Nov. 20th, 1848 — In my cell on board the “Dromedary” Hulk. — The whole convict Domdaniel is fluttered in its dove-cotes this morning. Three prisoners escaped last night from the Coromandel hulk, close by my residence. There is school on board these hulks on certain evenings in the week, attended by such of the convicts as choose to learn; and last night was school night in the Coromandel. These three men, one after another, asked leave to go out upon the breakwater after dark, and as it rained furiously no guard went with them. They ran to that end of the breakwater which, as it juts out into the sea, is not guarded by a sentry, swam in their clothes across the entrance of the camber, and betook themselves to the country. Alarm was given instantly, and guards were out in all directions. One of the three was caught, but the two others are still at large. They have the range of all the islands, which are so near one another that one can easily swim over all the straits: and these limestone rocks are, of course, full of caves by the seaside, so that it may be difficult to find them for a while. It seems they proceeded, in the first place, to rob a house and store, frightening the inmates nearly to death, and supplying themselves with biscuit and rum: then they seized on a boat, and actually attempted to put to sea for North America. If they had once got clear of the islands they would probably have reached Charleston or the Chesapeake (as four convicts did in a common gig last year) — but their boat stuck fast upon a sandbank, and she was found there, abandoned, this morning. The men must still be upon the islands, because no other boat is missing. To-day the pursuit is very hot: the several telegraph stations have the signal hoisted all day — “Prisoners escaped.” All boats are now put under surveillance; and I suppose the unfortunate scoundrels must be taken. They will be simply flayed alive.
21st. — Weary guards home to-day at daybreak — with no trace or intelligence of the fugitives. The governor has now ordered out the troops; and every cove, cavern, and cedar-wood in his dominions will be thoroughly explored within twenty-four hours. It seems that Capt. Elliott looks upon this escape as a thing of most dangerous example, occurring while he is honoured with the custody of me. I trust the wretches will get clear off; otherwise they will be savagely punished.
22nd. — They are caught, and brought back in heavy irons. One of them was found dressed in a woman’s clothes. The Governor came this morning in person to Ireland Island, though it is Sunday, to give special orders about the mangling of these culprits to-morrow. It is to be a most solemn and terrific butchery. Heretofore every delinquent was flogged on board his own hulk; but these three men are to be flayed in all the three hulks, one after another, receiving twenty lashes in each — sixty altogether.
Mr. Hire, the governor’s deputy, is highly important to-day: he always presides on such occasions, and is said rather to like them. He is a stem old naval officer — has been superintendent here twenty-four years — and holds that the Palladium of the British Constitution is a good cat of nine heavy cords, on every cord nine hard knots. On this point of constitutional law I differ from him: the true Palladia of that immortal Constitution are a suspended Habeas Corpus, and a pretended trial by jury.
I do not love this old naval officer, although he has always been — after the first day — quite courteous to me. Ancient habits, and twenty-four years’ supreme rule over convict desperadoes, have given him an imperious manner: besides, I always fancy that he exhales an odour of blood. At first he used to eye my cap uneasily whenever he addressed me, as if he imagined I ought to take it off, or at least touch it — an old Carthaginian sea-dog! But I ought not to call him bad names; for he has lent me many books, and on the whole is as civil to me as his nature will allow him; seems also reconciled to the sight of my hat upon its right place.
I wish to-morrow were over.
23rd. — The laceration is finished. The gangs are sent out to their work after being mustered to witness the example: the troops who were drawn up on the pier have marched home to their barracks: quarter-masters and guards have washed the blood-gouts from their arms and faces, and arranged their dress again: the three torn carcases have been carried down half-dead to the several hospital-rooms. Though shut up in my cell all the time, I heard the horrid screams of one man plainly. After being lashed in the Medway, they had all been carried to this ship, with blankets thrown over their bloody backs: and the first of them, after receiving a dozen blows with miserable shrieks, grew weak and swooned: the scourging stopped for about ten minutes while the surgeon used means to revive him — and then he had the remainder of his allowance. He was then carried groaning out of this ship into the Coromandel, instantly stripped again, and cross scarified with other twenty lashes. The other two men took their punishment throughout in silence — but I heard one of them shout once fiercely to the quarter-master, “Don’t cut below the mark, d- you!”
I have been walking up and down my cell gnawing my tongue. Not that I think it wrong to flog convicted felons when needful for preservation of discipline. But think of soldiers and sailors being liable to be beaten like hounds! Are high spirit and manly self-respect allowable feelings in soldiers and sailors? And can high spirit survive the canine punishment of scourging? In the Carthaginian service, indeed, those sentiments are not allowable; private soldiers and sailors and non-commissioned officers are not to consider themselves men, but machines.
But when even felons are getting mangled, I had rather, as a matter of personal taste, be out of hearing.
Dec. 1st. — It is six months this morning since I sailed out of Cork harbour in the Scourge. The weather has grown gloomy and cold. A Bermudian winter, though not absolutely so cold by the thermometer, is far more trying than good honest frost and snow in Ireland. The winds are very damp, dank, and raw, piercing through joints and marrow. And, to tell the plain truth, I am very ill, and do not sleep o’ nights — for nearly two months I have had very constant and severe asthma, especially by night, and have been fully thrice in every week, one week with another, obliged to sit on a chair all night through — and that in the dark and the cold. I am grown ghastly thin, and my voice weak. I am like a sparrow alone upon the house-tops — Courage!
Dec. 2nd. — The admiral’s ship has arrived again at Bermuda from Halifax, accompanied by the Scourge steamer. He will spend the depth of winter at the West Indies, come back to Bermuda in spring, and then to Halifax for the following summer so that it appears an admiral on the North American station can always choose his climate anywhere within fifty degrees of latitude, and enjoy summer air and summer-fruits all the year round— I wish the fine old fellow his health.
I have omitted, of late, to set down the titles of — for want of a better name I must call them — books, that I have been reading these past months; chiefly because they are such utter offal that there is no use in remembering so much as their names. Madame Pichler’s Siege of Vienna (Sobieski’s Siege — a grand page of history spun out into many hundred pages of pitiful romance, and interwoven with a love-story); a Life of Walter Scott, by one Allen, advocate, wherein the said advocate takes superior ground, looking down, as it were ex cathedra, upon his subject, searching out the genesis, and tracing the development of this or the other power or faculty in that popular writer; and thus, by philosophic histoire raisonnée, informing us how it fell out, to the best of his, the advocate’s, knowledge that Walter Scott came to write the books he did, and at the times of his life, and after the fashion he did — Good Heaven! what a knowing age we have the luck to live in! — In truth, the book is very presumptuous and very stupid; yet it is far excelled in both these respects by another I am reading now, a Life of Cowper, by Dr. Memes (bookseller’s hack literator of that name). Not that the writer is without genius; for he has succeeded in making a book as repulsive as it is possible for a book giving anything like a narrative of Cowper’s Life to be.
And have I read no books, then, save bad ones? That I have amongst those sent to me from home is an old Dublin copy of Rabelais, in four volumes, imprinted by Philip Crampton, of Dame Street — and it has kept me in good wholesome laughter for a fortnight — laughter of the sort that agitates the shoulders, and shakes the diaphragm, and makes the blood tingle; than which no medicine can be more cordial to me — I have read the cause of his effects in Galen. With Shakespeare also I hold much gay and serious intercourse; and I have read, since coming here, three or our dialogues of Plato, with the critical diligence of a junior sophister. The Politeta, indeed, as a gentle exercise of my mind, am writing out in literal bald English; which I do chiefly with a view to compel myself to read the Greek accurately, and not gobble it, bones and all.
One of the last books I have laid hands on is Lieutenant Burnes’s (afterwards Sir Alexander Burnes) Journey through Bokhara and Voyage up the Indus. And, not to speak of the intrinsic merits of the work as a narrative of travel, which merits are moderate, it has become remarkable on account of events which have befallen since its publication. This Burnes was sent to those countries (in plain English) as a spy, to make observations and get intelligence which should be available to the Anglo-Indian government, in the project they had of invading, civilising, plundering, clothing in cotton, and finally subduing Lahore and Cabool. That I may not forget this performance, I will take here some extracts from it; they may be useful to me if I ever write — and hoc erat in votis — an account of the Carthaginian power in India.
Old Runjeet Singh, magnificent old Maha Raja, was still alive; and the pretext of Mr. Burnes’s journey was to convey to him a present of some English cart-horses, from Bombay. The direct, easy, and usual route to Lahore was, of course, by Loodianha, and across the Sutledge; but one main business of Burnes was to explore the Lower Indus, and ascertain whether it was navigable for British steamers from the sea. Now the Ameers or chieftains of Scinde (the country lying on the lower part of the river’s course) were at that time not only free of British protection, but fully resolved to continue so; and so they jealously watched, and indeed were rather likely to detain English travellers; therefore, says Burnes, “That a better colour might be given to my deputation by a route so unfrequented, I was made the bearer of presents to the Ameers of Scinde.” But the Ameers did not well understand; they were somehow suspicious of this Sinon with his cart-horses; besides, there was a treaty under which no English were to attempt to navigate the Indus without leave; and, in short, Mr. Burnes and his party were delayed a good while about the river’s mouth, while the Hyderabad Ameer negotiated, evaded, and gained time. Nothing, in the meantime, could be fairer than Mr. Burnes’s language; he gave to one Zoolfkar Shah, an agent of the Ameer, assurances which might have satisfied any reasonable barbarian.
For “I told him,” says the lieutenant, “that he had formed a very erroneous opinion of the British character, if he considered that I had been sent here in breach of a treaty; for I had come to strengthen the bonds of union; and, what was further, that the promise of an officer was sacred.” Satisfactory, surely, to hear this from the officer’s own lips.
On their passage up the Indus — when at length they were allowed to go up — they found (what the English always find in every country they have a mind to) that the people were cruelly treated by their native government, and would wish to receive the British with open arms, if the villainous Ameers would only allow them. “We saw much of the people, who were disposed om the first to treat us more kindly than the government. . . . they complained much of their rulers, and of the ruinous and oppressive system of taxation,” etc., etc. Some of them, however, appear to have known better, especially the priests and holy men at one place, “A Syud stood at the water’s edge; he turned to his companion as we passed, and in the hearing of one of our arty said, ‘Alas! Scinde is now gone, since the English have seen the river, which is the road to its conquest.’
“If such an event do happen,” continues Burnes, “I am certain that the body of the people will hail the happy day.” In the nineteenth century, you know, one would not think of invading and laying waste any country, except for its own good — to develop its resources, as it were.
Well, we know that happy day has since dawned upon Scinde. Instead of hailing it, to be sure, the “body of the people,” forgetting their true interest, fought desperately at Meeanee, to put off le day; but Sir Charles Napier made them happy whether they could or not, and out of pure zeal for their amelioration, cut a great many of their throats.
Burnes gets to Hyderabad, and describes it professionally, with view to the future interests of civilisation: as thus — fort, “a mere shell; ditch, 10 feet wide by 8 deep; walls, twenty-five feet high, but going to decay. In short, he says,
“Hyderabad is a place of no strength, and might readily be captured by escalade. In the centre of the fort there is a massive tower, unconnected with the works, which overlooks the surrounding country. Here are deposited a great portion of the riches of Scinde.“
This tower and its contents interest the worthy officer much. Again he sets it in his “Memoir of the Indus,” a kind of appendix to the work, like a well-trained setter, thus: “The treasure” — that is, the public treasury of the country — “it is said, amounts to about twenty millions sterling, thirteen of which are in money, and the remainder in jewels: the greater portion of this cash lies deposited in the fort of Hyderabad” — which might be so readily taken by escalade. And sure enough, the British did, in due course, take Hyderabad and rob the tower. The plunder of that place, however, fell far short of their spy’s estimate, for it amounted only to one round million of pounds sterling: but even this was no bad booty for one town.
Nothing made so deep an impression on Mr. Burnes as any display of wealth on the part of the natives. When he arrived at Khyrpore, higher up the river than Hyderabad, the Ameer there treated him and his party with lavish and costly hospitality; sent to his quarters provisions for one hundred and fifty persons daily, — also, twice a day, a meal of seventy-two dishes — and, says Burnes, “they were served in silver.” In Khyrpore, as usual, he found the people sorely dissatisfied with their rulers; “nor is the feeling,” says he, “disguised: many a fervent hope did we hear expressed in every part of the country, that we were the forerunners of conquest, the advanced guard of a conquering army.” Mr. Burnes, however, would by no means admit such an idea; and showed much maidenly modesty in combating such seductive advances: for example, the vizier of one Meer Roostum Khan came to him to offer alliance, and began protesting that he might as well do so in time — “for it was foretold by astronomers and recorded in books, that the English would in time possess all India.” When the British would ask why the chief of Khyrpore had not come forward with an offer of allegiance — “I tried,” quoth Mr. Burns, “to remove, but without effect, the sad prognostications of the minister.” As he writes this, he winks his eye to the British reader, and the British reader twigs.
Higher up still, they came to the country of the Doodapootras; and there again the Khan received them with profuse hospitality. “He was attended,” says Burnes, “by about a thousand persons, and I observed that he distributed money as he passed along.” To Mr. Burnes himself this Khan sent valuable presents, and two thousand rupees in money; and at parting, Burnes told the honest Khan that he would certainly not forget him —
“I assured him, what I felt most sincerely, that I should long remember his kindness and hospitality.”
But it would have been far better for the Khan if Burnes had forgotten him.
At length they approached Lahore, and at the frontier were waited on by Sikh officers of Runjeet Singh, bringing welcome and presents. “Each individual delivered a purse of money in gold and silver, and by his Highness’s desire asked for the health of the King of England, and the period that had elapsed since we left London; for the Maharaja, it seemed, believed us to have been deputed from the royal footstool. I replied as circumstances required.“
There was no end to the wealth Mr. Burnes saw in Lahore — the money, the silver chains, the gold bedsteads, the jewels, rich hangings, silken carpets. Cashmere shawls — dazzling even to read of. And so, having solemnly presented his cart-horses, and made careful inventory of all the valuables he could see, and the weak points of strong places, the prudent lieutenant now returned to Bombay, across the Sutledge, presented his report, and got his meed of praise and his captain’s commission.
Soon, however, he was seized with an intense desire to visit the Punjab again, and to penetrate to Cabool and Bokhara. There were at that time two ex-kings of Cabool, Shah Zemaun and Shoojah-ool-Moolk, living in India, as pensioners of the British; and it was in contemplation to restore some one of these injured monarchs to their rights — their English protectors, indeed, were not just sure which — but the state of Cabool, and the terms to which the exiled monarchs would respectively submit — in short, “circumstances” would determine that point. It was, therefore, above all things, needful for the Anglo-Indian government to get full information about Cabool, and the road thither, and the practicable passes, and the force and disposition of the Afghan tribes. Mr. Burnes, too, had quite an amiable school-boy enthusiasm about the “Conquests of Alexander” — about “the scene of romantic achievements which he had read of in early youth,” and so forth. In one word, a clever spy was wanted, and this romantic lieutenant was the very man.
Mr. Burnes, therefore, was again furnished with an outfit, and “passports as a captain of the British army returning to Europe“; not that he had any notion of really returning to Europe, but the story would serve well enough to tell the barbarians: for what could be more natural than that a British captain should take the overland route on his return to his native country?
This time Capt. Burnes went straight across the Sutledge into Lahore; and was again received with frank hospitality by brave old Runjeet: who made, however, inconveniently minute inquiries.
“Runjeet made the most particular inquiries regarding our journey; and since it was no part of my object to develop the entire plans we had in view, we informed his Highness that we were proceeding towards our native country.”
In short, they told him they were going straight to England; for Burnes immediately adds, “He requested me to take a complimentary letter to the King of England.” The phrase “it was no part of my object to develop,” etc., is the gallant gentleman’s mode of saying, that being a spy he told such lies as suited his purpose.
After feasting his eyes again upon the gold and jewels of Lahore, Burnes proceeds across the Indus into Cabool. The king. Dost Mohammed, he always takes care to style in his book, the “chief” — remembering that the true king was in fact one of the two Indian pensioners, or somebody else, who might suit the views of generous England. Burnes was presented to this “chief,” who asked much after Runjeet Singh and his power — “for sparing whose country,” says the traveller, “he gave us no credit. He wished to know if we had designs upon Cabool.” No answer is recorded to this simple question; but we may be sure the answer was such as circumstances required.
One is grieved to find that so intelligent a traveller found much falsehood, insincerity, and want of candour amongst the Asiatics. “With every disposition,” he says, “to judge favourably of Asiatics — and my opinions regarding them improved as I knew them better — I have not found them free from falsehood: I fear, therefore, that many a false oath is taken amongst them.” What a painful thought to a European!
I had almost forgotten the Koh-i-noor. It was in the first journey, when Mr. Burnes was admitted to his “audience of leave” of Runjeet Singh, he bethought himself that although he had seen gold and silver enough in all conscience to justify British “intervention” in the affairs of the Punjab, he had not yet beheld with his own eyes that monstrous diamond, in itself worth a king’s ransom. Therefore, “in compliance,” he says, “with a wish I expressed, he produced the Koh-i-noor, or Mountain of Light, one of the largest diamonds in the world, which he had extorted from Shah Shoojah, the ex-king of Cabool.” — the very man we are supporting by a pension — so that the diamond as good as belongs to us. “Nothing,” exclaims Mr. Burnes, “can be imagined more superb than this stone: it is of the finest water, and is about half the size of an egg. Its weight amounts to 3 1/2 rupees; and if such a jewel is to be valued, I am informed it is worth 3 1/2 millions of money: but this is a gross exaggeration.” Certainly, it was important to have all the particulars in the matter of such a diamond as this — a main part of the resources of Lahore, afterwards to be developed by British energy. It was the size of half an egg: its weight was accurately ascertained by the commonest silver coin — but lest there should be any mistake, he adds, “The Koh-i-noor is set as an armlet, with a diamond on each side about the size of a sparrow’s egg.” Thus it was made pretty certain that in any future sack or plunder of Lahore, the rudest soldier going in there, to see what he could develop, should not fail to identify the Mountain of Light. The Maharaja also showed him a large ruby weighing fourteen rupees, a topaz as large as half a billiard-ball — showed him enough, in short, to awaken the sympathies of the British public in favour of Lahore.
The last thing I heard of the Mountain of Light was, that it was safe “under the protection of British bayonets.”1
There is no need to follow Captain Burnes through Cabool and Bokhara, or to copy the prudent remarks he everywhere makes upon the strength of defences, and the booty to be expected in cities. He acquitted himself like a cunning serviceable spy, gave satisfaction to the gang of robbers he belonged to; and, as all the world knows, was at last put to death by Akbar Khan’s people during the first British invasion of Cabool; justly put to death by the indignant people as a detected spy and ungrateful traitor, which he was. The British, as usual, called the transaction “insurrection” and “murder.”
But the most amusing portion of this whole book, is that which sets forth the gallant officer’s views about pushing a sale of British soft goods in Asia. For a thorough-bred British spy must be also a kind of “commercial traveller”; and besides his reconnaissances, taken for the purposes of pure brigandage, he must be cunning in cotton patterns, wise in the statistics of turban-cloth and shawls, and must ascertain where consignments of divers sorts of fabrics may be successfully poured in. Having maturely studied this subject, Burnes recommends that the fabrics of Tata, Mooltan, etc., be copied in England — “as we did,” says he, “the chintzes of India.” — “We may then,” he says, “supersede the lingering remnants of trade in those cities.” The policy of British traffic in the East has always been to make low-priced counterfeits of all native manufactures — at first, of good serviceable quality, until the genuine maker was thrust out of the market, then gradually “pouring in” worse and worse Manchester rubbish, so as to effectually cheat the consumer, starve the artisan, and ruin the employers. It is needful to keep in mind the shabby history of this business, in order to understand some of the gallant commercial gent.’s speculations; and I remember that the most striking picture of the dismal effects produced by that roguish policy in India is to be found in Bishop Heber’s Narrative. Dacca and other places in Bengal, once vast and flourishing manufacturing cities, employing many tens of thousands of Hindoo artisans, and working up the Indian cotton into those fine textures with which they supplied Europe and Asia sixty years ago, are now, for the greater part, only jungle-matted ruins, where wild beasts of the desert dwell, and jackals make night hideous — worse, if possible, than the Liberty of Dublin: the miserable natives perish of famine by thousands every year; the cotton is exported 10,000 miles to be woven in Manchester and re-imported in the shape of such indecent printed rags as the poor devils are now able to buy insomuch that cunning British commerce is beginning to find it has by its very greediness overdone the system. Accordingly, Mr. Burnes, while he shows how to cut out the manufacturers of Lahore, takes care to say “I do not touch upon the policy of supplanting still further the trade of India.” Because the people there are already brought to the starvation point and below the clothes-wearing condition, where one’s customers cease to be profitable, even for one’s very vilest “fabrics.”
This epauletted bagman has given, plainly enough, the history of the usual British procedure in one case. “The chintz of Moultan,” he says, “was formerly exported to Persia; but in its competition with the British article the manufacture has almost ceased. The European article, when first introduced, about twelve years ago, was sold for twelve rupees per yard, and may now be had for as many annas, or one-sixteenth of its original value. The Moultan manufacturers, being unable to reduce their prices to so low a standard, find little sale for the goods.” And how comes it one may ask, that the British manufacturer can reduce his prices to so low a standard, producing his goods, as he does, in a very highly-taxed country, and charged, as he is, with freight half round the globe and back again? How? Why, first, by starving the artisans of the West, and then by cheating the people of the East. He can keep down his prices in no other way than by making bad articles, and cutting down wages, so that the extension of this traffic is no gain, but loss, to British artisans, who have the honour, indeed, to “clothe the world,” but go without whole shirts themselves. The beneficent spirit (you know) of peaceful commerce, which binds in a golden chain (so the phrase runs) most distant regions, etc.
On the whole, the gallant gent. recommends the pouring in of “woollens” to Lahore and Afghanistan. About silks he hesitates, fearing they might not answer yet; but adds, “I do not of course include brocade, which is at present imported.” Watches, cutlery, jewellery, or glass he hardly recommends for the present; but “ardent spirits” would be brought to a better market. “It is true,” he tells us, “the Punjabees still prefer the fiery drink of their own soil.” This is sad; but if some good cheap British gin, with plenty of aqua fortis in it, were poured in, who knows but we might supersede their fiery drink?
So did Captain Burnes approve himself a prudent and serviceable spy, and that in respect of all the several matters cognisable by a true British spy. In his capacity of geographical traveller, under pretexts of carrying presents, he took soundings of the Indus for British steamers. As a commercial traveller he explored new markets, and made himself learned in patterns and textures, to be counterfeited by the British weaver; and, as a mere brigand scout, he took notes of the amount of plunder to be got, marked the exact spots where every good booty was to be found, and estimated the strength of the walls, bolts, and bars, with a view to future British burglarious operations.
The troops are forming on the parade ground, and I must quit Captain Burnes, to listen to the music. Ireland Island, instead of St. George’s, was some time since made the headquarters of the 42nd for my sole sake, and therefore their splendid band plays here for my peculiar solacement. There are two fine bands now at the dockyard, one of them belonging to the Wellesley flagship; and the land and the waters utter delicious strains, sole or responsive.
So much for the waltz music of the 42nd. And by an odd chance the very next book I took up, after “Burnes’s Travels,” was ”Sketches in Portugal during the Civil War of 1834,” by Capt. Alexander, of the same 42nd, another military commercial traveller, though far less dexterous and intelligent than Burnes. He had been engaged by the Royal Geographical Society’ to go to South-Eastern Africa and make “researches” there; and, in the first place, proceeded to Portugal to get papers, maps, passports, and other furtherances, to enable him to traverse the Portuguese possessions with advantage. This captain’s book, as a book, is worth simply nothing; and I should never have written down the title of it but for the sake of two sentences, at which I have laughed. I will extract them for the sake of another laugh some future day. The gallant officer is much cheered by the thought of all the good that his mission will do the poor Africans, especially in a moral point of view. He says:
“For the philanthropic and patriotic mind no prospect can be more agreeable than that of seeing the interest of the African tribes attended to, the arts of civilised life introduced amongst them — then the mild spirit of Christianity, from all which will most assuredly flow wealth and prosperity to our own native land.”
And this is only reasonable. One would not surely give one’s Christianity to the savages for nothing.
The other sentence I take from the Christian missionary’s speculations on soft goods —
“Show a Turk a fast-coloured silk for twelve piastres, and show him another not with fast colours (and brighter because it is not so fast); explain to him the difference between them, and tell him he may have the last piece for six piastres, which will he take? Undoubtedly not the twelve piastre piece.”
It is not very clear to me that if this missionary commercial captain and man-milliner were actually chaffering with the Turk in the case supposed, he would feel quite bound to explain to his customer the whole of the difference between the pieces — that is if the cheap and bad piece were the more profitable to sell, which is usually the case with British goods.
How this pettifogging, huckstering nation degrades the profession of arms, making its officers common riders for Lancashire weavers! Why not let mill-owners employ their own bagmen — as they did Mr. Lander, who was commissioned to explore Central Africa for customers by one or two private merchants. This would keep military officers minding their own business, and a huge amount of dreary letterpress would be spared the human race.
Surely, amongst other great benefits which the next European war will confer on the family of mankind, not the least will be the suspension of military and naval authorship for a time — and perhaps the changing of those gentlemen’s tone and tune for all time.
I have read no Greek for six days; and begin to fear that in pretending to myself I loved Plato and Aeschylus I was no better than an impostor. Enough of books — I would give all the books I ever read for a pair of lungs that would work.
Dec. 3rd. – Another red morning has dawned, and finds me sitting, bent down on my chair, with weary limbs and dizzy brain, worn out with another night’s long agony. It is the twelfth night since my head has pressed my pillow — Almighty God! — is the angel Sleep to visit me never more? All night, in darkness, I have wrestled with a strong fiend in this cell — other wrestling than Jacob’s at Penuel — and now, at sunrise, when I can breathe somewhat more freely, the sense of deadly weariness comes upon me heavily. My feet are cold as marble: my body and head bathed in sweat. I look at my image in the glass, and verily believe my mother would hardly know me: my eyes have the wild fearful stare that one may imagine in the eyes of a hard-hunted hare, couched and gasping in her form; a cold dew stands in beads upon my forehead; my cheeks are shrunk and livid; my fingers have become like bird’s claws; “and on mine eyelids is the shadow of death.” The Asthma demon has fled westward, keeping within the great shadow of the world – riding in darkness like Satan. Ah! he will put a girdle round the earth, and be with me again at set of sun. All tortured and weary wretches, all exiles, and captives, long for the night: and the ambrosial night brings them Lethean balm, and liberty, and home – for those few blessed hours they may have back their youth, and tread their native land, and see the sweet eyes of those who love them – And to me —
But this, after all, is an unprofitable line of observation. If I once begin to write down my “grievances,” I will but think the more of them. And I am resolved not to listen to myself on that topic. Moreover, if the night was bad the morning is glorious, and is flooding the earth with heavenly splendour: the heavy sighing of the wet sea-wind had sunk, and the waves that dismally tumbled and plashed all night against the ship’s side are now but a gentle ripple, trembling in the warm sunshine. It is a deep calm.
Slowly and painfully I prepared myself to go out; and have now basked in the sun for an hour on the pier. These December days (though the nights be cold) are as bright and warm as July days in Ireland. No wretchedness, on this side despair, could resist the soothing power of such a sky and scene, such Favonian airs and blue gentle seas. Strains of soft music from the band of the flagship in the bay come floating on the still air; and the cedar-tufted Bermoothes, with their white cottages and dark groves, are like a dream of Elysian tropic islands where the Hesperian golden fruitage grows. Surely there is mercy in the heavens: there is hope for mortal men. I am strong; I am well. Soul and body are refreshed; and I can meet again, and conquer again, the demon that walketh in darkness.
Dr. Hall, the medical superintendent, came to see me to-day in consequence of the continued reports made by the surgeon of this ship of my continued illness. In truth, for more than two months I have been almost constantly ill, and that to a degree which I had no idea of in all my life before, though an asthmatic patient of ten years’ standing. Dr. Hall told me plainly I could not expect to improve in health at all in this climate, especially in confinement — that Bermuda is notoriously and excessively unfriendly to asthmatic persons; and that I must grow worse until my frame breaks down altogether: in short, that if I be kept here much longer I must die.
“And is it,” I asked, “a settled part of the transportation system that an invalid is to be confined to that penal colony, of all others, which is most likely to kill him — I am sure the English have convict establishments in many other countries?”
“The Government,” said he, “never makes any distinction of that kind — I assure you many hundreds of men have died here, who need not have died if I could have had them removed to a more healthy climate.”
“Is there no escape for me, then?”
“Why, with respect to you, I do think something may be done. And in fact I have come to you to-day to urge it upon you to make the necessary exertion for this purpose You must absolutely apply for your removal, or at least be taken out of this strict and solitary confinement.”
“But I have never,” I answered, “since they made a felon of me, asked for any kind of indulgence or mitigation. I was prepared for the worst the Government could do to me: and, live or die, I cannot make any appeal ad misericordiam.”
“No,” said the Doctor, “but write to the governor informing him of your state of health; tell him I have announced to you that you cannot live under your present circumstances and refer to me for my report.”
“And why not tell him all this yourself? You know it.”
“I cannot. I cannot. The form must be complied with. I must not interfere officially, unless upon reference regularly made to me — and that can only be done when you bring the thing under the notice of the governor formally.”
“By my own autograph? — a petition, in short. Well, then. Dr. Hall, to you personally I am of course grateful for the kind feeling that makes you urge this point as you do. But I will never, by throwing myself on the mercy of the English Government, confess myself to be a felon. I will not belie my whole past life and present feelings. I will not eat dirt.”
The Doctor was now going to leave me, but came back from the door, up to where I sat, and laid his hand upon my shoulder. I saw that tears stood in the good old man’s eyes. “And are you going,” he said, “to let yourself be closed up here till you perish a convict, when by so slight an effort you could — as I am sure you could — procure not only your removal but probably your release? You are still young: you have a right to look forward to a long life yet with your family in freedom and honour. Write to the governor in some form — a simple letter will do; and I know he wishes to exert himself in this matter if it be brought before him so as to justify his interference. Take your pen now and write.”
“I will write something,” I said, “but not now. I will think of it, and try to make it possible for the governor and you to procure my removal, seeing my actual MS. is essential to that end.”
After leaving the cell he returned to say I should be sure to give Captain Elliott his proper title as governor. I answered that I believed the gentleman was, out of all doubt, governor of Bermuda, and that of course I would address him properly. So the Doctor left me.
If a man were in the hands of a gang of robbers — I mean mere ordinary unconstitutional highwaymen — and if he were cooped up in a close pestilential crib, the oubliette of their cavern, would he not call out for more air? — and would his so calling out amount to an admission that when they waylaid and robbed him they served him right — or an acknowledgment of their title to rob on that road? — I trow not.
I am not sentenced to death. If the pirates put me to death by this ingenious method, it would be well at least to let the proceeding be known abroad. Not that I think they really want to kill me;2 and possibly they would even be glad of some excuse to extend “mercy” to me — the rascals! At all events I will take care to ask for no mitigation of my sentence, still less “pardon”; but demand only that I shall not be murdered by a slow process of torture. To-morrow I will do somewhat. Ah! if the life or death of this poor carcase only were at stake.
Dec. 4th. – Several newspapers have come to hand; also, Blackwood’s Magazine for October. Blackwood has a long article on Irish affairs, which pleases me much; for they say it is now clear the British Constitution, with its trial-by-jury and other respectable institutions, is no way suited to Ireland; that even the Whigs have found out this truth at last; that they, the Blackwood’s men, always said so; and who will contradict them now? — that Ireland is to be kept in order simply by bayonets; and when the vile Celts are sufficiently educated and improved, they may then perhaps aspire to be admitted to the pure blessings of, etc., etc.
This is quite right, friend Christopher; we ought to have nothing to do with your Constitution, as you call it, until, as you say, we know how to use it; which, under bayonet tuition, is a secret we cannot but learn, I trust, at last; and then we will certainly use it after its deserts.
So I am to write to-day to this British governor of Bermuda, and respectfully, too. Indeed, if I write to Captain Elliott at all, I am no way entitled to address him otherwise than respectfully. On my arrival here, when he despatched my first letter to my wife, he had the courtesy to write to her himself, to set her mind at ease as much as he could.
I have written. The letter is superscribed, “To his Excellency the Governor of Bermuda.” It merely contains a statement about my health, with reference to the medical superintendent, and suggests that “as I am not sentenced to death,” it might be well to get some change made in my position, either by removal to a more healthy climate, or otherwise, “so that I may be enabled, physically, to endure the term of transportation to which I am sentenced.”
As this document does not call itself a petition or memorial, and does not end with a promise to pray, possibly the governor may decline to notice it, yet I think he will use his influence to have me removed; and if he suggests this to the London Government, policy will probably incline them to mitigate the atrocity of their outrage. Let me but escape out of their clutches with my life, and I will let them hear of my gratitude for all their policy to me.
At any rate the letter has been despatched to Government House, and in a great hurry, lest I should rue, and not send it at all. There is sore humiliation in stooping to ask anything of these pirates — even air that I can breathe.
True, a man captured by Malays or Greeks, or other buccaneering rovers, would think it no shame to do thus much or more, for life or liberty; and this simple note may save my life or gain my liberty. Yet it has cost me a grievous effort. I feel the wrong done to me tripled since enforcing myself to condescend so far; and if it pleases God, to Whom vengeance belongeth, to award to me my share, then, by God’s help, I will have additional revenge for this.
Two months will bring me the result. Till then I must keep aching body and panting soul together, as best I may.
1 But the very last is that the Mountain of Light was exhibited in the London Crystal Palace, as a jewel of Queen Victoria’s. So that poor Shah Shoojah has got neither kingdom nor diamond.
2 I now think differently; the reason will appear in the sequel – J.M.