Travel Letters: Delhi, India (1883)

DEAR WILLIAM, — I write you a rather unexpected letter today, for the last week has been different from what I looked for. Last Sunday I wrote to G from Jeypore. On Sunday night we left that place and came to Delhi, reaching here on Monday at noon. We intended to stay till Thursday, and then go to Lahore. But this is what happened : Wendell had not been feeling very well, and when we arrived, it seemed best that we should see a doctor. The doctor at once told him that he had the Indian fever, and must go to bed. In two days the fever was broken, then it came out that behind the fever he had the small-pox. Fortunately, he is in good hands. On the Poonah was a young missionary, an English clergyman, belonging to an establishment here known as the Cambridge Mission. He kindly insisted that when we came to Delhi we should stay with him, and so when Wendell was taken down it was at his house. Three of them (bachelors) keep house together, and the kindness of them all, under these very awkward circumstances, has been most wonderful. I was in their house three days, but when I found how things were looking, I insisted on going to a hotel close by, for I found one of the ministers was giving me his room, and going out every night to sleep. So I am at the United Service Hotel, Wendell lies at the Mission House, and I am constantly with him.

Delhi is an immensely interesting place, and it is not a bad thing to see it thoroughly. It is the old centre of Mohammedan power in India. Here the Great Mogul ruled for years and years, and the great Mosque is one of the wonders of the Mussulman world. Here, too, was the centre of the great mutiny in 1857, and the town is full of interesting points connected with that history. And then the present life, both Hindoo and Mohammedan, is vastly interesting. The streets are endless pictures. This morning the Jumna was full of bathers in the sacred stream. The bazaars are crowded with the natives of all parts of India. The processions of marriages and burials meet you everywhere. The temples with their hideous gods are all along the streets, and the fakirs go clinking their begging-bowls everywhere.

At present there is particular excitement because the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjaub is here with his whole suite. They entered the city yesterday morning, with a train of elephants and camels, and all the citizens in their best clothes turned out to see them. Now they are encamped on a broad field, just below the Mission, and they make a most picturesque array. For days whole hosts of wretched-looking folk have been sweeping the streets, dusting the temples, and cleaning up everything in anticipation of the coming of the Governor Sahib.

Later, Sunday Afternoon.

I preached this morning in the English Church, and had the usual English congregation. I am getting so used to English people in these days that a real American would seem a strange sort of creature. The English are faithful to their duties here, and their Indian Civil Service ought to be the pattern of the world. I wish that we had anything like it in America. The trouble about the whole thing is, that the Englishman does not really like the Indian and does not aim for any real liking from him ; also the Englishman suffers so in this terrible Indian climate that he cannot live here permanently, and each officer is anxious to get through his service, and get his pension and be off to England. Such brave and devoted work as our missionary hosts are doing must tell, and the English rulers are gradually getting the Indians fit for more and more self-government.

DELHI, January 21, 1883.

DEAR WILLIAM, — Here I am at Delhi for another Sunday. The mission work is most nobly, sensibly and faithfully done here. Yesterday afternoon, in the most desolate and degraded part of all the town, as I stood with a little crowd under a tree, with the hubbub of heathen life around us, with all sorts of faces, stupid and bright, hostile, eager, and scornful, I heard a native catechist preach the gospel in Urdu, of which I could not understand a word, and thought there could not be a better missionary picture. A group of Sikh soldiers came up, splendid-looking fellows, with fine faces, enormous turbans, and curled beards, who entered into lively discussion with the preacher, and for a time the debate ran very high. I could not make out which had the best of it, but the catechist seemed to understand himself very well.

The principal point of the Sikhs seemed to be that what God made every man, he meant that man to continue, so there could be no good reason for changing one’s religion. But when the preacher asked them how the Sikh religion (which is only about two hundred years old) began, he rather had them.

Before Wendell’s illness thoroughly declared its character, I went off for a three days’ trip to Lahore and Amritsir, which was exceedingly interesting. They are in the Sikh country, which is a region quite by itself, with the finest set of men in India and a religion of its own. At Amritsir is their great place of worship, the Golden Temple, a superb structure, with the lower half of most beautiful mosaic and the upper half of golden plates, standing in the middle of an enormous artificial lake, called the Lake of Immortality. There is a beautiful white marble bridge connecting the island with the shore. I saw their picturesque worship one morning, just after sunrise. This was a very fine trip.

The Lieutenant-Governor has been in camp here for two weeks, Sir Charles Atchison, to whom I had an introduction from Sir Richard Temple through Dr. Eliot. Friday morning, a stunning menial in red and yellow appeared on a camel at my door, with a note saying that he (the Lieutenant-Governor, not the menial) and Lady Atchison requested the pleasure of my company at dinner. The doctor said it was quite safe to go, and so I went. It was great fun. We had a swell dinner in a gorgeous tent, with about thirty persons, and no end of picturesque servants to wait on us. The Lieutenant-Governor was very pleas-ant, and when I left promised me some more letters to people in Calcutta. I took his daughter in to dinner, and had a nice talk with her. She is a sensible young Scotch lassie. Tell Dr. Eliot, if you see him, that both here and in Bombay I owe very much to his kind thoughtfulness.

I have been preaching again today, so that for three Sundays I have been on duty. Of course these are purely European congregations. A large part of the congregation is soldiers, of whom there is a considerable force stationed here. I wonder who preaches at Trinity ? No letters have reached me for some time, but in a week I shall find some at Benares. Then I shall learn about your winter, and get the bearings of you almost up to Christmas time. When you get this I shall be about in Madras, perhaps even beyond, in Ceylon, with the Indian journey finished.

It is the most splendid weather possible now, like our best May or early June weather. In the mornings it is rather cold, and the natives go about with most of their bedclothes wrapped about their heads, though their legs are bare, and do not seem to mind the cold. By ten or eleven o’clock they are sitting in the sun, with almost everything off of them, and burning themselves a shade or two more brown. Their picturesquesness is endlessly interesting. But I do wonder what is going on at home. I know you are all well and that you wish I were with you.