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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

X. Anglo-Indian Literature

§ 4. Sir Edwin Arnold; Sir Alfred Lyall

But, pre-eminent among the poets of the last generation were Sir Edwin Arnold and Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall. Arnold was employed in India in educational work from 1856 to 1861, and then returned to England. As a poet, journalist and man of letters, he belongs mainly to the history of English literature proper, and he wrote all his best work long after his departure from India; but his whole subsequent life, and almost the whole of his subsequent work, bore predominant impress of his Indian experience. As an unwearied and tasteful translator of Indian poetry into English verse, Arnold is unrivalled and possesses an assured place in English literature; while, as regards his most original work, The Light of Asia, India may justly claim to have inspired some of its noblest passages, though, perhaps, she is responsible for its exotic and sometimes cloying sweetness. Sir Alfred Lyall, whose Asiatic Studies and Rise and Expansion of the British Dominion in India proved him to be one of the foremost Anglo-Indian thinkers and writers, combined thought and form most happily in the reflections on Indian politics and religion which he put into the form of Verses written in India. Never since Leyden’s Ode to an Indian Gold Coin had the exile’s longing been expressed so well as in The Land of Regrets, while Siva: or Mors Janua Vitae is one of the finest products of Anglo-Indian literature.

Among the many writers of humorous verse—a species of literature always popular in India—Walter Yeldham, who wrote under the name Aliph Cheem, deserves mention. His Lays of Ind made him the Anglo-Indian Hood, and revealed to his delighted generation the humour latent in Anglo-Indian life. By its side, Thomas Francis Bignold’s Leviora: being the Rhymes of a Successful Competitor deserves mention.

Among miscellaneous prose writings of the period two famous satires claim notice. The Chronicles of Budgepore, by Iltudus Prichard, attempted “to show the quaint results which an indiscriminate and often injudicious engrafting of habits and ideas of western civilisation upon oriental stock is calculated to produce.” Prichard had equal command of the bitterest irony and the most whimsical humour, and was the most powerful satirist whom Anglo-India has known. Twenty-one Days in India, being the Tour of Sir Ali Baba, which appeared in Vanity Fair in 1878–9, was satire of a lighter kind. It was the work of George Robert Aberigh-Mackay, and the frank, humorous and deliberately cynical way in which it laughed at the personnel of the government of India, from the viceroy down to the humblest menial and the infinite tenderness of its pathos, secured to it a celebrity which it still commands.

Philip Stewart Robinson and Edward Hamilton Aitken may be treated together. They both took the familiar Indian sights, the birds, the trees, “the syce’s children … the mynas, crows, green parrots, squirrels, and the beetles that get into the mustard and the soup,” and wrote about them in pleasant prose. Robinson’s In my Indian Garden and Aitken’s Behind the Bungalow have few rivals in this class of writing, the predominant feature of which is a gay and lighthearted attitude towards the ordinary things, even the ordinary annoyances, of Indian rural life.