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man of diligence and common sense
might be expected to compose; and
narratives like -these we must not
despise. To military men we have
been, and must be, indebted for our
first acquaintance with the interior of
many countries. Conquest has ex-
plored more than ever curiosity has
done; and the path for science has
been commonly opened by the sword.

We shall proceed to give a very
summary abstract of the principal con-
tents of Mr. PercivaPs book.

The immense accessions of territory
which the English have acquired in
the East Indies since the American
AVar, rendered it absolutely necessary
that some effort should be made to
obtain possession of a station where
ships might remain in safety during
the violent storms incidental to that
climate. As the whole of that large
tract which we possess along the Coro-
mandel coast presents nothing but
open roads, ail vessels are obliged, on
the approach of the monsoons, to stand
out in the open seas ; and there are
many parts of the coast that can be
approached only during a few months
of the year. As the harbour of Trin-
comalee, which is equally secure at all
seasons, afforded the means of obviating
these disadvantages, it is evident that,
on the first rupture with the Dutch,
our countrymen would attempt to gain
possession of it. A body of troops
was, in consequence, detached in the
year 1795, for the conquest of Ceylon,
which (in consequence of the indis-
cipline which political dissension had
introduced among the Dutch troops)
was effected almost without opposition.

Ceylon is now inhabited by the
English ; the remains of the Dutch
and Portuguese, the Cinglese or
natives, subject to the dominion of the
Europeans ; the Candians, subject to
the king of their own name ; and the
Vaddahs, or wild men, subject to no
power. A Ceylonese Dutchman is a

coarse, grotesque species of animal,
whose native apathy and phlegm is
animated only by the insolence of a
colonial tyrant : his principal amuse-
ment appears to consist in smoking ;
but his pipe, according to Mr. Percival's
account, is so seldom out of his mouth,
that his smoking appears to be almost
as much a necessary function of animal
life as his breathing. His day is eked
out with gin, ceremonious visits, and
prodigious quantities of gross food,
dripping with oil and butter ; his mind,
just able to reach from one meal to
another, is incapable of further ex-
ertion ; and after the panting and de-
glutition of a long protracted dinner,
reposes on the sweet expectation, that,
in a few hours, the carnivorous toil
will be renewed. He lives only to
digest, and, while the organs of gluttony
perform their office, he has not a wish
beyond ; and is the happy man which
Horace describes :

in seipso totus, teres, atque


The descendants of the Portuguese
differ materially from the Moors,
Malabars, and other Mahometans.
Their great object is, to show the world
they are Europeans and Christians.
Unfortunately, their ideas of Chris-
tianity are so imperfect, that the only
mode they can hit upon of displaying
their faith is by wearing hats and
breeches, and by these habiliments they
consider themselves as showing a
proper degree of contempt, on various
parts of the body, towards Mahomet
and Buddha, They are lazy, trea-
cherous, effeminate, and passionate to
excess ; and are, in fact, a locomotive
and animated farrago of the bad
qualities of all tongues, people, and
nations on the face of the earth.

The Malays, whom we forgot before
to enumerate, form a very considerable
portion of the inhabitants of Ceylon.
Their original empire lies in the pe-
ninsula of Malacca, from whence they
have extended themselves over Java,
Sumatra, the Moluccas, and a vast
number of other islands in the penin-
sula of India. It has been many years
customary for the Dutch to bring them
D 4



to Ceylon, for the purpose of carrying
on various branches of trade and ma
nufacture, and in order also to employ
them as soldiers and servants. The
Malays are the most vindictive and
ferocious of living beings. They set
little or no value on their own existence,
in the prosecution of their odious
passions; and having thus broken the
great tie which renders man a being
capable of being governed, and fit for
society, they are a constant source of
terror to all those who have any kind
of connection or relation with them.
A Malay servant, from the appre-
hension excited by his vindictive dis-
position, often becomes the master of
his master. It is as dangerous to
dismiss him as to punish him; and the
rightful despot, in order to avoid
assassination, is almost compelled to
exchange characters with his slave. It
is singular, however, that the Malay,
incapable of submission on any other
occasion, and ever ready to avenge
insult with death, submits to the
severest military discipline with the
utmost resignation and meekness. The
truth is, obedience to his officers forms
part of his religious creed ; and the
same man who would repay the most
insignificant insult with death, will
submit to be lacerated at the halbert
with the patience of a martyr. This
is truly a tremendous people ! When
assassins and blood- hounds will fall
into rank and file, and the most furious
savages submit (with no dihiinution of
their ferocity) to the science and dis-
cipline of war, they only want a Malay
Bonaparte to lead them to the con-
quest of the world. Our curiosity has
always been very highly excited by
the accounts of this singular people ;
and we cannot help thinking, that,
one day or another, when they are
more full of opium than usual, they will
run a-muck from Cape Comorin to the

Mr. Percival does not consider the
Ceylonese as descended from the con-
tinentals of the peninsula, but rather
from the inhabitants of the Maldive
Islands, whom they very much resemble
in compkxjon, features, language, and

" The Ceylonese (says Mr. Percival) are
courteous and polite in their demeanour,
even to a degree far exceeding their civi-
lisation. In several qualities they are
greatly superior to all other Indians who
have fallen within the sphere of my obser-
vation. I have already exempted them from
the censure of stealing and lying, which
seem to be almost inherent in the nature
of an Indian. They are mild, and by no
means captious or passionate in their in-
tercourse with each other; though, when
once their anger is roused, it is proportion-
ably furious and lasting. Their hatred is
indeed mortal, and they will frequently
destroy themselves to obtain the destruc-
tion of the detested object. One instance
will serve to show the extent to which this
passion is carried. If a Ceylonese cannot
obtain money due to him by another, he
goes to his debtor, and threatens to kill
himself if he ia not instantly paid. This
threat, which is sometimes put in execution,
reduces the debtor, if it be in his power, to
immediate compliance with the demand:
as, by their law, if any man causes the loss
of another man's life, his own is the forfeit.
' An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,'
is a proverbial expression continually in
their mouths. This is, on other occasions,
a very common mode of revenge among
them ; and a Ceylonese has often been
known to contrive to kill himself in the
company of his enemy that the latter might
suffer for it.

" This dreadful spirit of revenge, so in-
consistent with the usually mild and hu-
mane sentiments of the Ceylonese, and
much more congenial to the bloody temper
of a Malay, still continues to be fostered
by the sacred customs of the Candians.
Among the Cinglese, however, it has been
greatly mitigated by their intercourse with
Europeans. The desperate mode of obtain-
ing revenge which I have just described
has been given up, from having l>een dis-
appointed of its object ; as, in all those
parts under our dominion, the European
modes of investigating and punishing
crimes are enforced. A case of this nature
occurred at Caltura in 1799. A Cinglese
peasant happening to have a suit or con-
troversy with another, watched an oppor-
tunity of going to bathe in company with
him, and drowned himself, with the view
of having his adversary put to death. The
latter was upon this taken up, and sent to
Columbo to take his trial for making away
with the deceased, upon the principle of
having been the last seen in his company.
There was, however, nothing more than
presumptive proof against the culprit, and
he was of course acquitted. This deci-



sion, however, did not by any means tally
with the sentiments of the Cinglcse, who
are as much inclined to continue their
ancient barbarous practice as their breth-
ren the Candians, although they are de-
prived of the power." (pp. 70 72.)

The warlike habits of the Candians
make them look with contempt on
the Cinglese, who are almost entirely
unacquainted with the management
of arms. They have the habit and
character of mountaineers warlike,
hardy, enterprising, and obstinate.
They have, at various times, proved
themselves very formidable enemies
to the Dutch ; and, in that kind of
desultory warfare, which is the only
one their rugged country will admit
of, have cut off large parties of the
troops of both these nations. The
King of Candia, as we have before
mentioned, possesses only the middle
of the island, which nature, and his
Candian Majesty, have rendered as in-
accessible as possible. It is traversable
only by narrow wood-paths, known to
nobody but the natives, strictly watched
in peace and war, and where the best
troops in the world might be shot in
any quantities, by the Candian marks-
men. without the smallest possibility of
resisting their enemies, because there
would not be the smallest possibility
of finding them. The King of Candia
is. of course, despotic ; and the history
of his life and reign presents the same
monotonous ostentation and baby-like
caprice which characterise Oriental
governments. In public audiences he
appears like a great fool, squatting on
his hams ; far surpassing gingerbread
in splendour; and, after asking some
such idiotical question as, whether
Europe is in Asia or Africa, retires
with a flourish of trumpets very much
out of tune. For his private amuse-
ment, he rides on the nose of an
elephant, plays with his jewels, sprinkles
his courtiers with rose-water, and feeds
his gold and silver fish. If his tea is
not sweet enough, he impales his foot-
man; and smites off the heads of half-
a-dozen of his noblemQn if he has a
pain in his own.

w<nrep yap (says Aristotle) TcXeuflev eA-
tan, ovrw (cot

X''>fl<-<rOev vofiov KCU Siicijs \eipi<nov navriav.

The only exportable articles of any
importance which Ceylon produces are
pearls, cinnamon, and elephants. Mr.
Percival has presented us with an ex-
tremely interesting account of the pearl
fishery, held in Condatchy Bite, near
the island of Manaar, in the straits
which separate Ceylon from the main

" There is perhaps no spectacle which the
isknd of Ceylon affords more striking to
an European, than the bay of Condatchy,
during the season of the pearl fishery.
This desert and barren spot is at that time
converted into a scene which exceeds, in
novelty and variety, almost anything I
ever witnessed. Several thousands of
people of different colours, countries, castes,
and occupations, continually passing and
repassing in a busy crowd ; the vast num-
bers of small tents and huts erected on the
shore, with the bazaar or market-place
before each; the multitude of boats re-
turning in the afternoon from the pearl
banks, some of them laden with riches;
the anxious expecting countenances of the
boat-owners, while the boats are ap-
proaching the shore, and the eagerness and
avidity with which they run to them when
arrived, in hopes of a rich cargo ; the vast
numbers of jewellers, brokers, merchants,
of all colours and all descriptions, both
natives and foreigners, who are occupied in
some way or other with the pearls, some
separating and assorting them, others
weighing and ascertaining their number
and value, while others are hawking them
about, or drilling and boring them for
future use; all these circumstances tend
to impress the mind with the value and
importance of that object which can of
itself create this scene.

" The bay of Condatchy is the most cen-
tral rendezvous for the boats employed in
the fishery. The banks where it is carried
on extend several miles along the coast
from Manaar southward offArippo, Con-
datchy, and Pomparipo. The principal
bank is opposite to Condatchy, and lies out
at sea about twenty miles. The first step,
previous to the commencement of the
fishery, is to have the different oyster banks
surveyed, the state of the oysters ascer-
tained, and a report made on the subject
to government. If it has been found that
the quantity is sufficient, and that they are
arrived at a proper degree of maturity, the
particular banks to be fished that year are
put up for sale to the highest bidder, and



are usually purchased by a black merchant.
This, however, is not always the course,
pursued : government sometimes judges it
more advantageous to fish the banks on its
own account, and to dispose of the pearls
afterwards to the merchants. When this
plan is adopted, boats are hired for the
season on account of government, from dif-
ferent quarters ; the price varies consider-
ably according to circumstances; but is
usually from five to eight hundred pagodas
for each boat. There are, however, no
stated prices, and the best bargain possible
is niade for each boat separately. The
Dutch generally followed this last system ;
the banks were fished on government ac-
count, and the pearls disposed of in dif-
ferent parts of India or sent to Europe.
AY hen this plan was pursued, the Governor
and Council of Ceylon claimed a certain
per centage on the value of the pearls : or,
if the fishing of the banks was disposed of
by public sale, they bargained for a stipu-
lated sum to themselves over and above
what was paid on account of government.
The pretence on which they founded their
claims for this perquisite, was their trouble
in surveying and valuing the banks."
(pp. 59-61.)

The banks are divided into six or
seven portions, in order to give the
oysters time to grow, which are sup-
posed to obtain their maturity in about
seven years. The period allowed to the
merchant to complete his fishery is about
six weeks; during which period all the
boats go out and return together, and
are subject to very rigorous laws. The
dexterity of the divers is very striking ;
they are as adroit in the use of their
1'cet as their hands, and can pick up
the smallest object under water with
their toes. Their descent is aided by
a great stone, which they slip from
their feet when they arrive at the bot-
tom, where they can remain about two
minutes. There are instances, how-
ever, of divers who have so much of
the aquatic in their nature as to remain
under water for five or six minutes.
Their great enemy is the ground
shark ; for the rule of " eat and be
eaten," which Dr. Darwin called the
great law of nature, obtains in as much
force fathoms deep beneath the waves
as above them : this animal is as fond
of the legs of Hindoos as Hindoos are
of the pearls of oysters ; and as one
appetite appears to him much more


natural and less capricious than the
other, he never fails to indulge it.
Where fortune has so much to do with
peril and profit, of course there is no
deficiency of conjurors, who by divers
enigmatical grimaces, endeavour
ostracise this submarine invader,
they are successful they are well paid
in pearls ; and when a shark indulges
himself with the leg of a Hindoo, there
is a witch who lives at Colang. on the
Malabar coast, who always bears the

A common mode of theft practised
by the common people engaged in the
pearl fishery, is by swallowing the
pearls. Whenever any one is sus-
pected of having swallowed these pre-
cious pills of Cleopatra, the police
apothecaries are instantly sent for ; a
brisk cathartic is immediately des-
patched after the truant pearl, with
the strictest orders to apprehend it, in
whatever corner of the viscera it may
be found lurking. Oyster lotteries are
carried on here to a great extent.
They consist in purchasing a quantity
of the oysters unopened, and running the
chance of either finding or not finding
pearls in them. The European gentle-
men and officers who attend the pearl
fishery through duty or curiosity are
particularly fond of these lotteries, and
frequently make purchases of this sort.
The whole of this account is very well
written, and has afforded us a great
degree of amusement. By what cu-
rious links, and fantastical relations, are
mankind connected together ! At the
distance of half the globe, a Hindoo
gains his support by groping at the
bottom of the sea for the morbid con-
cretion of a shell-fish, to decorate the
throat of a London alderman's wife.
It is said that the great Linnaeus had
discovered the secret of infecting
oysters with this perligenous disease ;
what has become of the secret we do
not know, as the only interest we take
in oysters is of a much more vulgar,
though perhaps a more humane nature.
The principal woods of cinnamon lie
in the neighbourhood of Columbo.
They reach to within half a mile of the
fort, and fill the whole surrou:id-
ing prospect. The grand garden near


the town is so extensive, as to occupy
a tract of country from ten to fifteen
miles in length.

" Nature has here concentrated both the
beauty and the riches of the island.
Nothing can be more delightful to the eye,
than the prospect which stretches around
Columbo. The low cinnamon trees which
cover the plain allow the view to reach the
groves of evergreens, interspersed with tall
clumps, and bounded everywhere with
extensive ranges of cocoa nut and other
large trees. The whole is diversified with
small lakes and green marshes, skirted all
round with rice and pasture fields. In one
part, the intertwining cinnamon trees ap-
pear completely to clothe the face of the
plain; in another, the openings made by
the intersecting footpaths just serve to
show that the thick underwood has been
penetrated. One large road, which goes
out at the west gate of the fort, and re-
turns by the gate on the south, makes a
winding circuit of seven miles among
the woods. It is here that the officers and
gentlemen belonging to the garrison of
Columbo take their morning ride, and en-
joy one of the finest scenes in nature."
(pp. 336, 337.)

As this spice constitutes the wealth
of Ceylon, great pains are taken to
ascertain its qualities, and propagate
its choicest kinds. The prime sort is
obtained from the Laurus Cinnamo-
mum. The leaf resembles the laurel
in shape, but is not of so deep a green.
When chewed it has the smell and
taste of cloves. There are several
different species of cinnamon tree on
the island ; but four sorts only are
cultivated and barked. The picture
which we have just quoted from Mr.
Percival of a morning ride in a cinna-
mon wood is so enchanting, that we are
extremely sorry the addition of aromatic
odours cannot with veracity be made
to it. The cinnamon has, unfortunately,
no smell at all but to the nostrils of the
poet. Mr. Percival gives us a very in-
teresting account of the process of
making up cinnamon for the market,
in which we are sorry our limits will
not permit us to follow him. The dif-
ferent qualities of the cinnamon bundles
can only be estimated by the taste ;
an office which devolves upon the
medical men of the settlement, who
are employed for several days together


in chewing cinnamon, the acrid juice of
which excoriates the mouth, and puts
them to the most dreadful tortures.

The island of Ceylon is completely
divided into two parts by a very high
range of mountains, on the two sides
of which the climate and the seasons
are entirely different. These moun-
tains also terminate completely the
effect of the monsoons, which set in
periodically from opposite sides of them.
On the west side, the rains prevail in
the months of May, June, and July, the
season when they are felt on the Mala-
bar coast. This monsoon is usually ex-
tremely violent during its continuance.
The northern parts of the island are
very little affected. In the months of
October and November, when the op-
posite monsoon sets in on the Coro-
mandel coast, the north of the island is
attacked ; and scarcely any impression
reaches the southern parts. The heat
during the day is nearly the same
throughout the year : the rainy season
renders the nights much cooler. The
climate, upon the whole, is much more
temperate than on the continent of
India. The temperate and healthy
climate of Ceylon is, however, confined
to the sea-coast. In the interior of the
country, the obstructions which the
thick woods oppose to the free circula-
tion of air, render the heat almost
insupportable, and generate a low and
malignant fever, known to Europeans
by the name of the Jungle fever.
The chief harbours of Ceylon are
Trincomalee, Point de Galle, and, at
certain seasons of the year, Columbo.
The former of these, from its nature
and situation, is that which stamps
Ceylon one of our most valuable ac-
quisitions in the East Indies. As soon
as the monsoons commence, every ves-
sel caught by them in any other part
of the Bay of Bengal is obliged to
put to sea immediately, in order to
avoid destruction. At these seasons,
Trincomalee alone, of all the parts on
this side of the peninsula, is capable
of affording to vessels a safe retreat ;
which a vessel from Madras may reach
in two days. These circumstances
render the value of Trincomalee much
greater than that of the whole island ;



the revenue of which will certainly be
hardly sufficient to defray the expense
of the establishments kept up there.
The agriculture of Ceylon is, in fact, in
such an imperfect state, and the natives
have so little availed themselves of its
natural fertility, that great part of the
provisions necessary for its support are
imported from Bengal.

Ceylon produces the elephant, the
buffalo, tiger, elk, wild-hog, rabbit, hare,
flying-fox, and musk-rat Manyarticles
are rendered entirely useless by the smell
of musk, which this latter animal com-
municates in merely running over them.
Mr. Percival asserts (and the fact has
been confirmed to us by the most re-
spectable authority), that if it even pass
over a bottle of wine, however well
corked and sealed up, the wine becomes
so strongly tainted with musk, that it
cannot be used ; and a whole cask may
be rendered useless in the same manner.
Among the great variety of birds, we
were struck with Mr. Percival's account
of the honey-bird, into whose body the
soul of a common informer appears to
have migrated. It makes a loud and
shrill noise, to attract the notice of
anybody whom it may perceive ; and
thus inducing him to follow the course
it points out, leads him to the tree
where the bees have concealed their
treasure ; after the apiary has been
robbed, this feathered scoundrel gleans
his reward from the hive. The list
of Ceylonese snakes is hideous ; and
we become reconciled to the crude and
cloudy land in which we live, from re-
flecting, that the indiscriminate activity
of the sun generates what is loathsome,
as well as what is lovely ; that the asp
reposes under the rose ; and the scor-
pion crawls under the fragrant flower,
and the luscious fruit.

The usual stories are repeated here,
of the immense size and voracious
appetite of a certain species of serpent.
The best history of this kind we ever
remember to have read, was of a serpent
killed near one of our settlements, in
the East Indies ; in whose body they
found the chaplain of the garrison, all

in black, the Rev. Mr. , (somebody

or other, whose name we have for-
gotten,) and who, after having been

missing for above a week, was dis-
covered in this very inconvenient situa-
tion. The dominions of the King of
Candia are partly defended by leeches,
which abound in the woods, and from
which our soldiers suffered in the most
dreadful manner. The Ceylonese, in
compensation for their animated pla-
gues, are endowed with two vegetable
blessings, the cocoa-nut tree and the
talipot tree. The latter affords a pro-
digious leaf, impenetrable to sun or

Online LibrarySydney SmithThe works of Rev. Sydney Smith : including his contributions to the Edinburgh Review (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 66)