THE STUDY OF RUSSIAN BY INDIAN OFFICERS
[Bombay Gazette, Bombay, February 21, 1881]
To the Editor of the Bombay Gazette.
In The Pioneer of February 19th, there is a letter from Mr. Walter T. Lyall, H.B.M.’s Consul at Tiflis, Caucasus, which has filled me with delight. This gentleman suggests and even urges, the expediency of the Russian language being studied “by Indian officers and others.” He recommends, that the Anglo-Indian Government “should offer a premium of Rs. 2000 or Rs. 3000 for passing, and that the aspirant should reside a year in some part of Russia,” the Caucasus preferred, as being the most “proper spot to select, as the aspirant while studying Russian could also ground himself in Turki (or Tartar).” This amiable official closes his liberal and timely suggestion as to the Caucasus (Russia’s India) by repeating once more that “It would be better for students to (first) ground themselves thoroughly in these languages by study in India (Lahore) and then to spend a year in the Caucasus by way of finish.”
Now this is really a most charming and happy thought! What a sweet picture of reciprocal bliss and welcome, of noble trust––if carried out! The Russian Consul at Bombay ought not to lose time, but issue at once like invitations to officers in the Russian army to “ground themselves thoroughly,” and as fast as they can, in the Hindustani,
Urdu, and Marathi languages at St. Petersburg and then spend a year at Poona, and in Cawnpore and Kashmir, “by way of finish”; for once Mr. Lyall’s suggestion is accepted, I do not believe the Anglo-Indian Government will be so ill-mannered as to remain behindhand in extending a like invitation and offering the same hospitality to Russian officers in India. H.B.M.’s Consul at Tiflis must have been quite sure of their welcome since he writes so positively and invites them to the Caucasus. That the Russians can never be accused of a lack of hospitality, a feature they have in common with all semi-barbarous Asiatic nations, I am ready to vouch. Nor would be military gentlemen at India find a scarcity of “grass widows” in Tiflis (owing to their heroic husbands being on their Tchengis Khan expedition to Central Asia) to “bow-wow” with, in their quiet intervals of leisure. Nor yet would there be the remotest fear of their being mistaken for “British spies”; for once the nascent linguists were allowed to cross the frontiers of the Empire, such danger would become quite ephemeral. Unblessed with a constitution which would force her, in cases of emergency, to concealed double-dealing and suspicion, and notions of refined étiquette having never troubled her dreams, in this respect at least, she is as frankly dishonourable as any British heart might desire her to be. She is a Tartar to her sons, but was ever hospitable and generous to foreigners. Let the Indian officers go to the Caucasus by all means. Russia, with all her large share of “unprincipled dealings” in reference to politics, holds yet to the principle of “honour among thieves.” She will never think of visiting upon isolated and well-meaning individuals who trusted themselves within her territory for the purpose of study, the wrath she may nourish against their country, with which she is at political loggerheads.
Thus the picture of the future, in its dovelike character, is positively arcadian, and its soothing effect upon all other nations will be priceless. Only fancy General Roberts, with Major Butler, the Honourable George Napier, and Captain Gill on his staff, studying Russian on the ruins of Gunib and Daghestan, while General Skobeleff, flanked by Colonels.
Grodekoff, Kuropatkine, and perhaps Prjevalsky,* like Jupiter with his satellites, after preparing themselves under capable munshis at the Russian Foreign Office, mastering
* [Mihail Dimitriyevich Skobeleff (1843-82) was a famous Russia General. After graduating as a staff officer at St. Petersburg, he was sent to Turkestan in 1868, remaining in Central Asia most of the period until 1877. He took a prominent part in the capture of Khiva in 1874. Next year he was given a command in the expedition again Khokand under General Kaufmann. He was soon promoted to be Major-General and appointed the first governor of Fergana. He distinguished himself on several occasions in the Russo-Turkish. War of 1877, mainly at Plevna and at the surrender of Osman Pasha with Army. In January, 1878, he crossed the Balkans and defeated the Turks at Senova. His personal magnetism produced a tremendous effect upon his soldiers. After the war, he returned to Turkestan and distinguished himself in the capture of Geok-Tepe. In the midst of military action, he was suddenly disavowed and recalled, as the result of intrigues, and given the command at Minsk. For a short time he engaged in political action, in the cause of Panslavism, but was recalled to St. Petersburg. On July 7, 1882, he suddenly died of heart disease. Considering his short life of only thirty-nine years, his record is rather remarkable.
With regard to Colonel Grodekoff, see p. 391 of Volume II for biographical information concerning him.
Alexey Nikolayevich Kuropatkin (1848-1921) was also a famous Russian General who entered the army in 1864. After some diplomatic work in Kashgaria, he took part in military operations in Turkestan and Samarkand. During the Russo-Turkish war he earned considerable reputation as chief of staff to Gen. Skobeleff, and wrote a critical history of the operations. After the war he served again in Turkestan and became Major-General at the age of thirty-four. In 1903 he was placed in command of the Russian army gathering in Manchuria. His actions in the 1904-05 conflict with Japan met with failure, and he frankly admitted his mistakes, although much of it was due to friction between other generals. After the Mukden defeat he resigned the command to Gen. Linievich. In the First World War, Kuropatkin fought on the Western Front, and in 1916 became Governor-General of Turkestan. After the Revolution, he was teaching in a village school.
Nikolay Mihaylovich Prjevalsky (or Przhevalsky) (1839-88) was a famous military man, traveller, explorer and geographer. From 1864 to 1866 he taught geography at the military school at Warsaw, having graduated from the Academy of the General Staff. In 1867 he was sent to Irkutsk where he explored the highlands on the banks of the Usuri until 1869. In 1870, accompanied by only three men, he crossed the Gobi Desert, reached Peking, explored the upper part of the
the difficulties of the Bagh-o-Bahar and Baital Pachisi* in the land of Wasudew Bulwant Phadke, or translating the exercise from Hindi into Russian in the “legitimate heir-loom” of the “Prince Ramchandra,” the hapless hero of the Russian Golos—in the North-Western Provinces! Will you kindly inform us whether Mr. Walter T. Lyall’s advice is to be immediately carried out, or must we wait till the Kali Yuga is over?
H. P. BLAVATSKY.
Feb. 21st, 1881.
Yangtsze-kiang and penetrated into Tibet. Returning home in 1873, he started on his second expedition in 1877. While trying to reach Lhassa through East Turkestan, he discovered Lake Lob-Nor. On his third expedition, 1879-80, he penetrated the Tsai-dam and the valley of the Tibetan river Kara-su, as far as Napchu, 170 miles from Lhasa, where he was turned back by order of the Talay-Lama. He made a fourth expedition in 1883-85. All through his explorations, he made valuable collections of plants and animals. Prjevalsky died at Karakol (renamed for him) on Lake Issyk-kul, while attempting a fifth expedition.
There are two English translations of the accounts of his trips: Mongolia, the Tangul Country, and the Solitudes of Northern Tibet (1876) was edited by Sir Henry Yule; and From Kulja, across the Tian-Shan to Lob-nor, London, 1879.—Compiler.]
* [This last term which occurs also in Isis Unveiled, II, 639, may be a dialectical corruption of Vetâla-panchavimśati, or “Twenty-five Tales of the Vetâla,” a collection of fairy tales about a demon, known as Vetâla, who is supposed to occupy corpses. These stories are known to English readers under the title of Vikram and the Vampire, translated by Sir R. Burton in 1870.—Compiler.]