Review of Arabia, Egypt, India

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Mrs. Burton in India[1]

EXCEPT that this volume, as Mrs. Burton reassures us in the first page by declaring, is "not weighted with a grievance," it has all the special characteristics of its author. There is the same sense that the writer has discovered the keystone of European, Asiatic, and African policy; there is the same burning desire to put everybody and everything right, from Lord Beaconsfield to the directors of Austrian Lloyd's; there is, finally, the same genuine belief that she and her husband are the objects of the whole world's suspicion, envy, or admiration. - Fortunately there is also the same animation and instinct for seizing on the picturesque point in a landscape or an incident. So, on the whole, we are not disposed to quarrel with the amiable publisher whom Mrs. Burton, whether in a vision or in reality, pictures as first rejecting an offer of a book on India "because we all know everything about India" and finally relenting and giving her "another chance."

Mrs. Burton, having once taken possession of a reader, very prudently will not let him out of her sight. She does not know if he might not give her the slip and never be reclaimed. Accordingly, when she has made up her mind that India is the proper place in which to spend a Consular holiday, he must travel by her side to Boulogne and to Paris. He must begin his Oriental experiences by seeing Rossi in Hamlet and Macbeth. He must be at hand to testify to her melancholy discovery that Paris coffee is since the war all chicory, and that "the famous bread and butter has lost caste." In "the most civilized and joyous town in Italy," after a visit to the Duomo and the Brera, he must with her regale himself on Risotto a la Milanese and Ravioli, and Flambe di Selvaggiume; he must feel damp in Venice in December, and discuss nationalities and the Eastern question at Trieste. At Trieste indeed Mrs. Burton not unnaturally feels so comfortable that she does not seem inclined to leave it She knows her Consular town, and describes its idiosyncrasies so pleasantly that her readers would hardly have been discontented had she got no further eastwards. Trieste suffers from a mortality about double that of London, three particularly objectionable winds, and several extortionate landlord's. But, to compensate, it has a blue sky "which makes one glad to live," and can furnish " twenty-six women friends " whom Mrs. Burton "would be glad to see again in any part of the world." They are "mostly pretty, have charming figures, are beautifully dressed, have delightful manners, are well educated and accomplished; all speak three or four languages, are good musicians, and swim like fish." Such a flower-garden suggests bees or wasps. But among two dozen Clarissas there is uo Lovelace. The men, who are either married or boys, are always on the Bourse or in their offices. When the two sexes meet " a rigid decorum is observed; no one dares indulge in the most innocent flirtation." So Mrs, Burton "would strongly recommend any friend who has a wife tant soit pen Ugere to come and reside there." Outside the salons it would appear, from certain remarks of Mrs. Burton, the decorum of Triestine life is hardly so rigid.

However, at last the twenty-seventh woman friend of Trieste tears herself from her companions. Trieste is left behind, and Briudisi, "the very filthiest town of all Italy." There is, of course, a Mediterranean storm, of which the Austrian Lloyd's Calypso gives its passengers the full benefit. Mrs. Burtou undergoes it sitting on a chair lashed to the deck, and studying a strange mixture of the Light of the Harem and Roderick Random. Off Crete she begins to "feel Egypt," and in due course the Suez Canal is entered. Mrs. Burton's Syrian experiences have taught her to describe sympathetically tie solemn and tender beauty of the desert " with its tall waves and pyramids of sand catching the morning rays, with its shades of mauve, rose-pink, and lightest blue." At Jeddah she is at home, and we wish we had space to quote her vivid sketch of the great bazaar. A tantalizing hint is thrown out that this is " a grand time for the bric-a-brac hunter, especially porcelain with Arabic inscriptions. But, besides porcelain, Jeddah contains much explosive material. The inhabitants are violently jealous of the English and French, who have absorbed most of the trade; and their jealousy is inflamed by the foolish curiosity which leads here and there some European adventurer, with the hardihood of ignorance, to attempt a visit to Mecca. Captain Burton she considers justified by his capacity to profit by it; and the Jeddawis harbour no rancour against him for his success. Our Vice-Consul, Mr. Wylde, who understands and can manage the native temperament, is aware that he fend other Europeans are lodging over a volcano. He told Mrs. Burton with a laugh that " it would be doubtless much more comfortable if the morning and evening shell, instead of guns, were fired into the town." A few hours at Aden call forth a certain amount of historical knowledge from Mrs. Burton, but not much in the way of personal experience. One very striking specimen of feminine reasoning we cannot pass over. Aden has a Parsee shop of the general order. It contains, we are told, everything from a needle to on anchor. "So," says Mrs. Burton, " I asked for skates, for fun, as I thought it was the only thing they would not have, and I was right." The reasoning is of the same order as the famous inference of fraternity from the absence of the strawberry mark. Mrs. Burton's descriptive skill is superior to her logic when she will give it fair play. There is a grisly picture of the consequences of embarking for India in a vessel which ships pilgrims. The Calypso took on board at Jeddah some seven hundred homeward-bound Mecca pilgrims. They died at the rate of several a day of general incapacity to keep a grasp on life. Mrs. Burton observes, as her husband did a quarter of a century ago, on "the excessive facility" an Oriental shows for dying:—"A few hours of cold wind kill off half a dozen like flies; they eat rice, they beg a few lumps of sugar, they lie down, and they give up the ghost. ' Much of the mortality might be avoided if ships which convey pilgrims were compelled to provide abundance of fresh woter and fuel to cook, and were not allowed to embark men already sick and sinking with age. Mrs. Burton mokes also some useful suggestions on the means of preventing pilgrims from disseminating Indian cholera. When cholera is abroad, she recommends the Long Desert route as the most likely cordon sanitaire to purge infected caravans. On the present occasion there was no epidemic disease, but there were weakness and hunger. Mrs. Burton endeavoured to relieve her fellow-voyagers. It was, however, uphill work. They would take rice or medicine, and even put it into their mouths; but when the donor's back was turned, they tossed it into the sea. A malicious Russian passenger informed her that, when the poor wretches expired, they were in the habit of saying that the Englishwoman had "poisoned them." That was scarcely compensation for accepting an invitation—" Come, O Bountiful One and sit a little amongst us, and examine my wife who has the itch!"

The steamer on arriving at Bombay was rescued by Mrs. Burton from a near prospect of a long quarantine. The captain knew only the single English word "Yes." When the pilot inquired if there was any disease on board, the captain, not understanding the question, replied with his complaisant affirmative. Only Mrs. Burton's remonstrances procured the hauling down of the yellow flag. Her readers may be grateful for her promptness. With a week's quarantine she would have had time to get up the entire history of India, and she would not have churlishly kept it to herself. As it is, she apologizes for confining her survey to a few pages. India was passing through the fever of the Prince of Wales's viBit But Mrs. Burton does not dwell on that thrice-told tale. Under the head of Bombay we have the regular Hindoo wedding; what is loss trodden ground is an account of the rural resorts of the Bombay citizens. Matheran, with its bright green groves, black rock, and red-yellow hvterite, its fresh breezes, and ite glorious vistes of ravines and mountains, may be cockney, but appears to have everything which can recruit energies exhausted with the friction and heat of Anglo-Indian life. For persons who have more leisure and ambition there is Tunga. Tunga is bracing, and doubtless very agreeable to persons who do not care for drinking-water, and who like to know that " the man-eating tiger walks about without fear of man." Devoid of these attractions, butwith the charm of being equally difficult to reach, there is Mahabateshwar, seventy-five miles from Poonah, and so much more fashionable than Matheran as it is less accessible. Mrs. Burton experienced one especial embarrassment at this watering-place with the muchaccented name. The roads are steep, and the native ponies expect to be whipped up them. But Mrs. Burton is lady-patroness of the Trieste branch of the Humanity to Animals Society, and objects to the whip. So does her fox-terrier Nip. When the coachman beat the ponies Nip tried to bite the coachman. "Not being allowed she laid her head on my shoulder, and went into hysterics." The woods, too, at MahAbiileshwar are cut so as to give no shade; "there are none of the shady dingly walks which still linger at Matheran," and society is always on duty in its "tall carriages instead of basket-chairs, and sables capped with black chimneypots."

Much of Mrs. Burton's volume deals with well-worn topics and scenes. Her least trite excursions were to Hyderabad and Goa. She remarks immediately on pRssing the Nizam's frontier the superiority in apparent comfort and prosperity of the Nizam's subjects to our own. It is not a very pleasant phenomenon. Mrs. Burton's assurance that the poverty of our Indian population "certainly will be altered and remedied as soon as it is made known" fails to console us. Under the rule of Sir Salar Jung the Deccan appears to have grown both flourishing and orderly. Mrs. Burton, like other recent travellers, found Hyderabad as peaceful and secure a town as any in England. All the citizens are armed with guns or matchlocks; but that is only a fashion of dress. They greet Christian tourists with smiles and blessings. Possibly a mount on Court elephants may conduce to the general amiability. But the town itself is clean as well as tranquil. An absence of smells and an air of animation and wealth can scarcely be put on to deceive strangers. Being guests of tho commandant of the Nizam's Contingent, Captain and Mrs. Burton were entertained magnificently by the chief nobles. Mrs. Burton was surprised by the sumptuousness of the native palaces, though vexed by finding them fitted up with "sundry European furniture, cheap glass and china, and pictures worth a couple of francs." All the luxuries of civilization are known in Hyderabad. A lady who at a native fe"te desires to wash her hands finds "powder for the face and puff as carefully provided as in Paris." The one especial curiosity of the neighbourhood, tho historical*city of Golconda, no Christian is permitted to visit. Mrs. Burton and her husband had to content themselves with inspecting the domed and tiled tombs of the Kings which are outside the Diamond city. She takes occasion, however, to quote from the Morning Post an account, of a peculiarly dithvrambic kind, of the Koh-i-noor, and to repeat her advice to avert the disaster supposed to attend the ownership of that grievously maltreated jewel by selling it a bargain to Russia. One, indeed, of her and Captain Burton's cures for the poverty of India is to revive the exploration of tho Deccan diamond mines. So entirely obsolete has the industry become that " at Golconda no one, strange to say, can now recognize a rough diamond." Mrs. Burton and her husband think that, to make the workings profitable, the diamonds should not be sought, as formerly, in the alluvial grounds, but be traced up to the places where the material must have been formed. The Nizam diamond, which is only half its original size, the finder having split it with a stone, is vaguely estimated as about three hundred carats. This would represent a respectable value of 700,000?. A fancy which traces diamonds to their source may well revel in visions of jewels of infinitely greater dimensions and a value beyond the dreams of avarice. With the mines of Golconda reopened, European ladies taught to practise the rules of ordinary politeness towards their native hosts, and the bestowal of half a dozen peerages on the great feudatories, Mrs. Burton would not despair of India.

Mrs. Burton has time for Bo many moral and political reflections at Hyderabad that it might have been supposed she had spent half a year there. It seems to have been about a week. At the end of that time she journeyed back to Bombay, in heat so great that the railway officials, "all most kind and civil," were " walking up and down periodically to wake the passengers, as they have been occasionally found dead." The next expedition was to Goa. That is clearly not amongst Cook's excursions. The steamer casts visitors adrift eight miles from shore; and, when the town is reached, it is conspicuous for "a total absence of anything but the barest necessaries of life." "Of all the God-forgotten, deserted holes," Mrs. Burton has "never seen anything to equal Goa." The depression is fearful, the thirst is agonizing, the natives are ugly, and there is no ice. But Mrs. Burton is a Roman Catholic, and came to visit the shrine of Xavier. Xavier is a saint such as there are few. He, she says, "has never failed me, so I can honestly recommend any one who has some case of distress, some great want, to ask St. Francis Xavier to pray to God for it, and see whether they will not get it." Perhaps it was St. Francis Xavier who bent the heart of Mr. William Mullan to publish Mrs. Burton's book on India. At any rate she does not charge the saint with having cheated her out of her reward for enduring the horrors of Goa old and new. She bore courageously a climate which, with the thermometer only at 870, is " like a dirty Turkish bath." Captain Burton, who had gone through the experience thirty years before, seems to have been equally resigned, though a heretic, to the perpetual squabbling of women, which is " almost like pig-sticking." Old Goa, where is the saint's tomb, is made up of churches and monasteries, and is a veritable city of the dead. Its entire population does not exceed a hundred. There is no trade, no news, no amusement. As we read Mrs. Burton's description of the seething dulness, we can hear the pensioners of the Misericordia crying out to her, when turned from the gates for paying a visit after hours, "Come to-morrow before five; we want so to see you 1" Mrs. Burton, however, accomplished her purpose of obtaining a pretext for writing a memoir of St. Francis Xavier, whom she kindly warns Protestants not to confound with the Franciscans. She is able also to show her freedom of will by a vehement repudiation of the Goa Inquisition, though she concludes her censure with the philosophical remark that "the lust of cruelty, like the volcano, must have its outlet." Its "safety valve" was the Inquisition at Catholic Goa; it is vivisection in Protestant England. In the period when the Inquisition reigned she further observes that laymen and Protestants were accustomed to torture their political adversaries. What she does not appear to understand is that laymen and Protestants denounce with horror the atrocities to which political feuds tempted their ancestors; but the Church of Rome has never frankly expressed its shame and disavowal of the barbarities she practised upon so-called heretics. Mrs. Burton amuses herself by reflecting that for marrying a Protestant she would in the palmy days of Goa have been burnt to death. In Protestant nineteenthcentury England Cardinal Wiseman blessed the union, and would have celebrated it himself but for a severe illness. "How quickly," exclaims Mrs. Burton, with delightful naiveti, "civilization, rogress, and education are marching!" She does not seem to ave the remotest suspicion that the march of Catholic progress has brought it back to uncompromising condemnation of the mixed marriages on an assent to which she has been so warmly congratulating her Church.

Mrs. Burton is not merely a liberal theologian, but a political prophet. She is ready to reconstruct the map of the world at a moment's notice. She sees China wrestling with Russia for the dominion of Central Asia, France appropriating the coast of North Africa, Austria transformed by tho European spoils of the Porte into a great Slav Power, Greece rewarded for her patience out of the same inexhaustible repository of unclaimed goods, Syria fallen to England, if only England has the courage to seize it, Egypt left to the race of Mehemet Ali on condition of guaranteeing Great Britain's free right of transit and transport, and Constantinople, with a territory stretching northwards to the Balkans and westwards to Rhodope, turned into a protected kingdom of Byzantium, under a cadet of some reigning House. We wonder if Mrs. Burton supposes that a single human being can care what are her views on the fate of the Ottoman Empire. But to speculate on the profundities of Mrs. Burton's faith in her readers' forbearance would lead us into metaphysics. Her readers may murmur that thejr are better pleased when she describes watering-places and picnics. She knows what is best for them, and chooses to spoil what might have been an amusing volume with a farrago of high politics and secondhand gossip about international complications.


  1. Arabia, Egypt, India, By Isabel Burton. London and Belfast: Mullan & Son. 1879.