Page:Poets of John Company.djvu/21

This page has been validated.
xvii
INTRODUCTION.

problems of the world. He looks through and beyond the sensuous imagery of the Hindu temple to the conception of those terrible powers that hold man and rule his destiny. No English verse produced in India has sounded a deeper note of understanding than this; and no other poem has so concentrated the mingled sensations of mystery and awe that haunt the Western mind in contact with the tangible symbols of the Hindu faith. In The Light of Asia there is unfolded a whole panorama of Oriental life, idealised in the reflected glory of the Lord Gautama and his teaching, but the first comprehensive picture of Indian faith and custom ever given to the West.

Apart from its intrinsic literary or artistic merit, the verse produced by Englishmen in India from the time of Warren Hastings to the close of John Company's rule, contributed to an understanding of the East of reality. About ten years after the formation of the United East India Company, The Arabian Nights, translated from the French of Antoine Galland, had come for the first time into England. The influence of this work was great and lasting; and it created a fantastic conception of the Orient that is not yet wholly dead. The Rasselas of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the History of the Caliph Vathek by James Beckford, the Mejnoun and Leila of Isaac Disraeli and even The Shaving of Shagpat by George Meredith, are all products of the craze of Orientalism that smote the literature of eighteenth century England. But this Orientalism had no root in the real East. It was a thing of coffee houses and drawing rooms. Its inspiration, if the term is at all appropriate, was of a purely literary kind, the product of quill pens and inkpots, divorced from reality and with no breath of life. In 1760, Goldsmith devoted the thirty-third letter of The Citizen of the World to a satire upon "the fictions every day propagated here under the titles of Eastern tales and oriental histories," And, had he lived long enough, he would have been as ready to attack the mellifluous Lalla Rookh of Thomas Moore, or the laborious Curse of Kehama of Robert Southey. For this pseudo-oriental literature the antidote lay in the realism of those novels of Eastern Life that appeared between 1819 and 1839, novels written by men who