When I was at Lhassa the Dalai Lama told me that a virtuous cow-hippopotamus by metempsychosis might, under unfavourable circumstances, become an undergraduate of the Calcutta University, and that, when patent-leather shoes and English supervened, the thing was a Baboo. [This sounds very plausible; but how about the prehensile tail which the Education Department finds so much in the way of improvement, which indeed is said to preclude all access to the Bengali mind, and which can grasp everything but an idea, even an inquisitorial schoolmaster? “Hereby hangs a tail” is a motto in which Edward Gibbon had no monopoly.]
I forget whether it was the Duke of Buckingham, or Mr. Lethbridge, or General Scindia—I always mix up these C.I.E.’s together in my mind somehow—who told me that a Bengali Baboo had never been known to laugh, but only to giggle with clicking noises like a crocodile. Now this is very telling evidence, because if a Baboo does not laugh at a C.I.E. he will laugh at nothing. The faculty must be wanting.
[The Raja of Fattehpur, Member of the Legislative Council, and commonly known as “Joe Hookham,” says that fossil Baboos have been found in Orissa with the cuckoo-bone, everything that a schoolmaster could wish. Now “Joe” is a palaeontologist not to be sneezed at. This confirms the opinion of General Cunningham that the mounted figure in the neighbourhood of Lahore represents a Bengali washerwoman riding to the Ghat to perform a lustration. Because unless the os coccyx were all right it would be as difficult to ride a bullock as to get educated by the usual process.]
When Lord Macaulay said that what the milk was to the cocoanut, what beauty was to the buffalo, and what scandal was to woman, that Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary was to the Bengali Baboo, he unquestionably spoke in terms of figurative exaggeration; nevertheless, a core of truth lies hidden in his remark. It is by the Baboo’s words you know the Baboo. The true Baboo is full of words and phrases—full of inappropriate words and phrases lying about like dead men on a battlefield, in heaps to be carted away promiscuously, without reference to kith or kin. You may turn on a Baboo at any moment and be quite sure that words, and phrases, and maxims, and proverbs will come gurgling forth, without reference to the subject or to the occasion, to what has gone before or to what will come after. Perhaps it was with reference to this independence, buoyancy, and gaiety of language that Lord Lytton declared the Bengali to be “the Irishman of India.”
You know, dear Vanity, I whispered to you before that the poor Baboo often suffers from a slight aberration of speech which prevents his articulating the truth—a kind of moral lisp. Lord Lytton could not have been alluding to this; for it was only yesterday that I heard an Irishman speak the truth to Lord Lytton about some little matter—I forget what; cotton duty, I think—and Lord Lytton said, rather curtly, “Why, you have often told me this before.” So Lord Lytton must be in the habit of hearing certain truths from the Irish.