Anglophone Poetry in Colonial India, 1780-1913
A Critical Anthology
Publication Year: 2011
Anglophone Poetry in Colonial India, 1780–1913: A Critical Anthology makes accessible for the first time the entire range of poems written in English on the subcontinent from their beginnings in 1780 to the watershed moment in 1913 when Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Mary Ellis Gibson establishes accurate texts for such well-known poets as Toru Dutt and the early Indian English poet Kasiprasad Ghose. The anthology brings together poets who were in fact colleagues, competitors, and influences on each other. The historical scope of the anthology, beginning with the famous Orientalist Sir William Jones and the anonymous “Anna Maria” and ending with Indian poets publishing in fin-de-siècle London, will enable teachers and students to understand what brought Kipling early fame and why at the same time Tagore’s Gitanjali became a global phenomenon. Anglophone Poetry in Colonial India, 1780–1913 puts all parties to the poetic conversation back together and makes their work accessible to American audiences.
With accurate and reliable texts, detailed notes on vocabulary, historical and cultural references, and biographical introductions to more than thirty poets, this collection will significantly reshape the understanding of English language literary culture in India. It allows scholars to experience the diversity of poetic forms created in this period and to understand the complex religious, cultural, political, and gendered divides that shaped them.
Published by: Ohio University Press
Title Page / Copyright / Dedication
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This book has accrued many debts, personal and professional, to friends and family, to scholars whom I know well, and to those whom I scarcely know at all. I want to express here my gratitude to several scholars who are pioneering new ways of understanding English language literature in India. I owe more than I can acknowledge to Priya Joshi, Rimi Chatterjee, Tricia...
A Note on Names
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Aside from the acknowledgments and mentions of contemporary cities where I follow current usage, I have followed the nineteenth-century convention in naming Indian cities. Thus, instead of Kolkata, Mumbai, and...
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In 1799, a British officer took it upon himself to catalog and celebrate “the most distinguished men of the Asiatic Society” of Calcutta. The society, then just fifteen years old, had already changed the landscape of European literature, giving impetus to a new kind of orientalism in British poetry. British verse, imbued with orientalist tropes and...
Sir William Jones
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When he stepped from the Crocodile onto a Calcutta ghat in 1783, Sir William Jones was thirty-seven years old and already a distinguished jurist and scholar of classical languages. Jones (1746–1794) was to live in India for only a dozen years, but he had a profound effect on the European understanding of oriental languages, on British...
Sir John Horsford
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When he was twenty years old, John Horsford (1751–1817) abruptly gave up a fellowship at Oxford and enlisted as “John Rover” in the Bengal Artillery. Within weeks he was aboard the Duke of Grafton, bound for India. Why Horsford abandoned Oxford is not entirely clear, though he did claim that the pursuit of poetry “ruined” him. His biographer...
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To this early poet of British India we can attach no de0nite name, no parentage, no dates of birth and death. Of all the English language poets in eighteenth-century India, Anna Maria remains the most resistant to identification. We can specify her probable social class, her education in Latin and modern European languages, and her literary tastes, and we...
Lady Maria Nugent
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Lady Maria Nugent (1770/1–1834) became after her marriage a prolific diarist. Although she was born in America, where her father was the advocate general of New Jersey, Maria Skinner soon accompanied her family to England. Her father, who had been the speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, had declined an offer to remain in office at independence. Although...
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John Leyden (1775–1811) set out to be a minister in the Church of Scotland, but his voice from the pulpit was so unpleasant, his person so unprepossessing, and his spirit of adventure so strong that he went to India instead. His Indian appointment meant that despite his divinity degrees and his years as a tutor in Scotland, Leyden needed to complete a rapid...
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James Atkinson (1780–1852) was a man of many trades. By turns a portrait painter, medical doctor, chemist (as assay master of the Calcutta mint), scholar of Persian, poet, and travel writer, he lived in India for more than thirty-five years. Born in Darlington in the north of England, he studied medicine at Edinburgh and afterward in London. At the age of twenty-five, he sailed as a medical officer on board an East Indiaman and, after landing...
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Reginald Heber’s legacy lingers in Calcutta in the shape of Bishop’s College and in Britain and North America through his hymns, which to this day are sung in Anglican and Protestant churches. Born of an old Yorkshire family, Heber (1783–1826) is principally remembered for his work as the bishop of Calcutta, a diocese that then included all of...
George Anderson Vetch
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George Anderson Vetch (1785–1873) left his home in Scotland for India in 1807. As a lieutenant in the Bengal Native Infantry, Vetch fought in the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814–16) and was wounded at the siege of Kamaoun. He retired from the army as a lieutenant colonel in 1836. Vetch’s book Sultry Hours, a volume of poems and “metrical sketches,” was published in 1820, while he was still in the army. But his first effort...
Horace Hayman Wilson
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In addition to more than five hundred Sanskrit manuscripts, the Bodleian collection holds a fascinating notebook. An inch thick, bound in calf, it begins with ink drawings of English cottages and ends with portraits of Indian princes and caricatures of actors on the Calcutta stage. Interspersed are original, translated, and copied poems. Both the Sanskrit manuscripts and...
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John Lawson (1787–1825) followed three callings—printer, poet, and missionary. Something of a polymath, he was also a talented musician and a student of mineralogy and botany. Born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, he early displayed a talent for carving. In 1803, he was apprenticed to a wood engraver in London, where, three years later, he joined the Baptist...
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Thomas Medwin (1788–1869) spent his childhood in Horsham, Surrey, where his father was a solicitor and steward to Charles Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Both in Surrey and at Syon House Academy, he was friend and companion to his younger second cousin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose family home was two miles from his own. Although his father intended Medwin to follow his path into the law, Medwin did not take to it. Nor did he have much...
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Emma Roberts (1791–1840) set out for India in 1828 with her sister Laura and her sister’s husband, a captain in the British army. As was the custom for single British women, she initially lived with her sister’s family at Agra, Cawnpore, and Etawah, where her brother-in-law was posted. After her sister’s death in 1830, she moved to Calcutta and supported herself as a professional writer. Coming from a Welsh military family, Roberts...
James Ross Hutchinson
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James Ross Hutchinson (1796–1870), like many of the British-born poets in nineteenth-century India, hailed from Scotland and was by training a medical doctor. His best-known work, The Sunyassee, an Eastern Tale, and Other Poems (1838), was printed at the Baptist Mission Press in Calcutta. This long collection, more than two hundred pages in length...
Henry Meredith Parker
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Little is known of Henry Meredith Parker’s youth save that he perhaps was a violinist at Covent Garden before going out to India as a clerk. He was clearly a man of great wit and multiple talents. Once in India, he managed to enter the Bengal Civil Service, where he rose through the ranks to become a member of the Calcutta Board of Customs, Salt and...
David Lester Richardson
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David Lester Richardson (1801–1865) was the single most influential teacher of British literature in nineteenth-century India. He was among the first to publish Indian poets writing in English, and his editorial activities did much to encourage literary English in Bengal. Born in London, Richardson appears not to have gone out to India until he was eighteen, and he returned to Britain on numerous occasions, eventually...
Honoria Marshall Lawrence
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The poems of Honoria Marshall Lawrence (1808–1854) provide an intimate look at the domestic life of an Anglo-Indian woman during the first half of the nineteenth century. Although she and her husband, Henry Montgomery Lawrence, published articles in the Calcutta Review and in Indian newspapers and jointly composed a novel with extensive...
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Born in Kidderpore, near Calcutta, Kasiprasad Ghosh (1809–1873) grew up in a high-caste Bengali family, members of which had for generations held government appointments, first under the Mughals and then under the British. He was a much-longed-for child. Following the death of their first son, his parents had undertaken a pilgrimage to Benares, seeking to ensure through religious rituals the birth of a son and heir. Some months...
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio
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Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809–1831) was one of those rare poets who at an early age achieved both passionate engagement with and skeptical detachment from his circumstances. In Derozio’s case, the circumstances were complex. Although his mother, Sophia Johnson, was born in England and his father came from Portuguese and Indian...
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Henry Page (c. 1814–1846) was reared in an evangelical Baptist family in what is now Bihar. His father, Captain Henry Edwin Page, was the fort adjutant at Monghyr. Thanks to his father’s piety, we know something about the poet’s background. Born in the west of England, Henry Page’s father came from a family of some twenty children. As a young man, he joined the Indian Army, and after leading what his biographer...
Sir John William Kaye
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Sir John William Kaye (1814–1876) began his writing career later in life. As a privileged young man, he was able to complete his schooling at Eton College and the Royal Military College, Addiscombe, the latter of which he referred to as “a great nursery of Indian Captains” (Kaye, History, 1:147). In 1832, Kaye was commissioned in the Bengal Artillery as a cadet. He soon was promoted, but plagued with poor health he retired from...
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In 1846, a most interesting volume of verse was privately printed at the Baptist Mission Press in Calcutta. It was signed “E.L.,” and its dedication indicated that the author was an American woman. The author prefaced her volume thus: “To America, this Volume is Affectionately and Dutifully Inscribed by One of her Absent Daughters Calcutta April 14th, 1846.” The poet seems to have envisioned her readers as forming a circle...
Michael Madhusudan Dutt
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Michael Madhusudan Dutt [Datta] (1824–1873) had a voracious intellect and equal ambition. Growing up in Calcutta in the middle of the nineteenth century, he absorbed the multiple and hybrid influences of a newly global literary culture. Michael Madhusudan was conversant in many languages—Persian, English, Bangla, Sanskrit, French, Tamil, Telugu, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. In drawing together these multifarious...
Shoshee Chunder Dutt
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In a fictionalized autobiography published in his Bengaliana, Shoshee Chunder Dutt recalled his youth. While still fresh from school, the young poet fantasized his future, his brain “stocked with quotations from Shakespeare, Milton, and Bacon.” “The melodious warblings” of David Lester Richardson were still “rumbling in his head.” Fired by the famous headmaster...
Govin Chunder Dutt and The Dutt Family Album
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Govin Chunder Dutt (1828–84) is often remembered as the father of the poet Toru Dutt, but his own poetry and the poems of his remarkable extended family reveal the impact of English language literary education in colonial India. Govin’s grandfather, Nilmoni Dutt, was a wealthy resident of Rambagan, Calcutta, who was known equally for his...
Mary Seyers Carshore
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Born in Calcutta to Irish Catholic parents, Mary Seyers (1829–1857) lived all her life in Bengal and the North West Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) and was educated mostly at home. She published only one volume of verse in her lifetime. Such biographical information as we have comes from the preface to the second edition of the...
Sir Edwin Arnold
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Edwin Arnold (1832–1904), an indefatigable writer and editor, was best known for his poetic re-creation of the life of the Buddha, The Light of Asia, and for his enterprise as a newspaper editor who sponsored reporting expeditions around the globe. During the period of his greatest productivity as a poet, Arnold wrote more than six thousand leading...
Greece Chunder Dutt
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Greece (Girish) Chunder Dutt was the youngest son of Rasamoy Dutt of Calcutta, and thus brother to Govin and uncle to Aru and Toru Dutt, whose poetry also appears in this volume. Like his brothers, Greece (1833–1892) was given an English language education, and with them...
Mary Eliza Leslie
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At the time of the Sepoy Rebellion, the most widespread and violent of many Indian uprisings against British authority, Mary Leslie was twenty-three years old, already an experienced poet with one book to her credit (Ina and Other Poems, 1856). As the bloody events of 1857 unfolded, Leslie (1834–?) wrote a long sonnet sequence, which became at once a diary of the rebellion and an expression of her moral and personal...
Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall
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Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall (1835–1911) was born into a distinguished family with Scottish roots. His father was a philosopher and rector of Harbledown, Kent; his uncle, the chairman of the East India Company and an MP for London; and another uncle, dean of Canterbury Cathedral. Lyall and his younger brother were taken, so to speak, into the India branch of...
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When she died at age twenty of tuberculosis, Aru Dutt (1854–1874) left behind a series of translations from the French. Two years later, her sister, Toru, published these along with many more of her own translations in a volume Toru called A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields. The elder daughter of Govin Chunder and Kshetramoni Mitter Dutt, Aru shared with her sister a degree of education most unusual...
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Toru Dutt (1856–1877), like her predecessor H. L. V. Derozio, became a remarkably accomplished poet in a remarkably short time. Derozio is frequently called the “Indian Keats.” In a similar fashion, Toru Dutt has often been compared to the Brontës. Like Emily Brontë, Toru was precocious and intellectually a free spirit. Like Charlotte, she survived her siblings only to die young herself. Although she was barely twenty-one at the...
John Renton Denning
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In his less than flattering review of John Renton Denning’s Poems and Songs (1888), Oscar Wilde opined that Denning’s poetry shows “an ardent love of Keats and a profligate luxuriance of adjectives.” Ever the lover of art, Wilde credited some of Denning’s serious poetry with “wonderful grace and charm” but complained that the “get-up of his volume, to use the slang phrase of our young poets, is very bad indeed, and reflects no credit on...
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When he arrived in London in June 1912, Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) brought with him a slim manuscript notebook. On board the ship from India, he had finished translating a series of his Bangla poems into English. Then, in a confusion of underground trains and transfers, the manuscript disappeared. Fortunately, his son retrieved the notebook...
Laurence Hope [Adela Cory Nicolson]
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Adela Cory Nicolson (1865–1904) was born in Gloucestershire, England, to parents who had spent their adult lives in India. Her father, Arthur Cory, a colonel in the Indian army, was then on home leave. After her parents’ return to India, Adela was cared for by relatives and was educated in England and for a short time in Italy. She joined...
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Rudyard Kipling, born in Bombay, spent his youth in India and in England. Though often identified simply as a British imperialist, Kipling (1865–1936) viewed himself as straddling two cultures, a feeling complicated by the sense of desolation and abandonment he felt in England as a child. His best-known works reflect the kinship and fascination...
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One might view Manmohan Ghose’s early childhood as the converse of Rudyard Kipling’s. Whereas Kipling was reared in his early years by an Indian ayah speaking Hindustani in preference to English, Ghose (1869–1924) was cared for by an English governess. Thus, unlike Kipling, Ghose experienced his first language as English. Ghose’s immersion in the...
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Joseph Furtado (1872–1947) was born and raised in the multicultural and multilingual town of Pilerne in Goa. After attending school there for a few years, Furtado left the school system to be educated at home. Besides learning Portuguese and Marathi, Furtado also learned to speak English, an unusual skill for most boys in Pilerne. He later said that he learned...
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A mystic seer and guru, an Edwardian aesthetic poet, a fire-breathing revolutionary—one could describe Aurobindo Ghose (1872–1950) in these contradictory ways. Or one could parcel out such descriptions, assigning them respectively to Aurobindo and to his brothers Manmohan and Barindra Kumar. All three achieved fame, or at least notoriety, in turn-of-the-century Bengal. Manmohan became a respected poet and...
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Sarojini Naidu’s encounter with the English language is perhaps the most curious of any Indian poet’s. In a letter to Arthur Symons—her British friend and poetic mentor—Naidu (1879–1949) recounted her childhood obstinacy. Her siblings, she said, were taught English at an early age. “I,” she writes, “was stubborn and refused to speak it. So one day when I was nine years old my father punished me—the only time I was...
Appendix: Comic and Satiric Poets of the Long Nineteenth Century
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Index of Authors
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Index of Titles
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Publication Year: 2011