Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/70

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


no bad reasoning for India. At Paulgaut-cherry I had a most terrible attack of the liver, and should very probably have passed away, or, as the Indians say, changed my climate an elegant periphrasis for dying, however had I not obstinately resolved on living to have the pleasure of being revenged on all of you for your obstinate silence and ' perseverance therein to the end.' Hearing about the middle of August, that a Bombay cruiser had touched at Aleppo, be- tween Quilod and Cochin, I made a desperate push through the jungles of the Cochin Rajah's country, in order to reach her, and arrived about three hours after she had set sail. Any body else would have died of chagrin, if they had not hanged themselves outright. I did neither one nor the other, but ' tuned my pipes and played a spring to John o' Badenyon ;' after which I set myself coolly down and translated the famous Jewish tablets of brass, preserved in the synagogue of Cochin ever since the days of Methusalem. Probably you may think this no more difficult a task than decyphering the brazen tablet on any door of Princes or Queen street But here I beg your pardon ; for, so far from any body, Jew, Pagan, or Christian, having ever been able to do this before, I as- sure you the most learned men of the world have never been able to decide in what language or in what alphabet they were written. As the character has for a long time been supposed to be antediluvian, it has for a long time been as much despaired of as the Egyptian hieroglyphics. So much was the diwan or grand vizier, if you like it, of Travancore astonished at the circumstance, that he gave me to understand that I had only to pass through the Sacred Cow in order to merit adoption into the holy order of bra in ins. I was forced, however, to decline the honour of the sacred cow, for unluckily Phalaris' bull and Moses' calf presented themselves to my imagination, and it occurred to me that perhaps the Ham-rajah's cow might be a beast of the breed. Being on the eve of a new attack of the liver, I was forced to leave Travancore with great precipitation, in the first vessel that presented itself, a Mapilla brig, bound to Puloo 1'enang, the newly erected presidency on the Straits of Malacca, where I have just ar- rived, after a perverse pestilent voyage, in which I have been terribly ill of re- vulsions of bile and liver, without any of the conveniences which are almost necessary to an European in these parts, and particularly to an invalid. We have had a very rough passage, the cabin very often all afloat, while I have been several times completely drenched. In addition to this we have been pursued by a Frenchman, and kept in a constant state of alarm and agitation ; and now, to mend the matter, I am writing you at a kind of naval tavern, while all around me is ringing with the vociferation of tarpaulins, the hoarse bawling of sea oaths, and the rattling of the dice-box. However, I flatter myself I have received considerable benefit from tho voyage, tedious and disgusting and vexatious as it lias been. * * *

" You know when I left Scotland, I had determined at all events to become a furious orientalist, " nemini secundus," but I was not aware of the difficulty. I found the expense of native teachers would prove almost insurmountable to a mere assistant surgeon, whose pay is seldom equal to his absolutely necessary expenses ; and, besides, that it was necessary to form a library of MSS. at a most terrible expense, in every language to which I should apply, if I intended to proceed beyond a mere smattering. After much consideration, I determined on this plan at all events, and was fortunate enough in a few months to secure an appointment, which furnished me with the means of doing so, though the tasks and exertions it imposed on me were a good deal more arduous than the common duties of a surgeon even in a Mahratta campaign, I was appointed medical assistant to the Mysore survey, and at the same time directed to carry on inquiries concerning the natural history of the country, and the manners