WITH the third volume this narrative enters upon a different phase of its career. It still continues to be a mosaic even blending of the actual and the ideal aspect of our eye in these days, but the latter, henceforth, begin to acquire a distinct predominance over the former. It is eleven years since the first volume was published, and the progress of the reading classes during the interval has been equal to the writer’s aspiration to interest them in the principal problems of the day.
This and the succeeding volume will bring this tale to close. The labours of the writer will be sufficiently rewarded, if his book will have stimulated, among the various classes of our society, an abiding interest in some of the neat questions that make the young and the old in the country thrill with interchanging hopes and fears in all the tried matters which make up our life, and if it can enable them to follow with patience the solution which society is evolving upwards along a slow but sure gradient in relation to each of these pressing questions.
Each one of these problems is complicate and difficult, and the writer of a novel cannot be expected to do it the justice which a scientific or philosophical essayist can struggle for. An artist – and a novelist is no more – can only hope to give that simplicity to problems which the passive reader craves for, to bring out for his gaze the fascinations of their lights and shades so as to recreate and not tax his eyes, and yet to hope that, humble as this province of the writer is, he may enable the reader to rise a stage higher than where he was. At the same time it is no object of the writer to do so with that partisan spirit which may fairly find room in polemical essays where he who has formed his convictions must strive to force them upon the erring world. To the artist the world is not so much a mass of errors as a prospect of beauty, even where it errs; and he can simply propose to draw upon the resources of his own soul to enlarge the vistas which he is picturing, only with a view to add to the beauty, and not to the logic, of his work. As the Athenian believed, his beauty carries a silent logic more potent then reason and her quarrelsome ways.
What these problems are, is a matter best left to the text itself. In the preface one can only attempt to introduce. Well, we are at present undergoing strange transitions in matters domestic, social, religious, political, and what not? What with the laden atmosphere of our domestic difficulties, what with the currents of our social ideals and forces, what with the many – tongued voices of the religions which a multiform and party – coloured nation is singing into our ears, what with the constant upheavals of new and jarring worlds of political entities and non-entities rising within one’s view whether he locates himself in one of the native states or in any place in British India, one, standing in the midst of all this, is simply tempted to wish, like Cowper, “for a lodge in some vast wilderness;” or for a transmigration back into the body of some quiet and retired Rishi of antiquity.
This universal jar and noise casts a gloomy shadow over many a wistful eye and disconcerts many a well-built hope. We shall leave it to other fields of learning to settle with conviction whether the world in India will survive this deluge of conflict or not, and we may be sure that, even in discussing that, men will differ and fall to quarrelling. The only place, where we may safely look for a peaceful picture in spite of all transient, facts, is art and poetry, In the several volumes of this tale, the landing-place of our relief are sought to be pictured. We, no doubt, start even here with the jar and noise that surrounds us, and we hope to travel a good deal in the midst of these regions. But Progress and Harmony at home, in society, in religion, and with Government, both in and outside British India, peer overhead in the long run in spite of all this bewildering confusion; at least that is the postulate fundamental to our perspective, To look at these two cherubs of beauty and hope as they look at us, is at least a vision of glory and happiness, and what is vision to-day may be reality tomorrow.
True it is that the realization of this vision of the future taxes our patience, and we may never live to see it. Well may one grumble with the poet,
When will the hundred summers die,
And thought and time be born again,
And, newer knowledge drawing nigh,
Bring truth that sways the soul of men?
Here all things in their place remain,
As all were ordered, ages since,
Come, care and pleasure, hope and pain,
And bring the fate fairy prince.”
But after all we may also have the privilege of seeing with him
Faint shadows, vapours lightly curl’d,
Faint murmurs from the meadows come,
Like hints and echoes of the world,
To spirits folded in the womb.1
The vision is not altogether a dream. Transient hours will come and go, But the student of permanent elements and constant factors will be able to trace the birth and growth of an inward homogeneity in what is heterogeneous in the inception, and to hail the slow but sure triumph of Progress on lines which may not satisfy either theoretical, revolutionary and precipitate visionaries and reformers, or those who on the other hand wish to give an eternal rigidity to the to-day whether of belief or of power, and to dam out the influx of a sure and different to-morrow; for the lines of that Progress will certainly be such gradual and harmomized – resultants of numerous currents of life and facts as are still not dreamed of in our Horatio’s philosophy Such will be the modus operandi of the elements that do and shall vivify individuals, societies and governments with new forms of life, and our visions may be realized according to the extent that they harmonize with this progress. Indian society and religions, orthodoxy and reform, visionaries and practical people, Indians and Englishmen and even Government and states and subjects – all on Indian soil – must yield to this irresistible process of reciprocal assimilation, at least as an inevitable duty in the working of the much talked of unity of all. And our vision in that none of them, whether of Eastern or Western boast, will be able to resist yielding to this process in this way and to this end, more or less, sooner or latter. Dear reader, more were better left to the text.
1 Tennyson’s Sleeping Palace.