Page images
PDF
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

We need not repeat what has already been urged in the first number of these Biographical Sketches, upon the difficulty and delicacy of the task of preparing memoirs of our contemporaries in such a limited community as this. The considerations alluded to can hardly fail to present themselves to the minds of our readers. It happens, fortunately enough in the present instance, that the subject of our notice is so great a lover of truth and air dealing, that we may venture to aim at the strictest impartiality of comment, without the remotest chance of incurring his anger or ill will. In saying this, we begin, with as handsome and well-merited a compliment as can well be paid to the character of his heart and mind. Mr. Sutherland was born on the 19th of March, 1794. He was not destined to spend much of his life in the lap of luxury, for at the early age of fourteen he went to sea and served about seven years in the Navy as a midshipman. Four years of that period he spent on board the Acasta, a dashing frigate, commanded by Captain Ker, one of the greatest tartars in the navy. Mr. Sutherland was on the American station during the whole of the war which commenced in 1812. The ill-treatinent he witnessed and experienced on board the Acasta, made his soul revolt against tyranny and oppression, and tended o more than any event of his atter-life, to instill into his mind those iberal opinions, which time and reading and observation have only served to confirm. In 1815 the war with America being at an end, the frigate was paid off; and, in the following year, Mr. Sutherland caume to India. He first resided for some time at Madras. He then proceeded to Columbo, where he lived for some months with a relation, who was Secretary to Government. Shortly after this, he entered the Country service, first at Bombay, and afterwards at Calcutta, out of which latter port he commanded several vessels. In his different voyages he occasionally visited the Persian Gulph, Bombay, Madras, Ceylon, Achin, the Straits of Malacca, and Rangoon. He thus acquired a familiar acquaintance with oriental localities that was probably often of use to him in his subsequent editorial career. His first connexion with the Indian Press commenced in 1818, when he joined his friend Mr. Buckingham (who had also been a sailor from his early youth,) in the office of the celebrated Calcutta Journal. Mr. Sutherland had come round from Bombav to Calcutta in a ship commanded by Mr. Buckingham, and they then formed a friendship for each other, which, notwithstanding the separation of their interests, continues, we believe, unbroken to the present day. Mr. Sutherland always expresses himself in the warmest terms of his friend's conduct towards himself and others in private life. He did not, however, on this occasion, remain long connected with the Calcutta Journal, but was induced to accept a situation in a mercantle office. In 1820 he married, and, in one year atter, again trusted himself and his fortunes to the sea. He was in cominand of a small vessel, of which he was half owner. Having been unfortunate in this speculation, he sold off the vessel, and once more became a landsman. Some proposals were made to him at this time to connect himself a second time with the Calcutta Journal, which was then (in 1822) in the zenith of its prosperity. For some reason or other he declined these proposals, and the negotiation was broken off; but when, in the beginning of 1823, Mr. Buckingham was so tyrannically ordered out of the country, the negotiation was renewed, and Mr. Sutherland, waiving every objection, joined the office as reporter and contributor, although he foresaw and pro dicted that the

[graphic]

paper would be soon suppressed. First, a list of all the Europeans connect d with the establishment was demanded and obtained by Government, then Mr. Arnot, who was a leading writer in the paper, was banished; and, finally, in November of the saine year, the journal was suppressed, and Mr. Sutherland again thrown upon his own resources, with the loss of a comfortable salary. He remained for some time in charge of the property of the Calcutta Journal establishinent, of the sale of which by public auction he published a very interesting account, full of sentiment and feeling. After having assisted Dr. Muston to get up the Scotsman in the East, Mr Sutherland again resumed his old profession of the sea, and in command of a ship of 520 tons he made a voyage to Madras, whence he conveyed troops to Rangoon, and was pres-nt at the taking of that place. In September, 1824, so were illness obliged lim to give up this command, and he returned to Calcutta, where he soon obtained the command of a ship of 700 t ns; but domestic consideratons induced him to relinquish the appointment and accept a confidential situation in the office of Messrs. Alexander and Company. It is but fair to conclude from the readiness with which he was ent usted wi h the chare of valuable ships that his professional skill had raised him into notice, and gained him the favor and confidence of his employers. While in the mercantile office just mentioned, he was solicited to assist the proprietor of a small paus r of one sheet, with an occasional contribution. He did so ; the articles took, and the paper, The Columbian Press Gazette, was published twice, and afterwards thrice a week. Mr. Sutherland then be aine the editor and the circulation rapidly increased. The name of the paper was changed to the Bengal Chronicle with the motto of Floreat Libertas 1 The Government had more than once objected to the freedom of the editor's observations, and were particularly offended by a sat rical article on a despatch relative to the island or rather sand-bank of Shapooree. They were also greatly irritated with the editor's allusion to their second warning, to which he applied the quotation of “And twice the brindled cat hath newed.” At length the Government announced to the poor proprietor of the paper, that it would be suppressed on a certain day. Mr. Sutherland averted its fate by avowing the authorship of the most offensive articles and engaging to disc ntinue his connexion with the paper. On this c milition the Bengal Chronicle was permitted to continue, and Mr. W. Ad m succeeded Mr Sutherland as editor; but as he and the proprietor could not entirely agree, the paper was sold to Mr. Samuel Smith, and not long afterwards became a tri-weekly edition of the Bengal Hurkaru, as indeed it still continues under the new or additional title of the India Gazette, since that paper was incorporated with the Hurkaru. By his resignation of the editorship of the Chronicle Mr. Sutherland was a considerable loser.

In January, 1826 (or 1827,) Mr. Adam started the Calcutta Chronicle, and Mr. Sutherland joined him as co-proprietor and co-editor. The success of the paper surpassed their most sanguine expectations, but on account of some remarks on the question of the Calcutta Stamp Act, Lord Comtermere suppressed it ; and Mr. Sutherland was again a heavy sufferer in the cause of the Freedom of the Press. The public sympathy was expressed on this occasion, and we believe a subscription to indemnify the editors was commenced, but if we recol:ect rightly, from some cause or other it did not proceed. If any man in India has a claim upon the gratitude of the friends of libery, it is Mr. Sutherland, who has never hesitated for a moment to risk his prospects in life in the practical illustration of his respect for freedom of discussion. Throughout his editorial career he has been distinguished for the manly courage with which he has exposed and reprobated every act of the ruling authorities that seemed in his opinion to trench upon the rights of freemen. Though naturally of a gentle and forgiving temper, and possessing a great deal of the milk of human kindness, he has evinced the utmost firmness and decision and even sternness in his maintenance of all the great principles connected with the liberty of mankind; and, we believe, that no considerations of personal friendship or of his own self-interest have ever induced him to waver for a moment in the strict performance of his duty to the public. This is the more creditable to him, because in a limited society like this, such a course of undeviating

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

integrity and fearfulness of comment, exposes a public writer to the unrelenting ill will of many individuals with whom he is perpetually exposed to the chance of coming into personal contact in private life. We really think that in this the hour of its triumph, so bold and disinterested an advocate for a Free Press ought to be honoured with some peculiar distinction, and that he ought not to be confounded with that crowd of pretended friends who kept very snugly in the back-ground in the heat of the battle, though they have come forward to swell the shout of victory now that the danger has passed away.

In the latter end of 1837 Mr. Sutherland became editor of the Bengal Hurkaru, which, under his management rose from a sale of 300 to that of 800. In less than two years after his acceptance of this appointment, he was conpelled by ill health to go to sea, and embarke in the Louisa, Captain Clifton, for the Straits. The vessel left Calcutta in the morning under tow of a steamer, and at nine at night struck on a sand bank below Kedgeree. The passengers left the wreck at daylight next morning in a boat belonging to an Idiaman, and Mr. Sutherland was so weak that he was assisted out on the bowsprit from which he let himself fall into the boat as she rose upon the swell of the sea. He afterwards proceeded to Peuang in the Donna armelita, and returned to Calcutta in the Mercury in 1830, when he resumed his duties as editor of the Bengal Hurkaru. He soon, however, became so ill again that his medical advisers insisted on his going to England. He embarked in the same ship with his friend Ramm hun Roy, of whose proceedings and first impressions on the voyage and on his arrival in England he contributed a highly interesting account to the Calcutta Literary Gazette. Mr. Sutherland returned to lndia in January 1833, but owing to soule arrangements maie in his absence, he did not resume his situation as responsible editor until several months after, though he gave his assistance in filing the editorial column. When he became again sole editor of the Bengal Hurkaru, he also undertook the nanagement of the Bengal Herald, in which appeared some of the very best articles, literary and political, that he ever produced. He soon made the paper highly interesting and popular. The literarv articles in the Herald from the pen of Mr. Sutherland appeared under the different signatures of A W A N DE RER.—A Co's Mo Polite—A CYPH ER — A M OF Ussi lit E IN CALCU rt A, &c. &c. The papers entitled “ The Council of Three” were originated an I continued by him until February 1836, when he resigned the editorship of the Hurkaru ; and, on account of the illness of his laiv (which we lament to add terminated fatally) he proceeded to China. During his editorship of the Hurkaru he had no regular assistance, though very able articles were sometimes contributed by his friends. On these occasional contributions, however, no editor can much depend, for they often drop in upon hion when there is no dearth of matter, and are not always to be had when most required.

On his return from China in December 1837,he was appointed Professor of English Literature at the Hooghly College, a situation for which he is admirably fitted by his love of literature, his natural talents, his excellent judgment, his kindness of heart and his suavity of manner. The ill health which compel:ed Mr. Sutherland to visit England in 1830 was chiefly occasioned, we believe, by over exertion. As the Bengal Hurkaru had at that time no regular reporter. he undertook to report himself the important proceedings in the Supreme Court on the stamp question ; and was for many days in court from nine in the morning until five in the evening. He had the heavy and anxious business of the responsible editorsaip besides, without any certain aid from other pens; and was engaged writing out his notes a ter the labours of the day, until one and two o'clock in the morning. Mr. Sutherland's physical frame is none of the firmest, but his energy of mind and his warm enthusiasm have enabled him to go through a degree of labour from which many a stronger man would instinctively have shrunk. It must be acknowledged, however, that the perpetual excitement of an editorial life on a naturally sensitive temperament has at last worked very severely upon his constitution; and it is fortunate for him that he has since been enabled to with law from all responsible connexion with the Press, and adopt a profession that occasions much pless anxiety and no distraction.

[graphic]

It is now our duty to characterize, to the best of our judgment,

Mr. Sutherland's merits and defects as a public writer. It is as a politiciau that he is best known and most appreciated, but he has contributed literary papers of great merit to several of the periodicals that have issued from the Bengal Hurkaru Press. His pen has been employed occasionally in the Calcutta Literary Gazette, and Calcutta Magazine, when those periodicals were edited by Capt. Richardson, and to the literary departinent of the fengal Herald, when under his own management. From a strange diffidence (strange in one who had been no long before the public,) he could never be persuaded to write for the Bengal Annual, partly because it was a regulation imposed upon the writers in that work to affix their names to their contributions, and partly from a supposition that something of greater pretension th on the articles in an ordinary periodical were required for a publication which, as it appeared to him, took a somewhat higher stand than anything of a purely literary nature that had yet appeared in India. However, it is quite certain that amongst the contributors to the Bengal Annual the re were a great many individuals infinitely inferior to Mr. Suther land in general knowledge, and in experience and power as a writer. Though Mr. Sutherland went to sea at the age of fourteen, he had up to that period received a classical education, and those fruits of his early studies that had escaped his memory in the early part of his career in life, he has since recovered by self-instruction. He had made some progress in Greek and Latin in the school-room. and in after-life he retrieved and improved the acquisitions of his youth, and added to them the knowledge of the French and Italian languages. We allude to these subsequent studies as highly creditable to a man who had left school so early, and plunged so suddenly into a rough and active life, but we have no wish to represent Mr. Sutherland as a great linguist or a man of profound erudition, because we are quite certain that he himself makes no pretensions of this nature, and his unaffected modesty and love of truth would be offended by any attempt upon the part of his friends to overrate his scholastic acquirements. Indeed that want of exactness and precision in his classical knowledge, which is thought to be characteristic of a selftaught man, was occasionally betrayed in the Latin quotations which he was too much in the habit of thrusting into his newspaper editorials. These scraps of Latin furnished matter for a joke to the editors of the Meerut Universal Magazine. They noticed as an extraordinary event, that several numbers of the Hurkaru had been received in which “ Risum teneatis amici,” was not quoted. We are not aware that Mr. Sutherland was guilty of the “ damnable iteration” of this particular phrase, but it cannot be denied that he was addicted to the unnecessary quotation of Latin sentences; and, indeed, this habit was so much remarked that he acquired the title of the Latin Editor. Unfortunately too, his quotations were sometimes incorrect; and, when his mistakes were pointed out, as they often were, in a very offensive and ungenerous tone, in the hurry and irritability of the moment, he frequently plunged into greater confusion in endeavouring to defend or excuse his first errors. Quotations from a dead or foreign language, unless when they are singularly apposite, and illustrate the writer's meaning with greater elegance or force than could be conveyed through the medium of his mother tongue, have always an air of pedantry and ostentation. If an author's pages are sprinkled too thickly with quotations, even when the borrowed shreds are in the same language as the original composition, the entire texture forms a kind of patchwork that is anything but agreeable to a reader of true taste. But when these quotations are in a foreign tongue, and yet have become stale and wearisome, even to the unlearned reader, from their perpetual repetition in the mouths of schoolboys, and are moreover merely different versions of thoughts and maxims as familiar as household words to every civilized nation, and are equally well expressed in plain English as in any other language, it is scarcely possible to express toe strongly the contempt and aversion which they naturally exite in the admirers of a simple and unaffected style. We are compelled to confess that some of Mr. Sutherland's articles were greatly injured by an error of the nature just described, and this addiction to frequent and useless Latin quotations was the more offensive as it was chiefly displayed in the columns of a daily journal, which like every other newspaper was addressed to readers of all classes, the majority of whom were probably unable to translate the quoted sentences even with

the aid of a Latin dictionary. To such readers these foreign ornaments were
perfectly hieroglyphical, and a kind of insult to their capacity; —and indeed
imany of those persons who had received in their early youth, a classical edu-
cation, might have sometimes found the quotations a tax upon their memory
which they could not directly meet. A daily newspaper should deal in no
remote or learned allusions, and should have nothing in its style that is likely
to irritate or perplex a reader of ordinary acuteness and intelligence. It
should aim at the utmost clearness and a manly simplicity. A highly orna-
mented style or a display of learning are quite out of place in an ephemeral sheet
that is handed from the palace to the cottage, --from the lady in her elegant
boudoir to the servants in her kitchen,_from the table of the public library
to that of the public pot-house ; and, after the busy circulation of a few hours,
is thrown aside and is utterly forgotten.
We are rather puzzled to account for Mr. Sutherland's having in some
degree exposed himself to the application of these strictures, for we never met
with an individual who had been so long an I so successfully before the public
as a writer, who seened less likely to be guilty of any thing like pedantry or
ostentation; and we have often he ord him in his general remarks upon different
styles, express his objection to too great a display of learned quotations.
Though he was conscious of his own error, a strange inveteracy of habit led him
to continue it in the very teeth of his own criticism. While on the subject
of his defects as a writer, we may as well advert to other matters of objection,
and get rid of the disagreeable part of our task as speedily as possible. These
is occasionally some de :ree of graininatical inaccuracy, and more frequently
a want of polish, harmony, and precision in his sentences. They often require
rounding, and conclude feebly or clumsily with some misplaced adverb or a
cluster of insignificant monysyllables. But these defects arise entirely from
the extreme haste with which almost all his articles have necessarily been
written ; and, as no man is less inclined than he is to pride himsel upon
the celerity with which he writes, it would be extremely unfair and ungene-
rous to withold our indulgence from his in perfections of this nature. In the
following passages which occur in one of the numbers of the series of papers
entitled The Council of Three” published in the Bengal Herald, he has very
justly expressed his contempt for those writers who boast of the little time that
they have devoted to the productions which they offer to the public.
Jacques.-Quickness of thought is the thing desireable, but you cannot be too laborious in your
correction of the language in which it is expressed. Your author who vaunts that he never alters,
seldom writes anything worth altering. I have no patience with the impertinence of a writer who
claims your admiration for his production, because he scribbled it off without correction. If a man
write from necessity and has not time for correction, then of course we excuse him ; but the egre-
gious vanity which boasts of sending forth a production with “all its imperfections on its head,” with-
out altering a line or a word, is disgusting, and a certain sign of a superficial scribbler. If I find
anything of that kind stated in the preface or at the end of a work, if I happen to see it ere I begin
to read, I throw the thing away at once, certain that it is worthless.

Cosmopolite.-A vaunt of that kind, amounts to this. Behold I am a cleverer fellow than Addison, Pope or Dryden—they corrected, I write off at once, sape ducentos versus in horá. My soul sickens at the very sight of the trash of your stans pede in uno gentry.

Suaviren.—Let us leave them then to the oblivion they merit.

“I hate,” says Hazlitt, “those nonsensical stories about Lope de Vega and his writing a play, in a morning before breakfast. He had time en ough to do it after.” The public have no right or inclination to enquire how long a man takes to prepare for them a certain degree of entertaininent or instruction ; but they naturally expect that he will devote the necessary time and pains to a work for which he claims their gratitude and applause. The arrogance and self-conceit that prompt a writer to inform the public how little time and pains it costs a person of his powers, to edify or delight them (a public who have within their reach the works of Shakespeare and Bacon and Milton and a host of other mighty and immortal spirits) is inexpressibly offensive and disgusting, and cannot be too often noticed with unqualified reprobation. All that is of real interest to the public is the quality of what is offered. But though Mr. Sutherland has too much modesty and good sense to boast of that which was a misfortune to him—the necessity of writing with the utmost ex‘dition—it is but fair to mention that very few men nave exhibited the same faci

ity of composition, or could have written half so well amidst the hurry, the noise,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »