gratitude that the events of the great mutiny have found an historian who writes in a spirit worthy of the fine corps to which he belonged, of the noble services whose ability in civil or political administration he is daily criticising and reviewing, of that literature to which he devotes such hours as can be spared from the pressure of official duties; and we may safely anticipate that no rash annalist will rush in upon the ground which he has trodden with so firm and dignified a step, and that the history of the great mutiny will not be rewritten.
Fraser’s Magazine, February 1871.