A Berlin Mare’s Nest
Bombay Gazette, March 5, 1881
To the Editor of the Bombay Gazette.
Sir—All Europe and America were set laughing over the honest indignation of an Italian critic, who reviewing Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, burst out in vehement protests against the besotted ignorance of that famous humorist.
He actually inquired of his guide “Fergusson” at Genoa whether the illustrious Columbus was dead or not! A pretty author to pretend to write a book of travels forsooth! Remembering this, I would now like to verify a suspicion begotten in my mind by a paragraph in today’s Gazette that this Italian critic must have changed domicile and be now telegraphing news to the Standard from Berlin. The telegram comes too late alas! The story of the case “unknown to the English people” was told to some of the Anglo-Indian rulers at a public dinner, at Simla, by “the imperious Russo-Hindoo lady” herself. Nor is the pseudonym of “Raddha-Bai” any more a mystery to the Indian Foreign Department than her belief, or rather knowledge, of such “mysterious subterranean passages” (the existence of which she still affirms), for she never made a secret of either. As to the “Indian letters” [see “From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan”] if “intensely hostile to the British Government,” the hostility must be passed to the account of Thornton’s Gazetteer of India and sundry “Guide Books” which, as can most easily be proved, supply their author with all the needed political information, except perhaps, occasional clippings from the London and English Indian papers, required as historical ballast to her purely fictitious tales. “Raddha-Bai” does not pretend to write either history or political news. So long as her geographical, ethnological, psychological facts are correct, she has as perfect a right to evolve heroes and heroines out of her fancy as any other author. They are no more than gilt upholstery nails to hold her descriptive tapestry together. But the Anglo-Indian public will be enabled to judge of the degree of “hostility” exhibited in these Indian letters, as they are being translated by the author into English, and will in due time be issued by an American publisher, simultaneously with a London edition. The poor correspondent was wise to “give the story for what it is worth,” since the letter about the Cawnpore caves, with an invitation to the Russian public by the “Thakur” to view them and himself, was but a study after Baron Munchausen.
“Raddha-Bai” the author was at Cawnpore in the Summer of 1879, and with a Hindu gentleman, among others, named Thackersey (since deceased to our regret). The party visiting Jajmow included besides the latter, two English friends, an Assistant Magistrate, a Collector of the N.W.P. and his brother, an Anglo-Indian Engineer: the Political Department detectives, or police (I could never make out which) following us in those days of blessed Conservative trust like hawks poised for a swoop which was never made. That it was not, was significant in itself, since, whatever “hostility” I may ever have had was in those days, when I felt that it was considered almost a crime for a Russian to visit India, however innocent the purpose.
Unhappy Editor of the Standard who has to pay for such important telegrams! Why, I would write for him an original chapter with fresh revelations for half the money! Let us hope that under the new Government, notwithstanding the “Russian-Afghan intrigues” (also stale news, by the way) a repetition of such proceedings—natural enough in Russia, but shameful under a constitutional rule—will not be so easily repeated. The most piquant trait of the situation is, that while being viewed by some pessimistic alarmists in India, as a “Russian Spy” the hapless “Raddha-Bai” was also suspected by her countrymen of Anglican leanings! She sent to the St. Petersburg papers a long article by the advice of some British friends, to correct some erroneous impressions, and inviting the Russians not to make fools of themselves by believing the stories of every little humbug from India, who chose to call himself an “exiled Prince.” The article was rejected as “evidently written under the pressure of the Anglo-Indian officials”! To conclude, though feeling no passionate love for any monarchical Government, and a positive disgust and hatred for the politics of every one of them, I never felt half the hostility for the most despotical as I feel for those sensational mischief-breeding “correspondents” who having no news of importance to send, try to implicate individuals innocent of any guilt toward the country which affords them hospitality, if not any actual protection, by cooking up messes of gossip and conjecture in which the ingredient of common sense furnishes none of the seasoning.
H. P. Blavatsky.