Page images
PDF
EPUB

in his diocese, he adds, ‘my poor opinion is, that the matter is inter minutiora legis, and we should make the best of it; and happily in these times of opposition it is not amiss to follow that wise direction of the greatest council of Christendom, the first of Niçe, Let ancient customs be observed.' 'In our opinion, there needs neither Synod, nor Convocation, nor royal interposition to heal all our present feuds — it is enough to repeat, Let usages be observed.'

We can appreciate, however, though we cannot approve the sedative and plausible motives that so long kept some of our prelates altogether silent on these subjects, and induced Bishop Blomfield and Archbishop Howley and others to endeavour to deal with them by concessions and compromises that decided nothing and dissatisfied every body. They felt themselves trammelled by the letter of what had long been admitted to be the law, and of which, though never practised, they were reluctant to dispute the theoretic authority. The bold strides which Popery had made under this hesitation have at last overcome all minor motives, and the Address of the twenty-four Prelates assembled at Lambeth has re-established the early and just principle, " Let acknowledged usages be observed.' It now remains for their Lordships, and particularly the Metropolitans, by their vigilance, activity, and resolution, to ensure its early and complete adoption. There is no doubt that, during so long a delay, the mischief may in some places have acquired considerable tenacity, but since the Bishops, we may say as a body, have at last spoken out—if they do not act to the full scope of their engagements, they will find that they have only increased their difficulties. The time is gone by for endeavouring to propitiate refractory innovators, by permission to preach in whites in the morning, if they will consent to preach in blacks in the evening, and to set up candles on the altar, provided they are not lighted. We trust that we have all now arrived at a better appreciation both of our danger and our duties; and that in short, we shall have, all and speedily, returned with increased gratitude and zeal to the decent seriousness and sober splendour-alike removed from puritanism and

poperywhich the practice of, certainly two, and, we believe, of three centuries had established, and, till recently, preserved with surprising uniformity in the United Church of England and Ireland.

THE

QUARTERLY REVIEW.

Art. I.— The History of British India, from 1805 to 1835. By

Horace Hayman Wilson, M.A., F.R.S. Vol. iii. 8vo. 1848. ON the 30th of August, 1838, the princely city of Oodypore was

the scene of a terrible solemnity. About mid-day a prolonged discharge of artillery from the fort announced the unexpected decease of Maharána Juwan Singh ; and, as is usual in tropical climates, preparations for his obsequies immediately commenced. The palace-gate was thronged with the expectant populace. Something, however, in the excitement of their voices and gestures, boded the approach of a spectacle more thrilling than mere pomp could render even a royal funeral. It was not the dead alone whom the eager crowd were waiting to see pass from among them. Sculptured in startling abundance on the tombs of their rulers, the well-known effigies of women's feet * gave ghastly assurance that a prince of Oodypore would not that day be gathered to his fathers without a wife, or a concubine, sharing his pyre. The only question was—how many ? It was known that the youngest of the two queens came of a family in which the rite was rarely practised; while the suddenness of the Maharána's death had given but scanty time for any of his inferior women to mature so tremendous a resolution. Great, therefore, was the admiration of the multitude when they learnt that immediately on the fatal tidings reaching the Zenána, both the queens and six out of seven concubines had determined to burn. The seventh, a favourite, had excused herself on the plea—which, characteristically enough, was at once admitted —that “she felt none of the inspiration deemed necessary to the sanctity of the sacrifice.'

It next became the duty of the chief nobles to address the ladies with the forms of dissuasion. But to these they quickly put an end by an act that rendered retreat impossible:—loosening their hair, and unveiling their faces, they went to the gate of the Zenána, and presented themselves before the assembled populace.

• The distinctive memorial of a Suttee. The feet of each victim are represented in relief, with the soles outwards, on the face of the mausoleum.

All

VOL, LXXXIX, NO, CLXXVIII.

S

All opposition to their wishes now ceased. They were regarded as sacred to the departed monarch. Devout ejaculations poured incessantly from their lips. Their movements became invested with a mysterious significance; and their words were treasured up as prophetic.

Meantime the pile had been prepared. The eight victims, (ressed in their richest attire, and mounted on horseback, moved with the procession to the cemetery. There they stripped off their ornaments and jewels, distributed gifts to the bystanders, and lastly, mounting the pile, took their places beside the corpse. As the Maharána had left no son, his nephew, the present Sovereign, applied the torch. The crash of music, the chanting of the priests, and the cries of the multitude arose simultaneously, and the tragedy was consummated. • The father of one of the queens' (concludes the native report) “ had been present during the whole. He is here immersed in contemplation and grief, and his companions are comforting him.'

Perhaps at this point some of our readers may feel puzzled by the recollection that Lord William Bentinck is celebrated in numberless works as having put down all atrocities of this kind some twenty years ago.

And true it is that he did so as far as his authority extended; but within that limit, as Mr. Wilson's clear narrative shows, the operation was necessarily confined. In other words, out of about 77 millions of souls, this prohibition reached directly only the 37 millions who were British subjects; indirectly, perhaps about 19 millions more, consisting of the subjects of native princes in whose internal management we had some voice; while there remained not less than 21 millions, the subjects of states which, though our allies, could be in no degree reached by the legislation of 1829. The kingdom of Oodypore, or Meywar, was of the last class. The only notice, therefore, that the Governor-General of 1838 (Lord Auckland) could take of the horrors above detailed was by way of private communication. The Resident at Oodypore was instructed to explain unofficially the horror with which the British Government had heard of the tragedy, and of the prominent part in it played by the new Sovereign himself. The Resident's opinion was at the same time asked, as to the most suitable compliment to be paid to those nobles who had sought to dissuade the ladies from their resolution, and the answer was noteworthy. Lord Auckland was informed that the personages in question would simply feel disgraced' by any tribute which should imply that their dissuasions had been meant for aught but decorous forms !

Such was the veneration in which up to a date so recent the sacrifice of Suttee was held by a vast proportion of our

allies,

allies, and such the acquiescence with which the British Go-' vernment perforce regarded its celebration. Within the last seven years, however, the rite has occasioned one of the most remarkable movements recorded in Eastern annals. Never before, within historical memory, had the Hindoos exhibited the phenomenon of religious change. During that brief period an agitation has sprung up which has led more than half the great independent states to repudiate a sacrifice regarded by their forefathers, not only as sacred, but as a standing miracle in attestation of their faith. So extraordinary an exception to the inveterate tyranny of tradition would demand investigation, were it only as a psychological problem ; but how much more is this the case when the wonder is known to be the work of a single British officer! We owe to the late lamented Chairman of the Court of Directors the means of presenting our readers with the first authentic account of this triumph of skill and energy.

Strange to say, the movement originated in the very stronghold of the rite. Among the states who gloried in the readiness of their women to brave this supreme test of conjugal devotion, none exercise a wider influence over Hindoo opinion than the small knot of powers on the north-west frontier, who occupy the provinces known collectively as Rajpootána.

The respect paid throughout India to the blood of the Rajpoots-(literally the progeny of princes)—is well known. Matrimonial alliances with their chiefs are eagerly sought by princes of thrice their territorial importance. A race of soldiers and hunters, their figures and faces are eminently handsome and martial; their voices loud ; and when they laugh, it is with a hearty burst like Europeans — in broad contrast to the stealthy chuckle of the Bengálee, or the silent smile of the reserved Mussulman. Unlike those, too, they scorn the pursuits of the desk; and even agriculture has only become common among them since the tranquillization of the frontier has diminished their opportunities of obtaining military service among their feudal lords. Whatever a Hindoo knows of chivalry or nationality, he deems to be exemplified in this model race. Since, therefore, Rajpoots were renowned for the frequency of their suttees, the great independent states thought it beneath their orthodoxy to return any other answer to the remonstrances of the British Government against the rite, than that it would be time enough for them to prohibit it, when Rajpootána led the way.'

This they doubtless thought was to postpone a change indefinitely. Many, in truth, and pitiful were the instances which seemed to forbid the hope that Rajpoots would ever consent to take the lead in such a course. One of these has already been

s 2

given.

given. A second—the last with which we shall pain our readers ---must be added, because it illustrates the chief difficulty with which the friends of abolition had to contend. It was the belief of those officers who had acquired the longest experience in Rajpoot affairs, that every attempt on the part of the British Government to remonstrate against Suttee had been followed by an increase in the number of the sacrifices. This opinion -which, whether right or wrong, naturally carried weight with the Government, and had caused the discouragement of any active interference in the matter--was supposed to receive a further corroboration in the occurrence we are about to narrate.

Early in 1840 the Political Agent, or chargé d'affaires, at the Rajpoot court of Kotah had ventured on his own responsibility to break through the cautious reserve thus prescribed, by apprising the chief of that state, that the British Government would be greatly gratified to hear that his Highness had abolished Suttee throughout his dominions. My friend,' replied the prince, the customs alluded to have been handed down from the first fathers of mankind. They have obtained in every nation of India, and more especially in Rajpootána; for whenever a sovereign of these states has bidden farewell to life, the queens, through the yearnings of the inward spirit, have become Suttees, notwithstanding that the relatives were averse to the sacrifice, and would have prevented it altogether. It is not in the power of a mortal to nullify a divine, though mysterious, ordinance.' With true Oriental complaisance, however, his Highness proceeded to promise his best efforts to undertake the impossibility. Since,' he concludes, it will afford the English Government peculiar pleasure, I shall take such measures as lie in my power to prohibit the practice.' It appears that nobody except the officer to whom it was addressed attached any value to this plausible assurance. The veteran diplomatist who at that time superintended our relations with the Rajpoot states was even led to augur from it some fresh outbreak of religious zeal in favour of the rite.

About 3 P.m. on the 29th October, 1840, a Brahmin, by name Luchmun, died at Kotah, and his widow declared her intention of burning with the corpse. The permission of the reigning prince had in the first instance to be obtained. Now, therefore, was the time for testing the value of the pledge which he had given to the chargé d'affaires. His Highness absolutely declined to use his authority. The chief constable was, indeed, sent to address the

The term ttee, or ati, is strictly applicable to the person, not the rite ; meaning a pure and virtuous woman ; and designates the wife who completes a life of uninterrupted conjugal happiness by the act of Saha-gamana, accompanying ber husband's corpse. It has come in common usage to denote the act.'—Wilson, iii. p. 265.

ordinary

« PreviousContinue »