‘Anglo-Indian’ is used to indicate the British community in India. Ihe term’s meaning was changed in 1916 to refer to people previously known as Eurasian, but it continued to be used in its former capacity by many writing on India and the area now known as Pakistan, until their independence from Britain in 1947. The term ‘native’ is used only to indicate someone who is the opposite of a foreigner, i.e., someone indigenous to the country.
Philip Meadows Taylor is one of the most remarkable and underrated men to emerge from the British Raj in the nineteenth centuiy. Arriving in India in 1824 as a callow youth of 16 with little formal education and little knowledge of the country, Taylor spent the next thirty-six years living and working in and learning about India in isolated posts in the central part of the country. His administrative accomplishments were many, and the confidence of his superiors in his judgment and talent w^as demonstrated during the Indian uprising of 1857, when he was expected to keep the Berar district quiet solely by ‘moral strength’, for no help was available from the military forces trying to cope with the unrest near his district. That he was able to do so says much for his personal qualities and the respect he held among those he administered. This respect derived not only from Taylor’s enthusiasm for his work, but also from his interest in and understanding of Indian life and culture. His isolation from the typical station life of his civilian contemporaries, due to his status as an uncovenanted servant, or subordinate member of the Indian civil service, enabled him to develop an intensely personal understanding of India and its people. His natural affinity for learning manifested itself in the remarkable scope of his activities and interests. He learned Persian, Hindustani and several Indian dialects, taught himself surveying, sketching and painting, researched and presented papers and lectures on Indian archaeology, architecture, literature and music, and designed and built buildings, boats, roads, dams, and reservoirs.
Taylor’s interest in India also informed his literary efforts, and he is remembered today, if at all, as tire author of the first novel to depict Thuggism, Confessions of a Thug, published in 1839. Without doubt Taylor’s isolation from ‘Anglo-Indian’ society enabled him to gain a less distorted view than many of Indian culture, and he wrote his novels on India with the aim of passing on to the British public his understanding of Indian customs and beliefs The reading public, however, were not interested in reading his idealised versions of India and its people, and the publication of the more accessible ‘Anglo-Indian’ tales of Rudyard Kipling, who concentrated more on detailing the British way of life in India, ensured the eclipse of Taylor’s works by the end of the nineteenth century.
Philip Meadows Taylor was bom in Slater Street, Liverpool on 25 September 1808, the eldest of five sons. Taylor’s family had distinguished literary and social connections: through his father, Taylor was directly descended from John Taylor of Norwich, the Dissenting divine, and was related to such important nineteenth-century’ social figures as Henry Reeve, Sarah Austin and Lady Duff Gordon, while through his mother, Jane Honoria Mitford, Taylor was indirectly related to Mary Russell Mitford, author of Our Village, William Mitford, eighteenth-century historian, Edward Bulwer Lytton, and John Freeman Mitford, the first Baron Redesdalc. Such family ties proved useful to Taylor later in life when he began his literary career. Taylor’s early years, though, were difficult ones. His father’s business affairs were often ‘involved’, necessitating several moves to smaller and smaller homes as financial difficulties increased. The frequent moves also meant frequent changes in schools. Taylor claims he learned little in this time, except for ‘the rudiments of English and the earliest lessons in Latin,’1 and spelling, ‘which was well knocked into me.’2 Eventually the family moved to Dublin, where Taylor’s father became executive manager of a large brewery’ in James Street. Here Taylor was enrolled in Dr. Hutton’s day school, where again he was subject to severe discipline: ‘Was everything I learned always to be beaten into me?’ he exclaimed while describing this period in his autobiography.3 Taylor’s interest in music and drawing first manifested itself at this time, but proper tuition in such accomplishments was denied him, for ‘in those days it was considered effeminate to teach boys to draw, or sing, or play on any instrument.’4 This did not seem to prevent other members of his family from taking up such activities. One of Taylor’s younger brothers, Isaac Weld Taylor, became a well known lithographer, which indicates that other factors, such as family finances and Taylor’s status as eldest son, may have had something to do with the discouragement he met.
Around the middle of 1823 family circumstances forced Taylor to be removed from school and indentured as a clerk to Messrs Yates Brothers & Co, West India merchants operating out of Liverpool. It was a difficult period for him. Suffering from ill health and undergoing petty abuse from fellow workers, Taylor remained in his position until early 1824, when he was released by the firm from his indenture. Shortly afterwards Taylor’s father, who had by then moved to Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, made the acquaintance of a Mr Baxter, a Bombay merchant, who agreed to take on Taylor as an assistant in his Bombay house. Mr Baxter’s ‘splendid’ lifestyle in England impressed Taylor’s family, and it was with high prospects that Meadows Taylor left Greenwich on the Upton Castle on 15 April 1824, fully confident that he would soon return rich and prosperous as a partner in Baxter’s house. He would turn sixteen within a month of arrival in India.
Mr Baxter’s ‘great house’ proved to be a small retail shop on the verge of bankruptcy, but through Taylor’s contact with his mother’s cousin William Newnham, then Chief Secretary to the Bombay Government, he was able to find alternative employment. Mr Newnham, through the help of Sir Charles Metcalfe, then Resident at Hyderabad, arranged a commission for Taylor in the Nizam of Hyderabad’s army. It was an unlikely transition but, on 5 December 1824, Taylor, now Lieutenant in the 6th Infantry of the Nizam’s Service, arrived in Aurangabad to join his regiment.
The eighteenth century had seen the fragmentation and decline of the Moghul Empire and a corresponding increase in British power and dominance in India. Individual struggles to control power in, and to command the treasury of, sections of this fragmenting empire were common and indeed were one of the main reasons the British were able to consolidate power in India with such ease. Ambitious princes would seek British aid in their eagerness to topple rivals standing in their way, or to protect their fiefdoms from attack by equally ambitious enemies. The British, eager to safeguard and expand their dominance in trade, were not hesitant in their help. Ultimately the price for such aid included trading concessions, yearly payments of large tributes, or certain rights to indirect control of the states.5
Hyderabad was one of the principal independent Indian states which came in this way to be indirectly controlled by the British. The British presence in Hyderabad was a result of eighteenth-century alliances and treaties initially made to counter the increasing power and encroachment in the Deccan of the French and of the Mysorean ruler Tipu Sultan. The four Mysorean wars, waged against Tipu Sultan between 1767 and 1799 by the British and the Hyderabad and Marathan states and, prior to 1782, against Tipu’s father Haidar Ali, resulted in a ‘subsidiary treaty’ between the East India Company and Hyderabad. This agreement offered British security to the state by providing for the establishment of a special Hyderabad military contingent, separate from official Company control but officered by British men and funded by the Nizam. A British Resident was established in the court and British administrators were used to organize and run the territories acquired by the Nizam in the wars against Tipu Sultan, and subsequently ceded to the British in 1800 to cover the Nizam’s military costs.
The British Resident advised the ruler and supervised the British officers employed in the Nizam’s administration. The system through which British officers directed the Nizam’s army became fully developed after a reorganization of the original ill-kept forces by Henry Russell, Resident at Hyderabad from 1811 to 1820. The army was officered by East India Company military men and by independent recruits appointed by the resident. It was as one of the latter that Meadows Taylor began his career in India.6
Taylor’s informal status caused him much trouble throughout his career: as an uncovcnanted member attached to neither the East India Company’s military nor its civil service, his pay and position were often lower and more restricted than those of his covenanted fellow officers. His position was less sect in- and more dependent on the fluctuations in British relations with the Nizam, and benefits such as extended furloughs to Britain wete generally unavailable to Taylor: his first furlough, in 1837, was granted only through the special intervention of Lord William Bentinck, then Governor General of India
Nevertheless Taylor enjoyed his new life in the Nizam’s army, spending his free time hunting, shooting, riding and associating with the other members of the regiment, among whom was James Outram. He also began learning Persian and Hindustani, and by the middle of 1825 was sufficiently fluent in them to be directed to superintend, record and act as interpreter in regimental courtmartial proceedings. His dedication and hard work soon led to more challenging administrative postings under the patronage of William B Martin, resident of Hyderabad from 1825 to 1830. Between 1826 and 1829 he held such posts as Superintendent of Bazaars at Bolarum and Assistant Superintendent of Police in the South-western districts.
As Taylor’s confidence and interest in his work grew, his personal qualities and talent as an administrator emerged. Several episodes in his autobiography demonstrate Taylor’s singular strength of character and his skill in judging character. One such incident, often quoted as an example of his sense of humour, occurred while Taylor was Superintendent of Bazaars. Reports came in of corrupt flour-sellers in Tuljapur, who were short-changing their customers by adulterating their flour with sand to the point of inedibility. After investigating the matter, Taylor called the sellers together, asked them to weigh out two pounds of their flour, and then ordered them to eat it themselves. In response to their objections he replied, having apparently much difficulty keeping his countenance, “[Y]ou have made many eat your flour, why should you object to eat it yourselves?”7 The subsequent ridicule and loss of face over this episode ensured that the flour sellers had been taught a lesson. A later incident also indicates Taylor’s confident style of work. While assigned to police duty, Taylor had to effect the arrest of a noted brigand, Narrayan Rao, whose stronghold was fiercely guarded by ‘a strong garrison of desperadoes.’8 Accompanied by a detachment of only nine men, Taylor arrived at Rao’s village and demanded to see the man. On being approached by the brigand, Taylor boldly seized him in full view of his men and marched him out without hesitation at spear point. Such audacity must have stunned the onlookers, for it wasn’t until the small group was well clear of the village gate that they reacted and began shooting. By then, however, it was too late, and Taylor and his group made off without injury.
The increasing responsibility of Taylor’s work dampened his initial enthusiasm for the high-spirited company of fellow officers. Taylor’s association with and close observation of Indians and their customs drew out the best in him, and he soon tired of the more conventional amusements of his British contemporaries. ‘I did not enter much into general society at this period,’ he records, because ‘high play was the chief amusement which prevailed, and I never was at that time or ar any time fond of cards, [n]or did I ever play for money, except for the veriest trifle.’9 Taylor seemed especially sensitive to the need to seek mental stimulation outside the mundane cycle of administrative work, and he made much effort to broaden his knowledge in as many areas as he could, including painting, music, and Indian languages and architecture. He relished intellectual contact with people, whether it was through meeting Muslim gentlemen on the main thoroughfares in the evening, and being asked ‘to sit down with them while their carpets were spread, and their attendants brought hookahs,’ or through attending evening gatherings at William Palmer’s house, where the elite of Hyderabad society often mingled.10
William Palmer, whose father, General William Palmer, had served first as military secretary to Warren Hastings and later as Resident at Hyderabad, was for fourteen years in the military service of the Nizam of Hyderabad, after which he turned to banking, founding his own company in 1810. His financial activity brought him into contact with both Indian and European high social circles, and he had extensive dealings with the Nizam. It is fair to assume that, as a result, ‘Palmer was a centre of intrigue both in the city of Hyderabad and in the circles that surrounded the Residency.’11
Taylor does not mention in his autobiography how or when he first met William Palmer, but it is evident that Palmer was an enormous influence in Taylor’s life, advising him on his work, encouraging him in his writings, and serving, rather detrimentally, as Taylor’s financial advisor. Meadows Taylor does state that he made numerous visits to Palmer’s house between 1825 and 1829 where he met those he regarded as ‘the most intelligent members of Hyderabad society, both native and European.’12 Presumably he also met frequently with Palmer’s charming Eurasian daughter Mary, whom a rather caustic contemporary, M.E. Bagnold, described in 1843 as ‘the little Indian queen.’13 Taylor himself makes few substantial comments about her in his autobiography; he refers only briefly to such things as Mary’s frequent illnesses, and the dates of their marriage (1832) and of Maiy’s death (1844).
A word here should be said about Mary’s unusual family background, which provides us with important clues to understanding Taylor’s use of and partiality to the highly idealized Indian heroines of his novels. Although we know very little of Mary Palmer, it is certain that Mary’s grandmother was an Indian princess, a member of the ruling family of Oudh. She became the second wife of General William Palmer, and after his death in 1816 she remained in the household of her son William, the financier, until her death in 1828. Meadows Taylor refers to her in his autobiography as the ‘grand-looking old mother, the Begum Sahib,’ and describes how, on his departure to administer a district in the south-west of India, she ‘blessed me, and tied a rupee in a silk handkerchief round my arm, praying the saints to have me in their holy keeping.’14 This is the only note on Mary’s maternal family that can be found in Taylor’s writings and letters.
The identity of Mary’s mother is an interesting but difficult matter. Sir Patrick Cadell, in his introduction to The Letters of Philip Meadows Taylor to Henry Reeve, states that the younger William Palmer married a European widow in 1848, at the age of sixty-eight. She is described by Reeve’s source as William’s third wife, but it is the only marriage that is recorded, ‘and the number and ages of his children show’ that he had many irregular connexions, while, in those cases in which the names of the mothers of the children were recorded, they are either Moslem or Hindu.’15 Clearly Mary was at least partly of Indian descent, yet her background did not stop Meadows Taylor from marrying her in 1832, nor did it affect his deep feelings for her. In a memoir published in 1886, his cousin insists that Taylor’s love for Mary proved so strong that he forwent a dowry in order to many her. Following Taylor’s engagement to Mary, William Palmer’s banking house had ‘collapsed in the most honourable manner,’ as one commentator noted, due to problems in seeking to reclaim outstanding debts owed by the Nizam of Hyderabad.16 This caused a momentary hitch in Taylor’s marriage plans, as his cousin relates:
Mr. Palmer told Colonel Taylor he had his full permission to relinquish the marriage now that his daughter was portionless. My true-hearted cousin refused to sacrifice his love, and the marriage took place.17
In one of the more emotional passages of Meadows Taylor’s autobiography, written a full thirty years after Mary’s death in 1844, he writes of the ‘open wound’ he felt after she died, which reopened each time he returned to the house he had built especially for Mary and himself. No doubt Taylor is being dramatic and nostalgic in his old age, but the feeling behind the statement seems real. We can assume that their relationship had been a particularly strong and loving one, strong enough to provoke this comment from Taylor:
I determined then, however, to live out my life alone, and that 1 would never seek marriage unth another; and I have kept faith to her who is gone and to myself and shall do so till I die18
This strong statement reflects only part of Taylor’s thoughts at the time, and contrasts with a similar statement in a letter written to Henry Reeve in 1847:
Verily and truly I am alone. Nor will I marry in India. I desire to come home and settle among you and if I be too old then to marry, I will remain as I am.19
It is clear that in 1847 Meadows Taylor still entertained hopes of finding a wife after his retirement and was not as quick to devote himself to his wife’s memory as he suggests in his autobiography.
In 1829 the Nizam Shikander Jah died, and was succeeded by his eldest son Nazir-ud-Dowlah. He and the Chief Minister, Chandu Lai, then demanded the withdrawal of the British from the Hyderabad territory. The Governor-General, Lord William Bentinck, in acceding to the demand, proposed the withdrawal of all English officers in the Nizam’s civil administration, and the abolition of the Nizam Contingent in return for the payment of the very substantial sum of twenty lakhs of rupees. The Nizam agreed to the former decision but balked at the price for abolishing the Contingent; no doubt the Nizam had noted the benefits and lower expense involved in retaining an independent force to safeguard his territorial security.
In any case opportunities for civil administrative duties were now curtailed for Taylor, and he returned to service in his regiment, the 6th Infantry of the Nizam’s Service, at Aurangabad, in 1830, remaining there until 1837 and gaining the rank of Captain in 1835. Upon his return from furlough in 1841, the change to the situation concerning civil posts for European officers having been revoked, he was appointed Political Agent at Shorapur, then ‘a feudatory state under the suzerainty of the Nizam’s Government.’20 As Political Agent he was in the unusual position of being responsible for maintaining order and for preparing the young Rajah (aged seven when Meadows Taylor first arrived at Shorapur) for his eventual succession to power. During his twelve years as Political Agent, Meadows Taylor observed (and claimed to help deter) a power struggle between the Rajah’s mother, the Ranee Ishwarama, and her brother-in-law Pid Naik, regent until die Rajah’s accession in 1853. The insights Meadows Taylor gained into such political josding in Indian states certainly allowed him to detail similar events more authentically in his novels Tara and Seeta. He himself claimed, referring to Tara, that ‘my long residence in an entirely native State, and my intimate acquaintance with the people, their manners, habits, and social organization, gave me opportunities, which I think few Englishmen have ever enjoyed, of roughly understanding native life.’21
Following his residency at Shorapur, which ended shortly after the Rajah came of age and succeeded to power, Meadows Taylor was selected as Deputy Commissioner of a territory near the Bombay residency temporarily ceded by the Nizam. This position arose from a further negotiated settlement between the British authorities and the Nizam, which caused much discussion at the time of its implementation in 1853. The Nizam’s government, suffering from mismanagement and internal conflicts, had reached a point where it could no longer provide funds for the maintenance of the Nizam Contingent. Cession of territory to the British seemed the only solution, one which Meadows Taylor, among others, had advocated a few years earlier, and the districts of Berar, Nuldrug and Raichore were given over to British administration. Taylor was assigned to administer the Nuldaig district, which he did until 1857, when he was ordered to hold North Berar during the upheaval of that year.22 In 1858 Meadows Taylor returned to Shorapur, which he administered until his early retirement due to ill health in I860. He spent the next fifteen years writing in Dublin, only returning to India for a short visit on the invitation of the Hyderabad minister Salar Jung, in 1875. He died, and was buried, in Mentone on the voyage home on 13 May 1876.
In 1833 Taylor had an article on Thuggism published in the New Monthly Magazine. The interest this article generated led Meadows Taylor to write his first book, Confessions of a Thug. The editor of New Monthly Magazine at the time of the publication of the Thug article, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, suggested that Taylor try writing a novel on Thuggism, and in 1835 Taylor began work on it. The novel was inspired by an early encounter with a former Thug, whom Taylor mentions briefly in a footnote to his article. Estimating the number of deaths caused yearly by Thugs, Taylor noted:
Ameer Ali, an approver and noted Thug, now at this place, declares and glories in having been present at the murder of 719 persons, whose property is estimated at two lacs and a half of rupees!23
Thuggism had attracted Taylor’s attention long before the subject became well known through Colonel William Sleeman’s efforts in the 1830s. Taylor claims in his autobiography to have been aware of Thuggee activities during his time as Assistant Superintendent of Police in the Southwest district of India between 1826 and 1829. Towards the end of his tenure, Taylor began investigating discoveries of recently dug graves which held victims of stranglings, and these led him to query the hasty passage through his district of parties of Indian Muslims purportedly selling various trinkets and goods. In the middle of his enquiries Taylor was ordered to rejoin his regiment at Hingolee, causing him to comment that, had he been allowed to stay, ‘I should have been the first to disclose the horrible crime of Thuggee to the world; but it fell to the good fortune of Major Sleeman to do so afterwards.’24 His investigations, although unfulfilled, fired his imagination and for a time, Taylor claims, the subject haunted him. ‘Why,’ Taylor mused, ‘should so many men follow the same calling? Where did they go? Were they speaking truth?’25 Such questions recurred in 1833 when Taylor interrogated several suspected Thugs in his district denounced by approvers captured by Sleeman:
Day after day I recorded tales of murder, which, though horribly monotonous, possessed an intense interest; and as fast as new approvers came in, new mysteries were unravelled and new crimes confessed.26
Taylor now felt vindicated in his earlier suspicions of the presence of Thuggee activities in his area; but he could not help expressing some resentment of Sleeman, exclaiming that he felt ‘sore that it had not fallen to my lot to win the fame of the affair.’27 Taylor was, however, to win fame instead for his depiction of the exploits of the Thug Ameer Ali.
Taylor finished writing Confessions of a Thug before sailing on leave for England in 1838, Stopping at Malta along the way, Taylor had his cousin, Mrs Sarah Austin, read through the manuscript. Getting the manuscript to her through Maltese customs and quarantine restrictions proved a difficult matter, as Taylor relates:
She was about to start for England, and asked me to give her my MS, to look over on her journey. I did so; but the three volumes were first scored through with knives, then smoked with sulphur till the ink turned pale, and finally delivered to her, by means of a pair of long tongs, through a narrow slit in the grating!28
Through Mrs Austin’s help, Taylor had the book published, after much cutting and revising, by Richard Bentley in 1839. Taylor proudly reported that the interest in his book was high enough to include even the Queen, who his publishers reported ‘had directed sheets, as they were revised, to be sent to her – and, having become interested in the work, wished for further supplies as soon as possible.’29
Confessions of a Thug was an immediate success on publication, going through two editions in four months. It was still being reprinted and selling well at the turn of the century. Between 1887 and 1897 Kegan, Paul, Trench & Trubner reprinted it four times and sold over 5000 copies as part of their Colonial Series. Its early success prompted Richard Bentley to commission another novel from Taylor on eighteenth-century British clashes with the Mysorean prince Tipu Sultan, purposely producing what was, in essence, a sequel to an earlier novel on the same subject by Sir Walter Scott. The result, Tippoo Sultaun, proved equally successful although not as lasting in appeal as Taylor’s first work. These early works all dealt with colourful and notorious Indian characters, events and phenomena, and were combined with Meadows Taylor’s firsthand knowledge and description of Indian landscape and characters. At their best they recalled the style of the historical romances of Walter Scott, and for this reason Taylor was dubbed by many ‘the Scott of India’.
In November 1840 Meadows Taylor returned to India after a three-year furlough in Britain. His time in Britain had been pleasant and profitable from a social and literary standpoint. He had spent his time at home giving lectures, writing Tippoo Sultaun and a ninety-page article on India, and attending parties where he met many major literary and political figures of the time. It is not surprising that Taylor left Britain with mixed feelings about his future in India. ‘How was I to go on?’ he recalls in his autobiography,
Was I to rejoin my regiment, and continue its dull routine of duties, or was a fresh career before me? My mind was filled with speculations on these and many other points.30
Shortly after his arrival in India, Meadows Taylor began work on a new novel based on an idea he had worked out in Britain. While visiting relatives in Scotland in 1839, Meadows Taylor met with Professor John Wilson, then one of the most important editors and contributors of Blackwood’s Magazine. Wilson encouraged him to start work on a possible series of works based on key events in Indian history. Taylor gave it some thought and after his return to India reported in a letter to Henry Reeve, a cousin and close friend, dated 24 August 1841, that he had begun ‘a Tale of the time of Sivajee (sic) the founder of the Mahratta power.’31 This was to become the novel Tara, set in 1657. In late September he was still working on it, although his initial enthusiasm had been dampened by his administrative activities and by the weather. ‘My book progresses slowly,’ he wrote on 26 September, ‘but progresses; one cannot write in such mugginess as we have had with any comfort.’32 Shortly afterwards Taylor abandoned the work. He was not to return to it until after his retirement in I860.
In his autobiography, Taylor describes how he restarted work on the novel. With the help as amanuensis of Mrs Cashel Hoey, later to become a popular and prolific writer of novels and reviews, he set out to sketch the entire plot in one afternoon:
We went together to my study, and locked the door, and there for six hours we worked at it, she writing in total silence, and a perfect sketch of the whole tale was made, the details of which were filled up afterwards.33
After this bold start, Meadows Taylor was soon able to complete the work and begin the search for a publisher.
Because of the interest initially shown by Blackwood and Sons in his work, Meadows Taylor approached them in early 1862 about the possibility of publication. Identifying himself as the author of Confessions of a Thug., Meadows Taylor enquired whether it would suit them ‘to publish a work of fiction, the scene of which is in India, & illustrative of Native manners and customs – in your magazine.’34) Receiving no reply to this enquiry, he then approached Richard Bentley, publisher of his earlier works. Mr Bentley sent the work to be reviewed by one of his main readers, Geraldine Jewsbury who, although finding the material handed in well written, felt there would be insufficient interest in its foreign and unusual content among the reading public to justify publishing it. ‘I do not think you could find a sufficient public to read or feel an interest in a story that turns mainly on the complications of native Indian intrigues amongst themselves,’ she wrote in a letter to Mr Bentley on 26 January 1863.35 Her final comments echoed later criticisms of the work:
The interest turns on half barbarous political intrigues touched up by a little love and abduction like an old border raid, but the interest is not strong enough nor the scenes vivid nor sufficiently exciting to overcome the indolence of general readers who, when they read a novel cannot be troubled to learn strange hard names and strange intricate geography.36
Geraldine Jewsbury ended her note by warning Mr Bentley, ‘It would not pay you to take the book so don’t do it.’37 Despite this, Mr Bentley offered Taylor £300 for a first edition of 1250 copies, and a similar amount for any subsequent editions. Taylor was not satisfied with this and turned once more to Blackwood’s in March 1863, when the work was almost completed, in hopes of a better offer. This time Meadows Taylor stressed the novelty of his work and his peculiar knowledge of India. He even claimed to be the only writer working in this area:
There is no European element whatsoever in the story which, like a former work by me Confessions of a Thug; belongs to the people of India Hindus and Mahommedans only my life has been almost exclusively passed among them since that book was written, but perhaps without matured experience, and during this period, no one, that I am aware of, has ventured into the field which was then exclusively my own. (BP. MS. 4186, f 90)
The head of the firm, John Blackwood, replied in a lukewarm manner, and Meadows Taylor must have felt rather disheartened by the first line of his note, which expressed reservations similar to those in Geraldine Jewsbury’s appraisal of Tara:
We fear that your Indian novel without any European element will be almost too strange in its materials to prove interesting to the general reader for a series of parts in our magazine. (BP. Acc. 5643, vol. D4, p. 370)
Mr Blackwood did, however, express an interest in reading the manuscript, and Meadows Taylor promptly sent him the first volume.
On perusing this, John Blackwood was less than entirely convinced of its future success, even though he admired the style. For him the main obstacle was still its unfamiliar content. As he wrote back to Meadows Taylor on May 2, 1863, ‘The descriptions are good & the incidents striking & vividly told but I fear that there is for the English reader a fatal want of human interest about the characters.’ (BP. Acc. 5643, vol. D4, p. 383) Taylor responded quickly, suggesting the work was not as alien as Mr Blackwood supposed. ‘I cannot,’ he wrote, ‘it is true, invest the Tale with modern interest -but I think my people would be found at least human: not very unlike ourselves perhaps in display of passions, and yet sufficiently strange from differences of creed and race, to admit of a new phase of illustrative fiction.’ (BP. MS. 4186, f. 100) This notion was to be one of Meadows Taylor’s main arguments in favour of publication throughout his long correspondence with Blackwood. What it suggests is that Taylor hoped to use his novels as an illustration of his own views on India’s distinctiveness and thus as a means of educating people about India and its customs. ‘Are Indian subjects to be tabooed?’ he asks, and further observes:
I think and find that people at home want familiar knowledge of the natives and the country and that learned essays delightful though they may be as Mr. Patersons, can only be endured by one class of students – I find people here entertained by familiar matters about India in the simple lectures I occasionally give here as an amateur, and the reason why the shoemakers son could not propose to the carpenters daughter, though involving the highest principles of caste discussion, seemed to be perfectly intelligible even to my lady auditors. (BP. MS. 4186, f. 101)
Whether Taylor’s argument convinced him or, more probably, whether the clear and strong writing in the novel impressed John Blackwood, he was persuaded ultimately to undertake the publication of Tara. In late May of 1863, after two months of discussion. Blackwood’s made Taylor an offer of £300 for an edition of 1000 copies and an extra £50 upon the edition being sold out, and £200 for every 500 copies printed and sold subsequent to this. This being a better offer than Richard Bentley’s, Meadows Taylor accepted it and Tara was published by Blackwood’s in October 1863.
The work was a critical success but sold moderately: by late January 1864 750 copies had been bought, but soon after Taylor received a note from John Blackwood, once again voicing his conviction that the alienness of the material had hampered public reception of the work. ‘It is a very small sale from a book that has been so well received,’ he wrote, ‘but the names or the utter unacquaintance of the public with the whole subject were a barrier to anything like general popularity.’ (BP. Acc. 5643, D5, p. 68) Having said this, and having anticipated perhaps being ‘left in the lurch with only a sale of a few hundreds,’ John Blackwood expressed himself well pleased that it had sold as well as it did. (ibid) Soon afterwards, in fact, he helped negotiate a Tauchnitz edition of Tara, which was published in 1864, for which Meadows Taylor received £25. (Tara was subsequently reprinted by other publishers in 1874, 1881, 1884, and 1888, which merely proved its durability and continuing, if somewhat low keyed, appeal.)
Meadows Taylor was struck by the thought that intervals of 100 years seemingly separated major historical events in India. He came to see Tara as the first in a planned trilogy of novels to be written to illustrate the key events he had in mind: 1) the rise of a united Maratha challenge to Mughal authority over North India under the guidance of the Marathan leader Sivaji in the late 1650s; 2) the beginning of British dominance in India signalled by the battle at Plassey in 1757; and 3) the repercussions of the Indian Mutiny in 1857.
Shortly after the publication of Tara, Meadows Taylor began thinking about the second novel of the trilogy, which was to incorporate not only the Battle of Plassey but also the infamous ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ incident. He first approached John Blackwood about its publication in late July of 1864, remarking that the subject ‘admits of much dramatic treatment, nor has anyone ventured upon it before.’ (BP, Ms. 4194, ff. 24-25) In late August Blackwood responded by offering to publish the as yet unwritten work on the same financial terms as had been offered for Tara. Taylor agreed to this and managed to finish Ralph Darnell on 16 August 1865, after much delay due to other commitments and sporadic ill health.
Taylor was aware that his new work was not as well written as his previous novel. ‘He is not Tara,’ Taylor writes on 19 August, ‘but perhaps he is more after the taste of the millions of novel readers, and their sympathies will be more with him, than with Tara.’ (BP. Ms. 4205, ff. 37-38) Taylor’s feelings about the work’s weakness may have prompted his asking whether it would not do better as a series in Blackwood’s Magazine. Certainly the work lacked the crisp details of his previous works. That two thirds of the work was set in England was also detrimental; they showed Taylor at his worst, plodding through uninspired characterisations of eighteenth century English life. (The effect of this section is apparent in an early twentieth-century Indian abridgement of the work, where the English section is cut out altogether.) It should be noted that it was only with much reservation that Taylor initially decided to incorporate such material in the story. For him it was the only way of answering critics of Tara, almost all of whom had suggested Taylor should produce Indian material the public could identify with. ‘We have too little sympathy with the feelings of Orientals in our own day to be touched with the sorrows and rejoicings of their remote ancestors,’suggested one reviewer, who subsequently admonished Taylor to ‘choose his subject from his own country and his own time if he cares that his work should be very widely popular. ‘38 Another critic stressed that such foreign topics were of no use unless they were linked to European interests. ‘The great masters of the historical novel,’ the reviewer exclaimed, specifically pointing to Scott, ‘have always been most careful to select their themes among those which, however distant, bear upon some matter of home interest, and illustrate some event already familiar through tragic or historic features of its own.’39 Taylor seemed a bit resentful that the public did not share his excitement about Indian history. In a letter to William Blackwood, on 28 October 1865, Taylor explained:
It was not without much consideration that I began the English portion of it; and that too only in deference to the public taste. I only hope I may not have them wrong: but there is necessarily much more force and picturesqueness in Indian scenes & character if the public would only take the trouble to think so! But we shall see. (BP. Ms. 4205, ff. 55-56)
Comments from the Blackwood firm on Ralph Darnell were muted. In fact, John Blackwood forwent reading the manuscript until it was in the proof stage since, as he commented to Taylor, ‘I have perfect confidence that you will always write like a man of sense.’ (BP. Acc. 5643, Vol. D5, p. 371) Despite his confidence, the work was a failure on its publication in November 1865. By the end of 1866 only 284 copies had been sold, and it would take another 14 years for the original edition of 1050 copies to sell out. The novel’s lack of success was not solely due to the waiting; in fact contemporary reviews were in general very favourable and urged Taylor to continue exploring Indian subjects holding similar British interest. Ralph Darnell‘s failure to sell was due more to its initial format as an expensive ‘triple-decker’ novel: William Blackwood acknowledged this in a letter written several years later, explaining that, although both Tara and Ralph Darnell had deserved more success than they received, ‘The scenes & pictures of life they described were too strange & unfamiliar to interest the general public and so cause a demand on the libraries as no one now ever dreams of buying a 3 volume novel.’ (BP,Acc. 5643, vol. D8: 121-122) Ralph Darnell‘s subsequent publisher, Kegan Paul & Co., had more success selling it in cheaper one volume editions: between 1879 and 1900 3900 copies were sold out of the approximately 5700 copies printed by their firm.
The failure of Ralph Darnell, although a setback for Taylor, did not dent his determination to complete the trilogy of Indian novels. On 2 September 1866 Taylor was writing to William Blackwood of his next work, eventually published as Seeta: ‘I am thinking on the subject of 1857, but it is incomparably the most difficult of the series.’ (BP. Ms. 4216, ff. 5-7) Continued illness and unexpected labour on other projects, such as a study of Indian history published in 1870, prevented further work on the ‘Mutiny’ novel until 1871.
On 22 July 1871, Taylor completed a synopsis of his ‘Mutiny’ novel, which he sent off to Blackwood’s the next day. In the letter accompanying the sketch, he remarked that the work would use the mutiny as the background for a tale involving interracial marriage, in this case between an English district officer and an Indian woman whom Taylor initially named ‘Savitsee’. (Her name was meant as a direct reference to an Indian legend whose heroine, Savitri, died in order to save her husband.) The heroine was to be an ‘Indian girl full of life and energy, passionate in her love, perhaps capricious and petulant at times, but devoted -even to death.’ (BP. Ms. 4283, ff. 16-19) The Blackwood firm took its time deciding on the work, and it was not until December that they wrote back to Taylor turning down the publication of the novel. The heroine was subsequently renamed Seeta and the work finished in June 1872. The novel Seeta was eventually published in three volumes by Henry S. King in January 1873. Sales and critical response proved strong enough to warrant republication that same year in a cheaper one-volume edition, and the work remained in print through to the end of the nineteenth century.
A Noble Queen was Taylor’s last novel, completed in the winter of 1874. Initially serialised in 1875 in both The Overland Mail and The Week’s News, it was published posthumously in 1878. once more Taylor turned to the Indian setting he knew best, the Deccan, for inspiration, grounding the work in sixteenth-century Indian history. And once again Taylor centred his work on a strong, idealized Indian heroine, Queen Chand Bibi, who dies defending her state against invasion by Mughal armies. The work marked a weak end to Taylor’s career; the calibre of the writing is uneven, due in part to Taylor’s chronic ill health during the period of its composition, and the dialogue, never Taylor’s strong point, is weak and stilted. Nevertheless the work, like Seeta, proved consistent in its sales and was frequently reprinted until the turn of the century.
Taylor did not confine his writing solely to fiction; during his time in India he contributed to newspapers and reviews both in India and England (it should be noted that from 1841 to 1853 Taylor was an official India correspondent for the Times in London), and following his retirement in 1860 he continued to contribute articles to journals such as The Edinburgh Review, Fraser’s Magazine, and The Athenaeum. Taylor’s interest in and knowledge of India and its people led to commissions for letterpresses to accompany various projects on India; these included introductions to works on architecture in various parts of the Deccan region, and summaries for several volumes of photographs of the people of India, produced for the British Museum between 1868 and 1875. It was perhaps inevitable that Taylor, with such projects to his credit, was asked to write a history of India aimed at students, which he completed in 1870. The work, A Student’s Manual of the History of India from the Earliest Period to the Present, was published in 1871 by Longmans. Public opinion varied as to its usefulness. Some critics welcomed the work as a compact and knowledgeable examination of the country’s history. Other contemporary critics, however, found Taylor’s attempt to compress thousands of years of Indian history into one volume difficult to follow, and noted many historical inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the writing.
Taylor achieved more success with the papers he presented in Ireland and Britain on engineering, archaeology, architecture, Indian music and literature: his self-taught skills in such areas impressed those who heard him. Indications of his success in these areas can be seen from the honours bestowed upon him: the Institute of Civil Engineers of Ireland not only elected him a member of their society but also granted him a diploma in civil engineering; likewise the Royal Irish Academy made him a life member of their society, one minor honour was awarded him in October 1865, when he was made a Justice of Peace in Dublin, an honorary title allowing him to hear minor cases. Taylor’s highest honour came, however, in June 1869 when he was made a Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India at the personal request of Queen Victoria. There are no other records to indicate further honours bestowed on Taylor, which brings up the question of his designation as ‘Colonel’, seen in most editions of his works after 1863. The highest rank Taylor reached in the Nizam’ s service was captain-commandant, which he held from 1843 until his retirement, and in receiving the Star of India he was gazetted as captain, which must indicate that Taylor attained no further official promotion. His subsequent use of the rank of Colonel has since puzzled many commentators, who suggest that this was perhaps an informal gesture among old officers of the Nizam’s Service, who felt their work deserved more recognition from the British government. Taylor’s only comment on this comes in a letter to John Blackwood on 27 June 1863 discussing its use on the title page. He explains that the appellation, although not official, is validated by the pension he receives: ‘I am only colonel by courtesy and in virtue of the pension I have as full colonel after 36 years service, so I do not exactly know whether I am warranted in assuming it in the title page of the book.’ (BP. Ms. 4186, ff. 114-115) Despite this, it was used in most subsequent editions of his works.
Taylor’s final major work was his autobiography, which he completed in early 1874. A work of ‘transparent truthfulness’, in one contemporary’s view, it was published posthumously by Blackwood & Sons in October 1877, after much editing by Taylor’s daughter, Alice Meadows Taylor. Taylor had sent Blackwood’s the first volume in January of 1875, after rejecting an initial offer by Henry S. King & Co. of £150 for the first edition, with a ten shillings royalty for any succeeding copies sold. By July of the same year Taylor had lost his eyesight, which prompted his decision to accept an invitation to visit India in September. A few days before leaving England, Taylor forwarded the second volume of his work to Blackwood for review. After Taylor’s death the task of revising the work was taken on by his daughter who, with the help of Henry Reeve, who wrote the introduction, was able to finish work on it in early 1877. Blackwood’s initial publication offer was even lower than Henry S. King’s: £50 with subsequent profits, once sales cleared cost and expenses, to be divided between Alice Taylor and the publishers. After strong objections to this from Henry Reeve, the offer was amended to £100 for the first edition, with royalties on subsequent editions to be divided equally between the two parties.
Upon publication the work sold extremely well, going through four editions in four years. It was widely reviewed and highly praised. The general consensus is perhaps best seen in the one-line summary of the Fortnightly Review, which called it, ‘Memoirs of a great Indian administrator on a small scale.’40 It was perhaps with this in mind that reviewers urged prospective civil servants to purchase the book before embarking on the voyage to India.
Certainly Taylor’s autobiography was, and still is, the most accessible of his works, due to the simple and unpretentious manner of the writing. Taylor’s life, full of incident and an example of persistence and honest endeavour, translated well in print. But a student of literature can only wonder what Taylor’s life might have been had he remained in England in 1840, on the expiration of his furlough, and developed the potential seen in his first work Confessions of a Thug. It is possible that had this occurred, Taylor’s literary reputation might be very different today: instead of being labelled a minor author of historical romances, he might have become the writer to rival Rudyard Kipling for preeminence in nineteenth-century British writing on India.
And now a few lines regarding this bibliography, which has developed from my doctoral research on Taylor’s life and works. Only a handful of studies of Taylor’s works have appeared since Taylor’s death in 1876, the most substantial of these being a full length study by G.S. Mansukhani published in 1951. This out-of-print work, plus a bibliographic checklist published in 1971, and Brijen K. Gupta’s annotated bibliographic survey of ‘Anglo-Indian’ fiction, India in English Fiction, 1800-1970, are the only bibliographic sources available on Taylor’s writings. All of these, however, while important sources of information, contain errors and omissions which mar their scholastic value.
The purpose of this bibliography, then, is to correct the problems found in these and other studies, and to present the first comprehensive bibliographic study yet published on Taylor’s work. It includes information on the various editions of Taylor’s works, including previously unnoted German, French, and Indian dialect translations, complete listings of his minor works, his articles, reviews and short stories, and a listing of works on Taylor’s life and fiction. Previously unknown or unnoticed pieces by Taylor, in particular his small output of short fiction, have been identified, and, thanks to the Wellesley Guide to Periodicals, an invaluable reference source no one should be without, it has also been possible to note in full articles by Taylor in the Edinburgh Review and Fraser’s Magazine.
The listings of reviews of Taylor’s works, which appear near the end of the study, while quite extensive, are not as comprehensive as I would have wished. My search for publication entries was hampered by the simple fact that many journals, particularly those published in India, were unobtainable. The sources I did find, however, were the result of much help from the staff at the British Library’s Newspaper branch in Colindale, London, the Edinburgh University Library, and the National Library of Scotland. I am grateful to them for their time and their efforts on my behalf. I would also like to thank Dr Dennis Walder for providing me with a copy of his introduction, prior to publication, to the Pluto Press reprint of Taylor’s autobiography. It has proven of great value to me, as has the advice of my supervisors Dr Tom Barron and Paul Edwards of Edinburgh University. I must also thank Dr Peter Edwards for his patience and help in developing this project, and lastly I must extend my thanks and gratitude to my father for providing me with much needed financial and mental support during the past three years.
One final, important note. I wish to thank the Keepers of Records of the National Library of Scotland and the British Library for permission to quote from letters in the Blackwood Papers and Bentley Papers collections respectively.
- Taylor, Philip Meadows, The Story of My Life, 2nd ed., 1878, 3. [↩]
- Ibid, 7. [↩]
- Ibid, 8. [↩]
- Ibid, 9. [↩]
- For a detailed discussion on the subject see Eric Stokes’ The English Utilitarians and India. [↩]
- For a detailed history of the development of the Nizam’s contingent in the first half of the nineteenth century, see the anonymously written “Hyderabad: – The Nizam’ s Contingent,” Calcutta Review, 11.21 (Jan 1849): 141-219. [↩]
- Taylor, 45. [↩]
- Ibid, 48. [↩]
- Ibid, 38. [↩]
- Ibid, 37. [↩]
- Cadell, Sir Patrick, ed., The Letters of Philip Meadows Taylor to Henry Reeve, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947, XVIII. [↩]
- Taylor, 37. [↩]
- Cadell, XIX. [↩]
- Taylor, 39-40. [↩]
- Cadell, XX. [↩]
- Ibid, XVII. [↩]
- Philip Meadows Taylor of Le Mas D’Azil, A Memoir of the Family of Taylor of Norwich, London, 1886, 8. [↩]
- Taylor, The Story of My Life, 240-241. [↩]
- Cadell, 270. [↩]
- Ibid, XXL [↩]
- Taylor, The Story of My Life, 456. [↩]
- Following the suppression of the ‘mutiny’, the ceded districts were returned to the Nizam and a large proportion of his debts to the British was rescinded in appreciation of his loyalty to the British during the troubles. [↩]
- New Monthly Magazine, 38 (1833): 286. [↩]
- Taylor, The Story of My life, 57. [↩]
- Ibid [↩]
- Ibid, 72. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Ibid, 101. [↩]
- Ibid, 106. [↩]
- Ibid, 112. [↩]
- Cadell, 32. [↩]
- Ibid. 38. [↩]
- Taylor, The Story of My Life, 456-57. [↩]
- Blackwood Papers, Ms 4765, f 1. (Note: all further references to the Blackwood Papers are noted in brackets in the text as BP. [↩]
- Bentley Papers, Ms 46656, ff 200. [↩]
- Ibid, Ms 46656, ff 201. [↩]
- Ibid [↩]
- Times, 5 Nov 1863: 12. [↩]
- The Saturday Review, 31 Oct 1863: 587. [↩]
- Fortnightly Review, XXII (1 Nov 1877): 730. [↩]