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It is in vain, perhaps, to expect that the Literature or the Arts of any other people can be so interesting to even the best educated Europeans as those of their own country. Until it is forced on their attention, few are aware how much education does to concentrate attention within a very narrow field of observation. We become familiar in the nursery with the names of the heroes of Greek and Roman history. In every school their history and their arts are taught, memorials of their greatness meet us at every turn through life, and their thoughts and aspirations become, as it were, part of ourselves. So, too, with the Middle Ages: their religion is our religion; their architecture our architecture, and their history fades so insensibly into our own, that we can draw no line of demarcation that would separate us from them. How different is the state of feeling, when from this familiar home we turn to such a country as India. Its geography is hardly taught in schools, and seldom mastered perfectly; its history is a puzzle; its literature a mythic dream; its arts a quaint perplexity. But, above all, the names of its heroes and great men are so unfamiliar and so unpronounceable, that, except a few of those who go to India, scarcely any ever become so acquainted with them, that they call up any memories which are either pleasing or worth dwelling upon.
Were it not for this, there is probably no country—out of Europe at least—that would so well repay attention as India. None, where all the problems of natural science or of art are presented to us in so distinct and so pleasing a form. Nowhere does nature show herself in such grand and such luxurious features, and nowhere does humanity exist in more varied and more pleasing conditions. Side by side with the intellectual Brahman caste, and the chivalrous Rajput, are found the wild Bhîl and the naked Gond, not antagonistic and warring one against the other, as elsewhere, but living now as they have done for thousands of years, each content with his own lot, and prepared to follow, without repining, in the footsteps of his forefathers.
It cannot, of course, be for one moment contended that India ever reached the intellectual supremacy of Greece, or the moral greatness of Rome; but, though on a lower step of the ladder, her arts are more original and more varied, and her forms of civilisation present an ever-changing variety, such as are nowhere else to be found. What, however, really renders India so interesting as an object of study is that it is now a living entity. Greece and Rome are dead and have passed away, and we are living so completely in the midst of modern Europe, that we cannot get outside to contemplate it as a whole. But India is a complete cosmos in itself; bounded on the north by the Himalayas, on the south by the sea, on the east by impenetrable jungle, and only on the west having one door of communication, across the Indus, open to the other world. Across that stream, nation after nation have poured their myriads into her coveted domain, but no reflex waves ever mixed her people with those beyond her boundaries.
In consequence of all this, every problem of anthropology or ethnography can be studied here more easily than anywhere else; every art has its living representative, and often of the most pleasing form; every science has its illustration, and many on a scale not easily matched elsewhere. But, notwithstanding all this, in nine cases out of ten, India and Indian matters fail to interest, because they are to most people new and unfamiliar. The rudiments have not been mastered when young, and, when grown up, few men have the leisure or the inclination to set to work to learn the forms of a new world, demanding both care and study; and till this is attained, it can hardly be hoped that the arts and the architecture of India will interest a European reader to the same extent as those styles treated of in the previous volumes of this work.