Poets of John Company/The Successful Competitor—1863

THOMAS FRANCIS BIGNOLD

1839–1888.

The Successful Competitor–1863.

Oh! for the palmy days, the days of old!
When Writers revelled in barbaric gold;
When each auspicious smile secured a gem
From Merchant's store or Raja's diadem;
When 'neath the pankha frill the Court reclined,
When Amlah wrote and Judges only signed;
Or lordlier still, beneath a virgin space
Inscribed their names and hied them to the chase!

Chained to the desk, the worn Civilian now
Clears his parched throat and wipes his weary brow;
Bound by his oath at every boor's behest
To hear, examine, sift, record, attest,
Recite the whole in dialect uncouth,
And dive in wells of perjury for truth!
Toil as he may, his guerdon is the same—
The scantest praise, the largest meed of blame.
Acquit? And brave the Superintendent's curse?
Convict? To see a dubious Judge reverse?
Commit? An Aryan jury will ignore;
For does not Kali gloat on human gore?

What tho' Assessors fail to find a flaw,
And trust the Judge alike for facts and law;
Tho' link in link of evidence appear—
Proof piled on proof make clearer and more clear
The prisoner's guilt—the bland High Court shines out
More skilled than Eldon in the art of doubt;
And as the German limner sought to find
Within the hidden chambers of his mind

A Camel—so the Court expects to trace
In past experience every present case;
'Twixt right and wrong an even balance keeps,
The prisoner is released—and Justice weeps.
(Ye Powers! I trust the freedom of my pen
Is covered by Exceptions One to Ten).

Who shall suffice by instinct or by tact
To thread the mazes of the Squatter's Act,
Enforcing mushroom rights with jealous care,
Yet guarding pauper landlords from despair?
Neglect "demand," and overlook "supply,"
Gaze on pure equity with heaven-lit eye.
And without line or plummet, rule or square.
Evolve the only rent precisely "fair."

Who shall suffice his anger to restrain
When daily, hourly, called on to explain:
"Explain why this was entered, that omitted,
"Why A was flogged, and B and C acquitted.
"Since no efficient officer will fail
"In close attention to minute detail,
"Note whence this shameful error of three pai,
"And why Ram Chandra did not dot an 'i';
"Whether he met with punishment condign,
"And, if you fined him, when he paid the fine.
"If not, why not? Write, in three days at most,
"(This first acknowledged by return of post)
"Whether you think the principle should be
"Applied to all who fail to cross a 't.'
"A figured statement carefully prepare
"To show each prisoner's weight and daily fare;
"Kiss the Jail Code, and certify and swear."

'Tis not enough in this insatiate age
That pleas and argument our cares engage;
'Tis not enough the solid hours to waste
Among conflicting precedents and paste;
'Tis not enough to watch the turning scale
And check each seer of gunny in the Jail;

To penetrate the city's slums and sinks;
Concocting bye-laws subtler than the stinks;
O'er emigrants an angel-guard to keep,
Harangue them on the dangers of the deep,
Or temper gilded visions of Cachar,
By painting jails and jungles as they are;
(Alas! I watch the vanishing Rupee
Worth but one-third the rice it used to be,
And wish that Wood had been as frank with me!)
'Tis not enough—but how shall I portray
The legion labours of a single day?

Is it for this that Granta bade me seek
To mould Ben Jonson in Iambic Greek,
Condense my prose, like Tacitus the terse.
And rival Ovid's elegance in verse?
Cull roots with Donaldson, weigh words with Trench;
Read, write and talk Italian, German, French;
Repair to town in pestilent July,
When dogs were rabid, and the Thames half dry,
Abjuring bat and racket, oar and cue,
To spend three weeks disgorging all I knew?

Alas! my Muse, it boots not to complain;
Who shall restore a service on the wane?
No longer wooed by fame, or power, or pay,
Isis and Granta proudly turn away.
Ho! Tinkers, come, and Tailors, share the feast!
I bid you welcome to the gorgeous East!
My die is cast. I can but vent my spleen.
And yield me victim to my fate—Routine.