In now reproducing the three series of notes on the Indian Mutiny written by DE QUINCEY for me in Titan, I must advert briefly to the agony of apprehension under which the two earlier chapters were written. I can never forget the intense anxiety with which he studied daily the columns of The Scotsman and The Times, looking wistfully for tidings from Roorkhee where his daughter FLORENCE was shut up. The father’s heart was on the rack until news arrived that the little garrison was saved.
The following paragraph from a letter written to his daughter EMILY on Sunday, December 1st, 1857, will give some idea of the tension of that terrible suspense:–
‘INDIA.–Up to the last mail but one (or briefly in its Latin form, up to the penultimate mail), I suffered in my nervous system to an extent that (except once, in 1812) had not experimentally been made known to me as a possibility. Every night, oftentimes all night long, I had the same dream–a vision of children, most of them infants, but not all, the first rank being girls of five and six years old, who were standing in the air outside, but so as to touch the window; and I heard, or perhaps fancied that I heard, always the same dreadful word Delhi, not then knowing that a word even more dreadful— Cawnpore–was still in arrear. This fierce shake to my nerves caused almost from the beginning a new symptom to expose itself (of which previously I never had the faintest outline), viz. somnambulism; and now every night, to my great alarm, I wake up to find myself at the window, which is sixteen feet from the nearest side of the bed. The horror was unspeakable from the hell-dog Nena or Nana; how if this fiend should get hold of FLORENCE or her baby (now within seventeen days of completing her half year)? What first gave me any relief was a good firm-toned letter, dated Rourkee, in the public journals, from which it was plain that Rourkee had found itself able to act aggressively.’
Anglo-Indian authorities seem to spell this word in four different ways.–H. ]
DE QUINCEY had reason to be proud of his son-in-law, COLONEL BAIRD SMITH, whose varied and brilliant services, culminating at the siege of Delhi, are written in the pages of SIR JOHN KAYE’S and COLONEL MALLESON’S History of the Sepoy War.
On that fateful day at Delhi, when so much hung upon the decision as to whether the British should hold the ground they had won in the first assault, it is not too much to say that ‘the splendid obstinacy’ of BAIRD SMITH practically saved India.
I throw together a few passages from the thrilling pages where the story is told–sufficient to enable the reader who comes fresh to the subject, to understand what manner of man this gallant engineer was who made his mark on British India.
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Rurki (or Roorkhee) was the head-quarters of the Engineering Science of the country. When the news came of the Delhi massacre, BAIRD SMITH instantly made ‘admirable arrangements for the defence of the great engineering depot, in which he took such earnest and loving interest. Officially, he was superintendent of irrigation in the north-western provinces–a most useful functionary, great in all the arts of peace, and with a reputation which any man might be proud to possess. But the man of much science now grew at once into the man of war, and Rurki became a garrison under his command. Not an hour was lost.’
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