Do not undervalue the headache. While it is at its sharpest it seems a
bad investment; but when relief begins, the unexpired remainder is worth
$4 a minute.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
A comfortable railway journey of seventeen and a half hours brought us to
the capital of India, which is likewise the capital of Bengal--Calcutta.
Like Bombay, it has a population of nearly a million natives and a small
gathering of white people. It is a huge city and fine, and is called the
City of Palaces. It is rich in historical memories; rich in British
achievement--military, political, commercial; rich in the results of the
miracles done by that brace of mighty magicians, Clive and Hastings. And
has a cloud kissing monument to one Ochterlony.
It is a fluted candlestick 250 feet high. This lingam is the only large
monument in Calcutta, I believe. It is a fine ornament, and will keep
Ochterlony in mind.
Wherever you are, in Calcutta, and for miles around, you can see it; and
always when you see it you think of Ochterlony. And so there is not an
hour in the day that you do not think of Ochterlony and wonder who he
was. It is good that Clive cannot come back, for he would think it was
for Plassey; and then that great spirit would be wounded when the
revelation came that it was not. Clive would find out that it was for
Ochterlony; and he would think Ochterlony was a battle. And he would
think it was a great one, too, and he would say, "With three thousand I
whipped sixty thousand and founded the Empire--and there is no monument;
this other soldier must have whipped a billion with a dozen and saved the
But he would be mistaken. Ochterlony was a man, not a battle. And he
did good and honorable service, too; as good and honorable service as has
been done in India by seventy-five or a hundred other Englishmen of
courage, rectitude, and distinguished capacity. For India has been a
fertile breeding-ground of such men, and remains so; great men, both in
war and in the civil service, and as modest as great. But they have no
monuments, and were not expecting any. Ochterlony could not have been
expecting one, and it is not at all likely that he desired one--certainly
not until Clive and Hastings should be supplied. Every day Clive and
Hastings lean on the battlements of heaven and look down and wonder which
of the two the monument is for; and they fret and worry because they
cannot find out, and so the peace of heaven is spoiled for them and lost.
But not for Ochterlony. Ochterlony is not troubled. He doesn't suspect
that it is his monument. Heaven is sweet and peaceful to him. There is
a sort of unfairness about it all.
Indeed, if monuments were always given in India for high achievements,
duty straitly performed, and smirchless records, the landscape would be
monotonous with them. The handful of English in India govern the Indian
myriads with apparent ease, and without noticeable friction, through
tact, training, and distinguished administrative ability, reinforced by
just and liberal laws--and by keeping their word to the native whenever
they give it.
England is far from India and knows little about the eminent services
performed by her servants there, for it is the newspaper correspondent
who makes fame, and he is not sent to India but to the continent, to
report the doings of the princelets and the dukelets, and where they are
visiting and whom they are marrying. Often a British official spends
thirty or forty years in India, climbing from grade to grade by services
which would make him celebrated anywhere else, and finishes as a
vice-sovereign, governing a great realm and millions of subjects; then he
goes home to England substantially unknown and unheard of, and settles
down in some modest corner, and is as one extinguished. Ten years later
there is a twenty-line obituary in the London papers, and the reader is
paralyzed by the splendors of a career which he is not sure that he had
ever heard of before. But meanwhile he has learned all about the
continental princelets and dukelets.
The average man is profoundly ignorant of countries that lie remote from
his own. When they are mentioned in his presence one or two facts and
maybe a couple of names rise like torches in his mind, lighting up an
inch or two of it and leaving the rest all dark. The mention of Egypt
suggests some Biblical facts and the Pyramids-nothing more. The mention
of South Africa suggests Kimberly and the diamonds and there an end.
Formerly the mention, to a Hindoo, of America suggested a name--George
Washington--with that his familiarity with our country was exhausted.
Latterly his familiarity with it has doubled in bulk; so that when
America is mentioned now, two torches flare up in the dark caverns of his
mind and he says, "Ah, the country of the great man Washington; and of
the Holy City--Chicago." For he knows about the Congress of Religion, and
this has enabled him to get an erroneous impression of Chicago.
When India is mentioned to the citizen of a far country it suggests
Clive, Hastings, the Mutiny, Kipling, and a number of other great events;
and the mention of Calcutta infallibly brings up the Black Hole. And so,
when that citizen finds himself in the capital of India he goes first of
all to see the Black Hole of Calcutta--and is disappointed.
The Black Hole was not preserved; it is gone, long, long ago. It is
strange. Just as it stood, it was itself a monument; a ready-made one.
It was finished, it was complete, its materials were strong and lasting,
it needed no furbishing up, no repairs; it merely needed to be let alone.
It was the first brick, the Foundation Stone, upon which was reared a
mighty Empire--the Indian Empire of Great Britain. It was the ghastly
episode of the Black Hole that maddened the British and brought Clive,
that young military marvel, raging up from Madras; it was the seed from
which sprung Plassey; and it was that extraordinary battle, whose like
had not been seen in the earth since Agincourt, that laid deep and strong
the foundations of England's colossal Indian sovereignty.
And yet within the time of men who still live, the Black Hole was torn
down and thrown away as carelessly as if its bricks were common clay, not
ingots of historic gold. There is no accounting for human beings.
The supposed site of the Black Hole is marked by an engraved plate. I
saw that; and better that than nothing. The Black Hole was a prison--a
cell is nearer the right word--eighteen feet square, the dimensions of an
ordinary bedchamber; and into this place the victorious Nabob of Bengal
packed 146 of his English prisoners. There was hardly standing room for
them; scarcely a breath of air was to be got; the time was night, the
weather sweltering hot. Before the dawn came, the captives were all dead
but twenty-three. Mr. Holwell's long account of the awful episode was
familiar to the world a hundred years ago, but one seldom sees in print
even an extract from it in our day. Among the striking things in it is
this. Mr. Holwell, perishing with thirst, kept himself alive by sucking
the perspiration from his sleeves. It gives one a vivid idea of the
situation. He presently found that while he was busy drawing life from
one of his sleeves a young English gentleman was stealing supplies from
the other one. Holwell was an unselfish man, a man of the most generous
impulses; he lived and died famous for these fine and rare qualities; yet
when he found out what was happening to that unwatched sleeve, he took
the precaution to suck that one dry first. The miseries of the Black
Hole were able to change even a nature like his. But that young
gentleman was one of the twenty-three survivors, and he said it was the
stolen perspiration that saved his life. From the middle of Mr.
Holwell's narrative I will make a brief excerpt:
"Then a general prayer to Heaven, to hasten the approach of the
flames to the right and left of us, and put a period to our misery.
But these failing, they whose strength and spirits were quite
exhausted laid themselves down and expired quietly upon their
fellows: others who had yet some strength and vigor left made a last
effort at the windows, and several succeeded by leaping and
scrambling over the backs and heads of those in the first rank, and
got hold of the bars, from which there was no removing them. Many
to the right and left sunk with the violent pressure, and were soon
suffocated; for now a steam arose from the living and the dead,
which affected us in all its circumstances as if we were forcibly
held with our heads over a bowl full of strong volatile spirit of
hartshorn, until suffocated; nor could the effluvia of the one be
distinguished from the other, and frequently, when I was forced by
the load upon my head and shoulders to hold my face down, I was
obliged, near as I was to the window, instantly to raise it again to
avoid suffocation. I need not, my dear friend, ask your
commiseration, when I tell you, that in this plight, from half an
hour past eleven till near two in the morning, I sustained the
weight of a heavy man, with his knees in my back, and the pressure
of his whole body on my head. A Dutch surgeon who had taken his
seat upon my left shoulder, and a Topaz (a black Christian soldier)
bearing on my right; all which nothing could have enabled me to
support but the props and pressure equally sustaining me all around.
The two latter I frequently dislodged by shifting my hold on the
bars and driving my knuckles into their ribs; but my friend above
stuck fast, held immovable by two bars.
"I exerted anew my strength and fortitude; but the repeated trials
and efforts I made to dislodge the insufferable incumbrances upon me
at last quite exhausted me; and towards two o'clock, finding I must
quit the window or sink where I was, I resolved on the former,
having bore, truly for the sake of others, infinitely more for life
than the best of it is worth. In the rank close behind me was an
officer of one of the ships, whose name was Cary, and who had
behaved with much bravery during the siege (his wife, a fine woman,
though country born, would not quit him, but accompanied him into
the prison, and was one who survived). This poor wretch had been
long raving for water and air; I told him I was determined to give
up life, and recommended his gaining my station. On my quitting it
he made a fruitless attempt to get my place; but the Dutch surgeon,
who sat on my shoulder, supplanted him. Poor Cary expressed his
thankfulness, and said he would give up life too; but it was with
the utmost labor we forced our way from the window (several in the
inner ranks appearing to me dead standing, unable to fall by the
throng and equal pressure around). He laid himself down to die; and
his death, I believe, was very sudden; for he was a short, full,
sanguine man. His strength was great; and, I imagine, had he not
retired with me, I should never have been able to force my way. I
was at this time sensible of no pain, and little uneasiness; I can
give you no better idea of my situation than by repeating my simile
of the bowl of spirit of hartshorn. I found a stupor coming on
apace, and laid myself down by that gallant old man, the Rev. Mr.
Jervas Bellamy, who laid dead with his son, the lieutenant, hand in
hand, near the southernmost wall of the prison. When I had lain
there some little time, I still had reflection enough to suffer some
uneasiness in the thought that I should be trampled upon, when dead,
as I myself had done to others. With some difficulty I raised
myself, and gained the platform a second time, where I presently
lost all sensation; the last trace of sensibility that I have been
able to recollect after my laying down, was my sash being uneasy
about my waist, which I untied, and threw from me. Of what passed
in this interval, to the time of my resurrection from this hole of
horrors, I can give you no account."
There was plenty to see in Calcutta, but there was not plenty of time for
it. I saw the fort that Clive built; and the place where Warren Hastings
and the author of the Junius Letters fought their duel; and the great
botanical gardens; and the fashionable afternoon turnout in the Maidan;
and a grand review of the garrison in a great plain at sunrise; and a
military tournament in which great bodies of native soldiery exhibited
the perfection of their drill at all arms, a spectacular and beautiful
show occupying several nights and closing with the mimic storming of a
native fort which was as good as the reality for thrilling and accurate
detail, and better than the reality for security and comfort; we had a
pleasure excursion on the 'Hoogly' by courtesy of friends, and devoted
the rest of the time to social life and the Indian museum. One should
spend a month in the museum, an enchanted palace of Indian antiquities.
Indeed, a person might spend half a year among the beautiful and
wonderful things without exhausting their interest.
It was winter. We were of Kipling's "hosts of tourists who travel up and
down India in the cold weather showing how things ought to be managed."
It is a common expression there, "the cold weather," and the people think
there is such a thing. It is because they have lived there half a
lifetime, and their perceptions have become blunted. When a person is
accustomed to 138 in the shade, his ideas about cold weather are not
valuable. I had read, in the histories, that the June marches made
between Lucknow and Cawnpore by the British forces in the time of the
Mutiny were made weather--138 in the shade and had taken it for
historical embroidery. I had read it again in Serjeant-Major
Forbes-Mitchell's account of his military experiences in the Mutiny
--at least I thought I had--and in Calcutta I asked him if it was true,
and he said it was. An officer of high rank who had been in the thick of
the Mutiny said the same. As long as those men were talking about what
they knew, they were trustworthy, and I believed them; but when they said
it was now "cold weather," I saw that they had traveled outside of their
sphere of knowledge and were floundering. I believe that in India "cold
weather" is merely a conventional phrase and has come into use through
the necessity of having some way to distinguish between weather which
will melt a brass door-knob and weather which will only make it mushy.
It was observable that brass ones were in use while I was in Calcutta,
showing that it was not yet time to change to porcelain; I was told the
change to porcelain was not usually made until May. But this cold
weather was too warm for us; so we started to Darjeeling, in the
Himalayas--a twenty-four hour journey.