Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Queen's Empire, or Ind and Her Pearl / Joseph Moore -- Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1886.

Travel logs can be quite entertaining, but when they were written long ago, one not only gets a glimpse of the visited world, but one gets a glimpse of the traveler's world. This is certainly true of The Queen's Empire by Joseph Moore. Moore opens his narrative by telling us how he indignantly protested the lack of adequate food service on a slow train trip in Colorado. The vignette sets the stage for reading the account of a haughty American traveler, making his way from London to Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka.) Along the way we see his racism, classism, and ethnocentrism, along with a healthy dose of anglophilia. It's a stark reminder of the attitudes current in the privileged classes in late 19th century America.

Nonetheless, Moore gives a fascinating account of his travels in Italy, Egypt, India, and Ceylon, especially the latter two countries. His travels in India take him from Bombay to Dehli, and across the country to Calcutta. He gives lucid accounts of the people and sights along the way, including the Taj Mahal, temples, and a British fort. From Calcutta, he travels north to Darjeeling and the Himalayas where he spends a week at the foot of Kanchinjanga, the world's second highest mountain. Finally, he travels by steamer down the eastern coast of India, stopping at Madras and continuing to Ceylon.

Throughout the account, Moore gives special attention to the religious views, rites, and customs he encounters, particularly those of Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Perhaps his most vivid writing comes at the very end of the book, where he describes the capture of wild elephants in Ceylon. The captors (with the cooperation of tame elephants) patiently herd the elephants to an encloser where two ropes are tied around their back legs. In time, they are chained to a tame elephant and taken away for sale.

In the process, Moore describes the death of one man and two elephants. The man, of course, is crushed by an angry elephant. Of the elephants, one received a mortal wound from a rifle. Here is Moore's description of the death of the other: the elephant "writhed, screamed, tore at the foliage, pawed the earth, tossed clouds of dust over her back, flung her trunk about fiercely, and planted her head upon the ground for leverage to rend asunder the bonds. At length she fell, in exhaustion, anguish, and despair, and lay motionless and resigned. The natives well knew that these symptoms forebode the loss of their prize. She panted for an hour or more, sighed deeply, and died--of 'broken heart.'"

Moore's engaging prose is accompanied by drawings and photographs on 52 plates and a fine foldout map of India and Ceylon.

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