Poets of John Company/Calcutta: a Poem



Calcutta: a Poem.

The Arrival.

Curse on the ship in evil hour that bore
My jolted frame to India's burning shore!
An inauspicious hour, from which I date
The bitter torments of a wretched fate:
Deluded, listening to the tales they told.
Lands rich in mines, and rivers streaming gold;
Whence twelve short years in Luxury's lap beguiled.
Would bear me homeward. Fortune's favourite child.
To pass my days in some secure retreat,
Or grace the mazes of St. James's Street;
Even then, in fancy drawn with bays or roans,
I seized the reins, and rattled o'er the stones.
Oh! fond delusion! prospects nursed in vain,
The rude creation of a thoughtless brain!
A visionary image, formed to shun
The melting gaze of India's fervid sun!
Now, sad reverse! the rich delusion flies,
House, park, and carriage vanish from my eyes!
Condemned, alas! twelve tedious years to burn
Nor dare the vast expenses of return,
When all the savings of attentive care
Would scarcely buy a cabin eight feet square;
Content in England with a single room,
And solitary nag without a groom.


Alas! the service is not what it was!
How much degen'rate from those golden days,
When money streamed a thousand different ways.
When hands and pockets wisely understood
No rule of guidance but their master's good;
Ere yet we ventured honesty to sham.
And drew no profit from the low salaam;
Thought it no fault, whatever were the drift,
To take a handsome nuzza as a gift!
Now rules and scruples all our prospects blast,
Touch but the money, and you lose your caste.
Who dried a source that swelled the guilty purse
Claims our best thanks, and has no Briton's curse
And ill is treasure used, and wisdom shown.
In dealing cates and banquets to the drone.
First show the balance where your merits weigh,
Then prove an hardship in the want of pay,
And hint at least an equitable rate
To pay your zeal and services of state,
That wear and tear of body and of mind,
When crazed with thinking, and with study blinds
Your monthly pay-bills in a huff you scrawl.
For what? three hundred siccas—and that's all!

John Company.

Fast by the banks where muddy Hoogly flows.
The merchant's seat, a modest factory, rose.
While yet no works of engineering skill
Thundered resistance to a nabob's will.
While yet Bengal an Indian prince obeyed.
And careful factors plied the silken trade,
Content with grants that jealousies prescribe,
And paid their court to eunuchs by a bribe.
Not long their bound'ry a Mahratta ditch,
When roused by wrong, and burning to be rich;

When fell revenge a cruel coward smote,
And Meerum's poignard struck Surajah's throat.
To bolder prospects learning to aspire,
The peaceful merchant caught the soldier's fire;
In native squabbles ventured to intrigue,
Revenged another's wrong, or joined a league;
In self-defence he triumphed o'er his foes,
And courted quarrels to ensure repose.
A nobler policy, a wiser plan,
Ne'er reared a state, nor animated man:
For kings amazed in passing years beheld
The modest factory to an empire swelled,
The power of India's ancient rulers flown.
And nabobs take a pension for a throne!
Hence vig'rous commerce, unexampled trade.
Springs from that best of maxims—to invade;
And 'tis far better, spurning all control,
To stretch an honest hand, and grasp the whole;
To tax a people ready to obey.
And hug the sweets of universal sway;
Than fix on articles a stated price.
And meanly trade for indigo and rice!


Alas! creative nature calls to light
Myriads of winged forms in sportive flight,
When gathered clouds with ceaseless fury pour
A constant deluge in the rushing shower,
On every dish the bouncing beetle falls,
The cockroach plays, or caterpillar crawls;
A thousand shapes of variegated hues
Parade the table, and inspect the stews!
To living walls the swarming hundreds stick,
Or court a dainty meal, the oil wick,
Heaps over heaps their slimy bodies drench.
Out go the lamps with suffocating stench!
When hideous insects ev'ry plate defile,
The laugh how empty, and how forced the smile!

The knife and fork a quiet moment steal,
Slumber secure, and bless the idle meal;
The pensive master, leaning in his chair.
With manly patience mutters in despair—
England! show, with all thy fabled bliss,
One scene of real happiness like this!


Oh! for that happy day (compared with that,
All days are joyless and all pleasures flat,)
When filled with boundless raptures of delight,
I view low Saugor fading from the sight;
Hail in the welcome breeze a glad retreat
From shores that glisten with eternal heat;
And, as the bellying sails distended swell.
To heat and India bid a long farewell!
Where milder suns on happier seasons shine.
Be Britain's isle and British comfort mine;
Where kindred ties the passing hour endear.
Prompt the glad smile, and wipe the falling tear:
Where Liberty with Justice reigns entwined,
And wakes to life the virtues of the mind:
Where pure Devotion pours her heaven-taught prayer.
And awful piles a reverend aspect wear,
Their sacred spires amid the prospect smile,
And speak in grateful praise the favoured isle;
Unseen the barb'rous rite, the frantic train.
Unheard the shout that frights the idol fane!
Sweet is the view where nature's bounteous plan
Owes a last polish to industrious man!
Dear land! the best of thoughts where'er I stray.
At night my vision, and my theme by day.