Under the Sun
Under the Sun.
Late Professor of Literature and Logic to the Government of India;
Special War Correspondent of the London "Daily Telegraph" in Afghanistan and Zululand.
Author of "In My Indian Garden," "Under the Punkah," "Noah's Ark," &c., &c.
With a Preface
By Edwin Arnold,
Author of "The Light of Asia."
By Phil. Robinson.
John Wilson and Son, Cambridge.
The Savage and the Lotos Clubs
OF LONDON AND NEW YORK,
A SAVAGE OF THE LOTOS.
PREFACE TO LATEST EDITION.
AUTHOR’S EXPLANATORY NOTE.
I am of opinion that no one living can be considered a greater authority upon the subject of Natural History and Unnatural History than my daughter Edith, for on the occasion of her second birthday (last Thursday) we gave her a Noah’s Ark, and her life ever since has been devoted to original researches into the properties of its various inhabitants. Not only does she bathe and feed each individual of the menagerie every day, but she puts Noah and all his family, and as many of the Beasts as she can find, under her pillow every night. Moreover, she approaches her subject quite unprejudiced by previous information, and with a grasp that is both bold and comprehensive. This free, generous handling of the persons and animals that have come under her notice, convinces me, therefore, that the contents of this volume will receive from her a fairer introduction to the Public than I could expect from a more precisely critical pen.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
I have derived so much pleasure from reading the following sketches, humorous and pathetic, of Indian incidents, scenes, and objects, that I am glad to have the opportunity of recommending them to the two classes of readers who will, I think, be chiefly interested. One class consists of those who desire to know — what is not at present to be found in books — the out-of-door ordinary themes of observation in India; the other class, of those who — knowing India well, and all the familiar sights and sounds alluded to in this little volume — will easily fill up the slight and pleasant outline of the Author’s sketches, and thus renew for themselves many and many a bygone happy hour and old association of their Eastern home. None but Anglo-Indians know what a treasure-mine of art, literature, and picturesque description lies unworked in the common experiences of our life in India. But some are unobservant; some are too soon familiarized and forget the charm of first impressions; some admire, or are amused, but lack the gift of expression; and nearly all official Indians have too much business to leave them time for the pursuit or record of natural history, and such light and laughing science as this little book contains. For here I think is one bright exception, — one Anglo-Indian who has not only felt the never-ceasing attraction of the "common objects" of India for a cultivated and observant fancy, but has found time and gifts to record them as they first struck him, in a style which, with all its lightness of manner and material, has great strength and value, like those fine webs of Dacca and Delhi with the embroidered beetle-wings and feathers. The Author writes of beetles, birds, frogs, squirrels, and the "small deer" of India, but always, as it seems to me, with so just a sense of the vivid vitality of these Indian scenes and creatures, and so much sympathy for the Asiatic side of our empire, down to its simplest every-day objects, that I should not know where to send an uninformed English reader for better hints of the look and spirit of things in our Indian gardens.
They are only sketches, no doubt, which fill this little portfolio, but their outlines are often drawn with so true a hand, that nothing can be more suggestive to the memory of any one who has lived the same life. India may be hot, dusty, distant, and whatever else the weary exile alleges when his liver goes wrong, but she is never for one moment, or in any spot, as regards her people, her scenery, her cities, towns, villages, or country-places, vulgar. There is nothing in her not worth study and regard; for the stamp of a vast past is over all the land, and the very pariah-dogs are classic to those who know Indian fables and how to be entertained by them. Our Author is one of the happy few in whom familiarity with Indian sights and objects has not bred indifference, but rather suggested the beginnings of a new field of Anglo-Indian literature. If I am not wrong, the charm of looking at these utterly commonplace animals and people of India in this gay and pleased spirit is that we get that freshness of feeling which youth alone enjoys when all the world is new to it, interpreted by the adult and matured mind suddenly entering a practically new world, — for such India is to the English official on his first arrival. All we other Indians had of course noticed all those odd and tender points about the "syce’s children," the "pea-boy," the "bheesty’s mother," the "dâk-bungalow moorghees," the "mynas," crows, green parrots, squirrels, and the beetles that get into the mustard and the soup. Here, however, is one at last who writes down his observations, and opens, I think, thereby a rich and charming field of Indian literature, which ought hereafter to yield other pages as agreeable as those which it gives me true satisfaction thus to commend to the public.
Part I. Indian Sketches.
|“When God set about creation, He first planted a garden.”
|“Euel. — But of what sort, pray, is this life among the birds? for you know it accurately.|
|Hoopoe. — Not an unpleasant one to pass; where, in the first place, we must live without a purse.|
|Euel. — You have removed much of life’s base metal.|
|Hoopoe. — And we feed in gardens upon the white sesame
and myrtle-berries and poppies and mint.”|
|“Tame, villatic fowl.” — Milton.|
|“The feathered tribe domestic.” — Cowper.|
|“The careful hen.” — Thomson.|
|“The dâk-bungalow fowls develop the bones of vultures and lay the eggs of finches.” — Nugæ Orielanæ.|
|“‘Crows,’ remarked the Ettrick Shepherd, ‘are down
in the devil’s book in round-hand.’” — Noctes Ambrosianæ.
|“The writer of the Mahabharata excluded green parrots
from an ideal country. ‘There are,’ he writes, ‘no parrots there to eat the grain.’” — Nugæ Orielanæ.
The Mynas (Stuminæ)
|“To strange mysterious dulness still the friends,” — Byron.|
|“Two starlings cannot sleep in one bed.” — Proverb.|
The Seven Sisters
|“One for each of the wise men. of Greece, one for each hill of Kome, each of the divitis ostia Nili and each hero of Thebes, one for each day of the week, one for each of the Pleiades, one for each cardinal sin.” — Nugæ Orielanæ.|
The Gray Squirrel
“The squirrel Adjidauno,
“To the emmet gives
|“The parsimonious emmet.” — Milton.|
|“Us vagrant emmets.” — Young.|
Part II. The Indian Seasons.
|“A great length of deadly days.” — Atalanta in Calydon.|
|“For the rain it raineth every day.” — Twelfth Night.|
“Ah! if to thee
Part III. Unnatural History.
|Monkeys and Metaphysics. — How they found Seeta. — Yet they are not Proud. — Their Sad-Facedness. — Decayed Divinities. — As Gods in Egypt. — From Grave to Gay. — What do the Apes think of us? — The Etiquette of Scratching. — “The New Boy” of the Monkey-House. — They take Notes of us. — Man-Ape Puzzles. — The Soko. — Missing Links.|
|“It is no gentle chase.” — Venus and Adonis.|
“Whence and what art thou, execrable shape,
“You do it wrong, being so majestical,
|“God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man.”|
|“With a groan that had something terribly human in it, and yet was full of brutishness, the man-ape fell forward on his face.” — Du Chaillu.|
|They are Square Animals with a Leg at each Corner and a Tail at both Ends. — “My Lord the Elephant.” — That it picks up Pins. — The Mammoth as a Missionary in Africa. — An Elephant Hunt with the Prince. — Elephantine Potentialities. — A Mad Giant. — Bigness not of Necessity a Virtue. — A Digression on the Meekness of Giants.|
|The Rhinoceros a Victim of Ill-Natured Personality — In the Glacial Period. — The Hippopotamus. — Popular Sympathy with it. — Behemoth a Useless Person. — Extinct Monsters and the World they Lived in. — The Impossible Giraffe. — Its Intelligent use of its Head as a Hammer. — The Advantages and Disadvantages of so much Neck. — Its High Living. — The Zebra. — Nature’s Parsimony in the matter of Paint on the Skins of Animals. — Some Suggestions towards more Gayety.|
|They are of Two Species, tame and otherwise. — The Artificial Lion. — Its Debt of Gratitude to Landseer and the Poets. — Unsuitable for Domestication. — Is the Natural Lion the King of Beasts? — The true Moral of all Lion Fables. — “Well roared, Lion!” — The Tiger not of a Festive Kind. — There is no Nonsense about the Big Cats. — The Tiger’s Pleasures and Perils. — Its Terrible Voice.— The poor Old Man-Eater. — Caught by Baboos and Killed by Sheep. — The great Cat Princes. — Common or Garden Cats, approached sideways. — The Physical Impossibility of Taxing Cats. — The Evasive Habits of Grimalkin. — Its Instinct for Cooks. — On the Roof with a Burglar. — The Prey of Cats. — The Turpitude of the Sparrow. — As an Emblem of Conquest and an Article of Export. — The Street Boy among Birds.|
|Bears are of three kinds, Big Bears, Middle-sized Bears, and Little Wee Bears. — Easily Provoked. — A Protest of Routine against Reform. — But Unreliable. — Unfairly Treated in Literature. — How Robbers went to steal the Widow’s Pig, but found the Bear in the Sty. — The Delightful Triumph of Convictions in the Nursery. — The Wild Hunter of the Woods. — Its Splendid Heroism. — Wolf-men. — Wolf-dogs. — Dogs we have all met. — Are Men only Second-rate Dogs? — Their Emotions and Passions the same as ours. — The Art of Getting Lost. — Man not inferior to Dogs in many ways. — The Rat Epidemic in India. — Endemic in England. — Western Prejudice and Eastern Tenderness. — Emblems of Successful Invasion. — Their Abuse of Intelligence. — Edax Rerum.|
|Ocean-folk. — Mermaids and Manatees. — The Solemnity of Shapelessness. — Herds of the Sea-gods. — Sea-things. — The Octopus and its Kind. — Terrors of the Deep Sea. — Sea-serpents. — Credible and Incredible Varieties. — Delightful possibilities in Cuttle-fish. — Ancient and Fish-like Monsters. — Credulity as to Monsters, Disastrous. — Snakes in Legend and in Nature. — Mr. Ruskin on Snakes. — The Snake-folk. — Shesh, the Snake-god, — Primeval Turtles and their Contemporary Aldermen. — Impropriety of Flippancy about Turtles.|
Part IV. Idle Hours under the Punkah.
|“But say, where grows this Tree, from hence how far?”|
Eve to Serpent.
“On the blasted heath
|“Here the foul harpies build their nests.
…With rueful sound, Perched in the dismal tree, they fill the air.” — Dante.
|“Not a tree to be found in the valley. Not a beast or bird, or any living thing, lives in its vicinity.” — Foersch.|
|“We confess that beside the smell of species there may be individual odours;… but that an unsavoury odour is gentilitious or national, if rightly understood, we cannot well concede, nor will the information of reason or sense induce it.” — Sir Thos. Browne.|
|“A nose stood in the middle of her face.” — Iago.|
|“A good nose is requisite also, to smell out work for the other senses.” — Autolycus.|
|“The literature of JSToses is extensive. Sterne has a chapter on them in ‘Tristram Shandy;’ and other authors have contributed respectively ‘A Sermon on Noses,’ ‘On the Dignity, Gravity, and Authority of Noses,’ ‘The Noses of Adam and Eve,’ ‘Pious Meditations on the Nose of the Virgin Mary,’ ‘Review of Noses.’ Shakespeare was never tired of poking fun at the nose or drawing morals from it, but what is more remarkable it might easily be proved constructively, from what he has said, that he believed, with Professor Jager, that ‘the nose is the soul.’“
“They are not dirty by chance — or accident — say twice or thrice per diem, but they are always dirty.”
“Oh, for my sake do you vdth Fortune chide.
“Some foolish knave, I think, it first began
“O monstrous arrogance! Thou liest, thou thread,
Taming of the Shrew.
|“Give the gods a thankful sacrifice. When it pleaseth their deities to take the wife of a man from him, it shows to man the tailors of the earth.” — Antony and Cleopatra.|
|“A tailor makes a man?” “Aye, a tailor, sir.” — Lear.|
|“Eemember how Master Feeble, ‘the forcible Feeble,’ proved himself the best of Falstaff’s recruits ; with what discretion Robin Starveling played the part of Thisby's mother before the Duke, and do not forget to their credit the public spirit of the tailors of Tooley Street.” — Orielana.|
|“I have an honest lad to my taylor, who I never knew guilty of one truth — no, not when it had been to his advantage not to lye.” — Montaigne.|
“Escape in death from obloquy I sought,
|“The pitiful, pitiless knife.” — Tennyson.|
|“Oh! happy dagger.” — Juliet.|
OPINIONS OF THE LONDON PRESS
ON THE WRITINGS OF THE
“NEW ENGLISH HUMORIST.”
“These delightful papers … quaint humor and remarkable literary skill and taste. Old Izaac Walton would have enjoyed them immensely; so would White of Selborne, and even Addison would have admired them. … A sympathetic power of entering into their life and hitting it off in a happy and humorous manner, with the aid of much literary culture. … In reading his loving diatribes against his furred and feathered acquaintances, one cannot help remembering that India has always been the home of the Beast Story. But since the Sanskrit Hito padesa was put together, we question whether any writer has given us such pictures of the floating population of lotus-covered tanks, and the domestic life that goes on in the great Indian trees. To Mr. Robinson, every pipal or mango tree is a many-storied house: each branch is full of vitality and intrigue, as an étage of a Parisian mansion. Snakes and toads live in a small way on the ground floor, until the arrival of the mongoose with his writ of ejectment; lizards lead a rackety, bachelor existence in the entresol; prosperous parrots occupy suites en première; cats and gray squirrels are for ever skipping up or down stairs. The higher stories are the modest abodes of the small artistic world: vocalist bulbuls and dramatic mainas rehearsing their parts. The garrets and topmost perches are peopled with poor predatory kites or vultures; from whom the light-fingered and more deeply criminal crow pilfers, not without a chuckle, their clumsily stolen supper. … Mr. Robinson is the Columbus of the banyan-tree- He sails away into its recesses and discovers new worlds. … Mr. Robinson has only to do justice to his artistic perceptions, and to his fine vein of humor in order to create for himself a unique place among the essayists of our day.” — The Academy.
“These charming little word-pictures of Indian life and Indian scenery are, so it appears to us, something more than an unusually bright page in Anglo-Indian literature … as much humor as human sympathy. … The book abounds in delightful passages; let the reader, who will trust us, find them for himself. … Mr. Edwin Arnold, who has introduced this little volume to English readers by a highly-appreciative preface, says truly that from these slight sketches a most vivid impression of every-day Indian life may be gathered. … The chief merit of these Indian sketches lies in their truthfulness; their realism is the secret of their vivid poetic life.” — The Examiner.
“One of the most charming little series of sketches we have ever read. If we could imagine a kind of cross between White of Selborne and the American writer Thoreau, we should be able better to define what manner of author Mr. Phil Robinson is. He is clearly a masterly observer of out-door life in India, and not only records faithfully what he sees, but illuminates the record by flashes of gentle culture such as can only come from a well-stored and scholarly mind, and darts, moreover, sunny rays of humor such as can only proceed from a richly endowed and truly sympathetic nature. All living things he loves, and hence he writes about them reverently and lovingly What the accomplished author of the preface calls ‘the light and laughing science’ of this little book will do more to familiarize the English reader with the out-door look of India than anything else, — save, of course, years of residence in the country.” — The Daily Telegraph.
“One of the most delightful and fascinating little books with which we have met for a long time. It is a rare pleasure to come across anything so fresh and brilliant. … A literary treat is presented in this most clever and striking little volume. We can fancy with what a thorough sense of enjoyment poor Mortimer Collins would have turned over these pages, and how Mr- Robinson’s graphic sketches of the ways of birds and the growth of trees would have appealed to Charles Kingsley. It is certainly a striking illustration of the old story, ‘Eyes and No Eyes.’ His style is particularly happy, and there is a freshness of tone about his whole book which raises it far above the ordinary level. … It has been reserved for Mr. Robinson to open this new field of literature to English readers; and we hope that his venture may meet with the success which it deserves, so that the present volume may prove but the first of a long and delightful series. …” — John Bull.
“This is a charming volume. … In his style we are reminded frequently of Charles Lamb. … The book has an antique flavor, like the quaint style of Elia; and, like Lamb, Mr. Robinson has evidently made an affectionate acquaintance with some of our early humorists. That he is himself a humorist, and looks at Indian life with a mirthfulness sometimes closely allied to pathos, is the characteristic which is likely first to strike the reader. But he will observe, too, that if Mr. Robinson describes birds, flowers, trees, and insects with the pen of the humorist rather than of the naturalist, it is not because he has failed to note the common objects in his Indian garden with the patient observation of a man of science. The attraction of a book like this will be more easily felt than described; and, just as there are persons unable to enjoy the fragrance of certain flowers or the taste of certain choice wines, it is possible Mr. Robinson’s brightly-written pages may not prove universally attractive. Readers who enjoy them at all will enjoy them thoroughly. … It would be impossible to convey the full flavor of this distinctly marked volume without extracting freely from its pages. The sketches are so full of freshness and vivacity that the reader, sitting under an English roof, will be able for the moment to see what the writer saw, and to feel what he felt.” — The Pall Mall Gazette.
“This book is simply charming. … A perfect mine of entertaining and unique information. … An exquisite literary style, supplementing rare powers of observation; moreover, the resources of a cultivated intellect are brought into play as well as those of a delicate and fertile fancy. The distinguishing characteristic of these charming trifles is perhaps leisureliness, yet something of the quaint grace of our olden writers clings to Mr. Robinson’s periods. … Mr. Robinson, in short, is one of those few authors who have found their precise métier, and can therefore write so as to entrance his readers.” — The Whitehall Review.
“A delightful little book is ‘My Indian Garden,’ in which an Ariglo-Indian sketches, with a delicacy, grace, and humor that are unflagging and irresistible, some aspects of outdoor life in India which have hitherto, for the most part, escaped the observation of writers on that wonderful land. … As an observer of natural history, he is scarcely inferior to Gilbert White, while he has a capacity for recognizing and bringing out the ludicrous aspect of a subject that was denied to the dear old recluse of Selborne, and the literary charm of the book will be apparent to all. Mr. Robinson quaintly mingles shrewd observation of the manners and customs of the creatures he portrays with quizzical and metaphysical speculation. It has been said that Mark Twain’s ‘New Pilgrim’s Progress,’ with all its drollery, is about the best and most informatory tourist’s hand-book for the Holy Land in existence. Just in the same way Mr. Robinson’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ is the best possible companion for a visitor to the London Zoological Gardens. Our author has an unerring eye for the ludicrous aspect of things; he pokes fun remorselessly at all animated nature, from the elephant to the mosquito; but amid the play of his humor there are many touches of real pathos, snatches of powerful description, and a great deal of solid information. …” — Edinburgh Scotsman.
“It is not given to many writers in these days to produce a book, small or large, which shall not in some degree remind the omnivorous reader of many other books, either by reason of its subject-matter, or its mode of treatment, or of both. Mr. Robinson’s ‘In my Indian Garden,’ however, fairly establishes for its author a claim to this rare distinction. A fancy open to all the quaint, humorous, old philosophical reflections which the objects around him suggest. Underlying this indirect way of looking at things, a genuine love of Indian rural life, and a cultivated taste, are abundantly indicated. Some of the brief descriptive passages are curiously vivid.” — Daily News.
“Mr. Robinson is a genial naturalist and genuine humorist. A more agreeable pocket-companion we can hardly choose than this volume.” — Illustrated London News.
“Mr. Robinson’s charming essays breathe the true literary spirit in every line. They are not mere machine-made sweetmeats, to be swallowed whole and never again remembered; but they rather resemble the most cunning admixtures of good things, turned out by a skilful craftsman in matters culinary. Whoever once reads this delicious little book will not lay it carelessly aside, but will place it with respectful epicurean tenderness on his favorite shelf, side by side with Oliver Wendell Holmes’s ‘Kindred Musings,’ and not far removed from the fresh country atmosphere of Gilbert White’s ‘Selborne.’ Mr. Robinson plants himself in the verandah of a bungalow, it is true, and surveys nature as it presents itself upon the sweltering banks of the Jumna; but he sees it with an eye trained on the shores of Cam or Isis, and describes it with a hand evidently skilled in the composition of classical lore. Mr. Robinson’s humor is too tender not to have a pathetic side; little children come in for no small share of pitiful, kindly notice and the love for dumb creatures shines out in every page.” — London.
“Mr. Edwin Arnold’s praise is valuable, for it is the praise of one who knows; and Mr. Robinson fully deserves all that is said of him. His style is delightful. He has read much and observed much; and there is a racy flavor of Charles Lamb about him. A book which once begun is sure to be read through, and then read aloud to any to whom the reader wishes to give pleasure.” — The Echo.
“Bright and fanciful — the author has done for the common objects of India something which Gilbert White did for Selborne—graceful and animated sketches, sometimes full of an intense reality, in other places of a quaint and delicate humor which has a flavor as of the ‘Essays of Elia.’” — The Guardian.
“This dainty volume is one of those rare books that come upon the critic from time to time as a surprise and a refreshment, — a book to be put in the favorite corner of the library, and to be taken up often again with renewed pleasure. Mr. Robinson’s brief picturesque vignettes of every-day life in India — always goodnatured, often humorous — are real little idylls of exquisite taste and delicacy. Mr. Robinson’s style is exuberant with life, overflowing too with reminiscences of Western literature, even the most modern. In his longer and more ambitious descriptions he displays rare graphic power; and his sketches of the three seasons — especially those of the rainy and hot seasons — remind one forcibly of the wonderful realism of Kalidasa himself.” — Dublin Review.
“The author is one of the quaintest and most charming of our modern writers in an almost forgotten kind. Mr. Robinson belongs to that school of pure literary essayists whose types are to be found in Lamb and Christopher North and Oliver Wendell Holmes, but who seem to have died out for the most part with the prescientific age. One or two of the pieces remind one not a little of Poe in his mood of pure terror with a tinge of mystery; the story of the ‘Man-Eating Tree,’ for example, is told with all Poe’s minute realism. It is good sterling light literature of a sort that we do not often get in England.” — Pall Mall Gazette.
“‘The Hunting of the Soko’ is a traveller’s tale of a very exciting kind; and the first of all, ‘The Man-Eating Tree,’ is quite a master- piece of that kind. But the best and also the longest contribution to the volume is the sketch of an Indian tour called ‘Sight-Seeing.’ His pictures of India are certainly very vivid.” — St. James’s Gazette.
“Tenderness and pathos; delicate and humorously quaint.” — Pan.
“In ‘The Hunting of the Soko’ there is much cleverness in the way in which the human attributes of the quarry are insinuated and worked out, clouding the successful chase with a taint of manslaughter and uncomfortable remorse. The account of the ‘Man-Eating Tree,’ too, a giant development of our droseras and dionæas, is a very good traveller’s story. But the best as well as the most considerable of these essays, occupying in fact, two-fifths of the volume, is one entitled ‘Sight-Seeing.’ Here we have the benefit of the author’s famiharity, not merely with the places in India worth seeing, but with the customs and character of the people. With such a ‘sight-seer’ as guide, the reader sees many things the ordinary traveller would miss, and much information and not a little food for reflection are compressed into a relatively small space in a style which is not only pleasant but eloquent.” — The Athenæum.
“A deftly-mixed olla-podrida of essays, travel, and stories. ‘Sight-Seeing’ is one of those happy efforts which hit off the real points of interest in a journey. ‘My Wife’s Birds’ is an essay, genial and humorous; the ‘Daughter of Mercy,’ an allegory, tender and suggestive. But the tales of adventure carry off the palm. These stories are marvellous and fanciful, yet imaginative in the highest sense. ‘The Man-Eating Tree’ and the ‘Hunting of the Soko,’ blend thrilling horror and weird superstition with a close imitation of popular stories of actual adventure.” — The World.
“In a series of powerfully drawn sketches, Mr. Robinson shows that he belongs to the happy few in whom intimate acquaintance with Indian objects has created no indifference. The vignettes which he paints are by turns humorous and pathetic, serious and powerful, charming and artistic. From them we gain a vivid impression of the every-day world of India. They show us in really admirable descriptions, bright and quaint, what a wealth of material for Art, Literature, and Descriptive Painting lies latent even in the daily experiences of an Englishman in India The author writes about butterflies and insects, things furred and feathered, flowers and trees, with a keen eye for the life and instincts of Indian scenery, and with a delightful sympathy for the East. … His exquisite sketches remind one of the classical work — ‘White’s Natural History of Selborne.’ In Mr. Robinson’s book there is to be found the same patience in observation united to the charm of a highly-cultured mind. … Where everything is so good it would be idle to show a preference by quotation.” — Magazin für die Literatur des Auslandes.
“Mr. Phil. Robinson has his own way of looking at Nature, and a very pleasant way it is. His love of his subject is as genuine, perhaps more so, than that of the solemn naturalist who writes with a pen of lead: he can be at once lively and serious; and his knowledge, which resembles in variety the contents of an ostrich’s stomach, is exhibited without effort. Indeed, it would be incorrect to say that it is exhibited at all. His style is, no doubt, achieved with art, but the art is not seen, and his easy method of expressing what he knows may deceive the unwary reader. … This delightful volume! A book which deserves the attention both of old and young readers.” — The Spectator.
“When Mr. Robinson sent out those delightful chapters entitled ‘In My Indian Garden,’ it was evident that a new genius had appeared on the horizon of English literature. In that exquisite little book, the original and accurate observations of animal life which charmed the naturalist were conveyed with a humor so entirely new and clothed with a diction so perfect as to give a very high literary value to the work as well as a signal promise of further performance on a yet larger scale. … His purely literary quality reminds us of the old masters of humor; but it has the unique advantage of alliance with a range of exact knowledge of the animal world of which none of Mr. Robinson’s predecessors can boast. And yet our author, with all his knowledge and love of animals, is preeminently a classic humorist. His rare and distinctive faculty is seen in his way of inverting our method of studying animals. In his scheme of investigating nature, man does not play his usually proud part of discoverer and exponent of his fellow animals in fur and feathers; rather he is discovered and expounded by them. When the Unicorn in Mr. Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-glass first saw Alice, he remarked that he had always thought little girls were fabulous creatures. Mr. Robinson possesses in perfection this power of presenting man from what may be supposed to be an animal’s point of view. And the view that every animal exists for itself and that all barriers to its self-interest are so many accidents and interferences with the scheme of nature, finds in our author’s hands the most startling and amusing expression. … Mr. Robinson possesses grace, felicity, and literary wealth which no mere culture could ever attain; he is a genius of a rare and classic kind. A ‘Morning in the Zoo’ with such. a companion will be found to have the charm of Thoreau without his vanity; the humor of Lamb, never labored or attenuated into wire-drawn conceits.” — London Standard.
“Mr. Phil. Robinson is an entertaining writer: he is genial and humorous, with a knack of saying things in the manner of (Charles Lamb. … He has undoubtedly a great liking for animals, special knowledge of their works and ways, of their homes and haunts, and writes about them not in the style of a natural history, but with the freedom and gracefulness of a novelist or humorist. This book is well fitted to wile away the hours which can be stolen from absorbing work. The author chats pleasantly and charmingly about animals, with frequent digressions, which sometimes are almost startling enough to suggest an inquiry as to what possible relation the digression has with the book; and yet, after all, the digression is as entertaining as the book proper. … We have but dipped into this thoroughly interesting and very admirable book, which tells us a very great deal about all kinds of animals from all parts of the world, and from its seas and rivers. It is full of real poetry of feeling, and contains much that philosophers and divines may ponder with exceeding advantage, and all sorts of readers will peruse with intense interest. We can scarcely give the book higher praise than this, and all this it richly deserves.” — The London Literary World.
“Even so admirable and delightful a writer as Mr. Phil. Robinson cannot afford to despise that incalculable element in human affairs which goes by the name of luck; and he may be congratulated upon the fact that his latest volume comes under the notice of the reading world at a moment when that world has been brought into a condition of pecuHar and beautiful preparedness for its reception. When Jumbo is the hero of the hour, and when, in body or in mind, millions of our countrymen, countrywomen, and country children, have been making pilgrimages to his shrine in Regent’s Park, the record of ‘Mornings at the Zoo,’ can hardly fail to exercise a powerful if melancholy fascination; and when the recorder is a man like Mr Phil. Robinson the fascination is one that can amply justify itself to itself or to the world, and is not to be regarded as a mere spring frenzy or midsummer madness. … He is not a joke manufacturer. When the joke comes it is welcome, all the more welcome for coming spontaneously: and when it stays away, its place can easily be filled by some little tit-bit of recent scientific speculation or result of personal observation of the manners and customs of Mr. Robinson’s brute friends. For ‘Noah’s Ark’ has something more than mere humor to recommend it. The humor is, in fact, but the mere decoration of a body of knowledge; and the man with no more sense of fun than a hippopotamus might read it with edification as a contribution to ‘natural’ as well as to ‘unnatural’ history. Artemus Ward proudly remarked of himself that he had ‘a very animal mind,’ and Mr. Phil. Robinson might with even better reason indulge in the same boast. He is a true lover of beasts, birds, and fishes; and because he is a true lover he is a keen observer, and because he is a keen observer he is a pleasant writer concerning the ways and the works — one might almost say the words — of the denizens of field and forest, of air and water. ‘If you would be generous,’ he says, in his brief postscript, ‘do not think me too much in earnest when I am serious, or altogether in fun because I jest;’ and one of the pleasantest features of this pleasant work is that it does not tire us by subjecting the mind to the fatigue of maintaining one attitude too long, but, like a cunningly constructed arm-chair, enables us to be comfortable in a dozen consecutive positions. Some good books can be recommended to this person or to that; they resemble the square or the round peg which adapts itself admirably to the square or round hole. But ‘Noah’s Ark,’ if the metaphor be not too undignified, is like the ‘self-fitting candle’ which is at home in any receptacle. It is — to drop metaphor — a book for everybody.” — The Overland Mail.
THE INDIAN PRESS.
“Mr. Phil. Robinson has struck out a new path in Anglo-Indian literature. … His essays are singularly fresh and charming. They come nearer to the tender wisdom of Elia than anything which has hitherto issued from an Anglo-Indian pen. … Every one of the thirty or forty essays has some special vein of humor of its own.” — Englishman.
“Distinguished by all the graces of a style which ought some day to give Mr. Phil. Robinson a high place among our popular writers.” — The Daily News.
“Not only clever and interesting, but instructive; … altogether the best thing of its kind we have come across in print.” — The Examiner.
“To say that this is a charming book is merely to repeat what almost every reader of the Calcutta Review must have often heard said. It is altogether the very pleasantest reading of its kind that has ever appeared in India, and we would that it oftener fell to our lot to have such books to criticise.” — The Calcutta Review.
“It is given to few to describe with such appreciative grace and delicately phrased humor as Mr. Robinson. … Marked by keen observation, felicitous touches of description, and half-quaint, half-graceful bits of reflection and comment, … containing some most exquisite sketches of natural history.” — Times of India.
“A delightful little book. There is a similarity between the author’s book and his subject which may escape the notice of the ordinary reader. Where is the casual observer who, having walked through an Indian garden, has not noticed the almost total absence of flowers? Yet send a Malee into that identical Indian garden, and hecull you a bouquet which for brightness and beauty can hardly be surpassed by anything in Covent Garden; and it is precisely the same with this little volume of Phil. Robinson's. A little book brimful of interest, written with much grace, and a considerable amount of quaint humor which is very refreshing. We sincerely trust he will give the public his Indian experiences in other fields which, cultivated by him, we doubt not will prove equally rich in production.” — Times of India (Second Notice).
“These most charming essays.” — The Delhi Gazette.
“Very charming; dealing with familiar things with an appreciative grace that idealizes whatever it touches. Again and again we are reminded by the dainty embodiment of some quaint fancy of the essays of Charles Lamb; … quite delicious and abounding in little descriptive touches that are almost perfect; cabinet word-pictures painted in a sentence.” — Bombay Gazette.
“Admirable little work.” — Friend of India.
“A notable little book: within a small compass a wealth of fresh thoughts” — Madras Mail.