Letters of Marque


by Rudyard Kipling

(The Kipling Society presents here Kipling’s work as he
wrote it, but wishes to alert readers that the text below
contains some derogatory and/or offensive language)




INTERNALLY, there is, in all honesty, no limit to the luxury of the Jeypore Museum. It revels in ‘South Kensington’ cases—of the approved pattern—that turn the beholder homesick, and South Kensington labels, whereon the description, measurements, and price of each object are fairly printed. These make savage one who knows how labelling is bungled in some of the Government Museums—our starved barns that are supposed to hold the economic exhibits, not of little States, but of great Provinces.

The floors are of dark red chunam, overlaid with a discreet and silent matting; the doors, where they are not plate glass, are of carved wood, no two alike, hinged by sumptuous brass hinges on to marble jambs and opening without noise. On the carved marble pillars of each hall are fixed revolving cases of the S.K.M. pattern to show textile fabrics, gold lace, and the like. In the recesses of the walls are more cases, and on the railing of the gallery that runs round each of the three great central rooms are fixed low cases to hold natural history specimens and models of fruits and vegetables.

Hear this, Governments of India from the Punjab to Madras! The doors come true to the jamb, the cases, which have been through a hot weather, are neither warped nor cracked, nor are there unseemly tallow-drops and flaws in the glasses. The maroon cloth, on or against which the exhibits are placed, is of close texture, untouched by the moth, neither stained nor meagre nor sunfaded; the revolving cases revolve freely without rattling; there is not a speck of dust from one end of the building to the other, because the menial staff are numerous enough to keep everything clean, and the Curator’s office is a veritable office—not a shed or a bath-room, or a loose-box partitioned from the main building. These things are so because money has been spent on the Museum, and it is now a rebuke to all other Museums in India from Calcutta downwards. Whether it is not too good to be buried away in a native State is a question which envious men may raise and answer as they choose. Not long ago, the editor of a Bombay paper passed through it, but having the interests of the Egocentric Presidency before his eyes, dwelt more upon the idea of the building than its structural beauties; saying that Bombay, who professed a weakness for technical education, should be ashamed of herself. And he was quite right.

The system of the Museum is complete in intention, as are its appointments in design. At present there are some fifteen thousand objects of art, covering a complete exposition of the arts, from enamels to pottery and from brass-ware to stone-carving, of the State of Jeypore. They are compared with similar arts of other lands. Thus a Daimio’s sword—a gem of lacquer-plated silk and stud-work—flanks the tulwars of Marwar and the jezails of Tonk; and reproductions of Persian and Russian brass-work stand side by side with the handicrafts of the pupils of the Jeypore School of Art. A photograph of His Highness the present Maharaja is set among the arms, which are the most prominent features of the first or metal-room. As the villagers enter, they salaam reverently to the photo, and then move on slowly, with an evidently intelligent interest in what they see. Buskin could describe the scene admirably—pointing out how reverence must precede the study of art, and how it is good for Englishmen and Rajputs alike to bow on occasion before Geisler’s cap. They thumb the revolving cases of cloths do those rustics, and artlessly try to feel the texture through the protecting glass. The main object of the Museum is avowedly provincial—to show the craftsman of Jeypore the best that his predecessors could do, and what foreign artists have done. In time—but the Curator of the Museum has many schemes which will assuredly bear fruit in time, and it would be unfair to divulge them. Let those who doubt the thoroughness of a Museum under one man’s control, built, filled, and endowed with royal generosity—an institution perfectly independent of the Government of India—go and exhaustively visit Dr. Hendley’s charge at Jeypore. Like the man who made the building, he refuses to talk, and so the greater part of the work that he has in hand must be guessed at.

At one point, indeed, the Curator was taken off his guard. A huge map of the kingdom showed in green the portions that had been brought under irrigation, while blue circles marked the towns that owned dispensaries. ‘I want to bring every man in the State within twenty miles of a dispensary—and I’ve nearly done it,’ said he. Then he checked himself, and went off to food-grains in little bottles as being neutral and colourless things. Envy is forced to admit that the arrangement of the Museum—far too important a matter to be explained off-hand—is Continental in its character, and has a definite end and bearing—a trifle omitted by many institutions other than Museums. But—in fine, what can one say of a collection whose very labels are gilt-edged! Shameful extravagance? Nothing of the kind—only finish, perfectly in keeping with the rest of the fittings—a finish that we in kutcha India have failed to catch.

From the Museum go out through the city to the Maharaja’s Palace—skilfully avoiding the man who would show you the Maharaja’s European billiardroom—and wander through a wilderness of sunlit, sleepy courts, gay with paint and frescoes, till you reach an inner square, where smiling grey-bearded men squat at ease and play chaupur—just such a game as cost the Pandavs the fair Draupadi—with inlaid dice and gayly lacquered pieces. These ancients are very polite and will press you to play, but give no heed to them, for chaupur is an expensive game—expensive as quail-fighting, when you have backed the wrong bird and the people are laughing at your inexperience. The Maharaja’s Palace is gay, overwhelmingly rich in candelabra, painted ceilings, gilt mirrors, and other evidences of a too hastily assimilated civilisation; but, if the evidence of the ear can be trusted, the old, old game of intrigue goes on as merrily as of yore. A figure in saffron came out of a dark arch into the sunlight, almost falling into the arms of one in pink. ‘Where have you come from?’ ‘I have been to see——’ the name was unintelligible. ‘That is a lie; you have not!’ Then, across the court, some one laughed a low, croaking laugh. The pink and saffron figures separated as though they had been shot, and disappeared into separate bolt-holes. It was a curious little incident, and might have meant a great deal or just nothing at all. It distracted the attention of the ancients bowed above the chaupur cloth.

In the Palace-gardens there is even a greater stillness than that about the courts, and here nothing of the West, unless a critical soul might take exception to the lamp-posts. At the extreme end lies a lake-like tank swarming with muggers. It is reached through an opening under a block of zenana buildings. Remembering that all beasts by the palaces of Kings or the temples of priests in this country would answer to the name of ‘Brother,’ the Englishman cried with the voice of faith across the water. And the mysterious freemasonry did not fail. At the far end of the tank rose a ripple that grew and grew and grew like a thing in a nightmare, and became presently an aged mugger. As he neared the shore, there emerged, the green slime thick upon his eyelids, another beast, and the two together snapped at a cigar-butt—the only reward for their courtesy. Then, disgusted, they sank stern first with a gentle sigh. Now a mugger’s sigh is the most suggestive sound in animal speech. It suggested first the zenana buildings overhead, the walled passes through the purple hills beyond, a horse that might clatter through the passes till he reached the Man Sagar Lake below the passes, and a boat that might row across the Man Sagar till it nosed the wall of the Palace-tank, and then—then uprose the mugger with the filth upon his forehead and winked one horny eyelid—in truth he did!—and so supplied a fitting end to a foolish fiction of old days and things that might have been. But it must be unpleasant to live in a house whose base is washed by such a tank.

And so back through the chunamed courts, and among the gentle sloping paths between the orange trees, up to an entrance of the palace, guarded by two rusty brown dogs from Kabul, each big as a man, and each requiring a man’s charpoy to sleep upon. Very gay was the front of the palace, very brilliant were the glimpses of the damask-couched, gilded rooms within, and very, very civilised were the lamp-posts with Ram Singh’s monogram, devised to look like V.R., at the bottom, and a coronet at the top. An unseen brass band among the orange bushes struck up the overture of the Bronze Horse. Those who know the music will see at once that that was the only tune which exactly and perfectly fitted the scene and its surroundings. It was a coincidence and a revelation.

In his time and when he was not fighting, Jey Singly the second, who built the city, was a great astronomer—a royal Omar Khayyam, for he, like the tent-maker of Nishapur, reformed a calendar, and strove to wring their mysteries from the stars with instruments worthy of a king. But in the end he wrote that the goodness of the Almighty was above everything, and died; leaving his observatory to decay without the palace-grounds.

From the Bronze Horse to the grass-grown enclosure that holds the Yantr Samrat, or Prince of Dials, is rather an abrupt passage. Jey Singh built him a dial with a gnomon some ninety feet high, to throw a shadow against the sun, and the gnomon stands to-day, though there is grass in the kiosque at the top and the flight of steps up the hypotenuse is worn. He built also a zodiacal dial—twelve dials upon one platform—to find the moment of true noon at any time of the year, and hollowed out of the earth place for two hemispherical cups, cut by belts of stone, for comparative observations.

He made cups for calculating eclipses, and a mural quadrant and many other strange things of stone and mortar, of which people hardly know the names and but very little of the uses. Once, said a man in charge of two tiny elephants, Indur and Har, a Sahib came with the Viceroy, and spent eight days in the enclosure of the great neglected observatory, seeing and writing things in a book. But he understood Sanskrit—the Sanskrit upon the faces of the dials, and the meaning of the gnoma and pointers. Nowadays no one understands Sanskrit—not even the Pundits; but without doubt Jey Singh was a great man.

The hearer echoed the statement, though he knew nothing of astronomy, and of all the wonders in the observatory was only struck by the fact that the shadow of the Prince of Dials moved over its vast plate so quickly that it seemed as though Time, wroth at the insolence of Jey Singh, had loosed the Horses of the Sun and was sweeping everything—dainty Palace-gardens and ruinous instruments—into the darkness of eternal night. So he went away chased by the shadow on the dial, and returned to the hotel, where he found men who said—this must be a catch-word of Globetrotters—that they were ‘much pleased at’ Amber. They further thought that ‘house-rent would be cheap in those parts,’ and sniggered over the witticism. There is a class of tourists, and a strangely large one, who individually never get further than the ‘much pleased’ state under any circumstances. This same class of tourists, it has also been observed, are usually free with hackneyed puns, vapid phrases, and alleged or bygone jokes. Jey Singh, in spite of a few discreditable lâches, was a temperate and tolerant man; but he would have hanged those Globe-trotters in their trunk-straps as high as the Yantr Samrat.

Next morning, in the grey dawn, the Englishman rose up and shook the sand of Jeypore from his feet, and went with Master Coryatt and Sir Thomas Roe to ‘Adsmir,’ wondering whether a year in Jeypore would be sufficient to exhaust its interest, and why he had not gone out to the tombs of the dead Kings and the passes of Gulta and the fort of Motee Dungri. But what he wondered at most—knowing how many men who have in any way been connected with the birth of an institution, do, to the end of their days, continue to drag forward and exhume their labours and the honours that did not come to them—was the work of the two men who, together for years past, have been pushing Jeypore along the stone-dressed paths of civilisation, peace, and comfort. ‘Servants of the Raj’ they called themselves, and surely they have served the Raj past all praise. The people in the city and the camel-driver from the sand-hills told of their work. They themselves held their peace as to what they had done, and, when pressed, referred—crowning baseness—to reports. Printed ones!