“Agra, on the whole, is the handsomest city of Upper India, though of course there may be some difference of opinion in this matter,” he began. “It is eight hundred and forty-one miles north-west of Calcutta, and one hundred and forty south-east of Delhi. Like Delhi, it is on the Jumna, which is here crossed by a floating bridge. One of the most prominent buildings is the fortress of Akbar, and you must know something of this sovereign in order to understand Agra.
“He was known as Akbar the Great, the Mogul emperor of India, and the greatest Asiatic monarch of modern times. He was the son of Houmayoun, whose mausoleum you visited at Delhi. The father was robbed of his throne, and retreated to Persia; and it was on the way there that Akbar was born, in 1542. After an exile of twelve years, Houmayoun recovered his throne, but lost his life within a year after his return. The government was committed to the care of a regent, who became a tyrant; and the young prince took possession of it himself at the age of eighteen.
“At this time only a few provinces were subject to the rule of his father; but in a dozen years Akbar had made himself master of all the country north of the Vindhya Mountains, or of a line drawn from Baroda to Calcutta, though he was not so fortunate in subduing the southern portion of the peninsula. He was a great conqueror; yet, what is not so common with the mighty rulers of the world, past or present, he was a wise and humane monarch, and governed his realm with wisdom and vigor. His reign was the most unparalleled, for his justice, energy, and progressive character, of any in the East. In this manner he made his empire the greatest of the age in which he lived.
“He fostered commerce by the construction of roads, by the establishment of an excellent police system, and introduced a uniform system of weights and measures. He looked after the administration of his viceroys in his numerous provinces, permitted no extortion on the part of his officers, and saw that justice was impartially meted out to all classes. He was a Mohammedan, but he was tolerant of all the prevailing sects in religion.
“He gave the Hindus entire freedom of worship; though far in advance of his successors, he prohibited cruel customs, such as the burning of widows, and other barbarous practices. He founded schools and encouraged literature. He inquired into the various forms of religion, and even sent for Portuguese missionaries at Goa to explain the Christian faith to him. From the various beliefs he made up a kind of eclectic religion; but it was not a success outside of his palace. A history of his reign of fifty years was written by his chief minister. Akbar died in 1605, and was interred in a beautiful mausoleum, near the city.
“With the ordinary sights of India you are already somewhat familiar; and, aside from what you may see in any city here, there is not much to interest you, with the grand exception of the Taj, and some of the mausoleums, of which I will say nothing, as we are now to visit them.”