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From India To Peru

( Originally Published 1914 )

INDIA is not a very good country for hunting antiquities. One cannot carry away a Jain temple, even if one might. The decorative sculpture of mediaeval India is not attractive ; at all events, not attractive to me. There are ancient bronzes to be found, but they give so much more pleasure to refined Indian lovers of their own past than to the European eye that it seems best to leave them where they belong. What the art-loving traveller is tempted to buy is modern or recent work, but it is very disappointing stuff in the long run. The carved tables, the hammered copper and silverwork, the papier-mâché, and even the shawls and embroidered or painted textiles, that look so attractive when displayed in the shadow of a verandah by picturesque native artisans in the light of India, lose half their romance, half their charm of colour, and more than half their general picturesqueness by trans-plantation to an English interior. What was packed up with pride is unpacked at home with disillusion. Who does not know the sets of carved ivory chessmen, the inlaid sandalwood boxes, the brass gods, and other the like bric-ŕ-brac which, after glorifying the drawing-room of some retired Anglo-Indian, have drifted away into the cupboards of his descendants? England must be full of such stuff; and yet when for the first time one comes across it in the bazaars of India, it surprises with a strange attractiveness, only to disappoint yet one more purchaser when he gets it home.

When I was on my way to India, I knew perfectly well that I was not going to want any of these things, but there was one kind of object that I did want, and intended to get, if good luck would be with me. This was an example of what is known as the Gândhâra School of Sculpture. Before Alexander the Great invaded North-West India, stone was not used in that country either for architecture or sculpture. They built in wood, and if they sculptured at all, which seems unlikely, it must have been in clay ; but no examples of pre-Alexandrian Indian art have survived. It was the Greeks who taught the Buddhists of Swat and thereabouts to sculpture in stone, and the tradition thus founded lasted on. The best work of the kind is the earliest. The Greco-Bactrian School, of the third and second centuries before Christ, took firm hold, and spread its influences throughout the hill-country west of the Upper Indus, and in the vale of Kashmir, as well as across the great plain of North India. I am not concerned here to trace either its rise or its fortunes. Perhaps there may have existed a Buddhist school of art before the coming of the Greeks, and maybe the various types of Buddha and the incidents of his legend were modelled in clay or carved in wood before ever a Greek chisel crossed Iran ; but no trace of any such early Buddhist art has been found, and its existence is doubted. As soon, however, as Buddhist craftsmen came in contact with the Greek tradition, and learned to use Western tools, their style, if they had one, was modified, as well as their technique, so that the earliest sculptures of what is known as the Gândhâra School manifest plainly the Greek element in their design. They were applied to the decoration of Buddhist sacred edifices, stupas, temples, monasteries, and such-like. For the most part they were wrought on a small scale. Some figures of about life-size there were, and others rather smaller, but the bulk of what survives is in the form of reliefs, almost in the round, carved in little niches out of the black slaty stone of the Swat country. For it is there and thereabouts that the bulk of the early Gândhâra sculpture has been found. For some time Hoti Murdan was the chief source of supply, but a quantity was obtained from previously inaccessible sources by the Chitral expedition, and in con-sequence of the more or less settled conditions in those parts which then ensued. The school continued active for many generations, and shows changes of style corresponding to the passage of time. When the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was replaced by the Indo-Scythians, and the Parthian Kingdom, in continual combat with Rome, intervened between India and the West, Buddhist art had to find its own way, free from Western influences. Thereupon the purely Indian spirit gained the upper hand, and before long, all but a faint trace of the original Greek impulse was lost.

Possessed by the desire to obtain if it were only a small fragment of this kind of sculpture of the early fine period, I made such careful study as opportunity threw in my way of the examples of it now honourably preserved in the museums of India, and especially at Lahore. Everywhere I sought for some unattached example that I might appropriate, but nowhere did success crown my efforts, and my last month in India had come. Thereupon I determined to go to Peshawar, as much on this quest as to visit the Khyber Pass. The latter wish was fulfilled by the kindness of General Sir Henry Collett, who took me to visit the Pass, and gave me the delightful hospitality of a night with his telescope, an instrument that chance threw twenty years later into the possession of a kinsman of mine, so that I may hope some day to have the use of it for a night once more. I was leaving Peshawar the following after-noon, and only had a few hours left for the bazaars. Chartering a vehicle, I drove rather at random about the town, with my eyes open, and the thought of Gândhâra sculpture always at the back of my head. Peshawar is a hotbed of Mussulman agitation, so that I was advised to be a little careful where I went, but when I passed the gate of a Hindu temple I felt that I might reasonably enough venture into the recesses of the fane of a people unpopular and unimportant in that locality. A stone-paved pathway led straight from the entrance gate through garden courtyards to the inmost shrine. Something attracted me to follow it as though I had been a needle drawn by a magnet. On approaching the lingam, I saw wherein the strange force resided, for there, actually leaning against the sacred stone, and thickly covered by the oil with which it was periodically anointed, was an admirable panel of Gândhâra sculpture. As I was standing in the deserted shrine with the sculpture in my hands, an almost naked heathen came rushing to-ward me. His skin looked so very smooth and brown, and he appeared so comic, dancing about in a kind of fury, that some Puck-like spirit entered into me. Raising my hand, I gave him a resounding smack on his naked back, which startled him into a petrified silence. We stood like stone figures for a perceptible time, gazing at one another. My hand glided gently to my pocket, and produced certain silver coins. His hand crept forth with the palm open. Nothing was said. I walked off quietly in one direction, bearing the carved relief, he vanished noiselessly in the other, clutching the rupees. Thus silence again descended on the sun-bathed temple, and an hour or two later the train was bearing me away toward Bombay and England.

The Buddha type, which may have taken form in North India before the coming of Greek influence, was certainly modified and dignified by that influence when the Gândhâra sculptors translated it into stone. The form it then assumed became a standard, which went wherever the Buddhist religion spread, and was maintained with little alteration down to modern times. It is in Japan that the finest existing specimens of the type survive. Remarkable Buddhas and Bodhisattwas were made in Japan during a long succession of centuries, some of them being wonderfully noble sculptures, incorporating the repose of the East with a monumental dignity that found its earliest and perhaps its best expression in ancient Egypt.

About twenty years ago, owing to a change in the re-Iigious ideas of the Japanese, European markets were flooded with Japanese Buddhas* and Buddhist saints. These were of all sizes, large and small, and of various materials. Most were of wood, lacquered or gilt. Many were of bronze. I was greatly attracted by these figures, and bought several of them. They were commonest in London, but one met with them everywhere. Not infrequently they were employed to give an Oriental tone to the windows of tea-shops. The wooden figures were frail, and probably a great number of them suffered rapid degradation, and, finally, destruction, in their last refuges in England. The purchasing public did not appreciate them, and I was thus enabled to buy the finest example that till then, or ever since, I have anywhere seen, out of a shop in Regent Street at a very small price. They told me that this figure had been in their hands for ten years, yet no one had ever even asked its price. It is a seated figure, nearly half life size. The type does not vary from the normal in any way, but it surpasses all other Buddhas known to me in the quality of the drapery and the refinement of the lines of the folds. It dates from the sixteenth or seventeenth century. It has lost the lotus pedestal and the gilt halo required to complete it. It was sold in a cabinet which, however, was originally used for another purpose.

Of similar size and type is a bronze Buddha seated on a lotus pedestal, and much more highly considered than its wooden companion. As sculpture, however, the wooden Buddha is greatly superior. The best part of the bronze example is the base, which is of remarkable delicacy and finish of detailed form. The lobes around the base are as beautiful as the finest eggs in the egg-and-dart mouldings of Greek buildings of the culminating period of Greek architecture. On the back is the following inscription, translated for me by my friend, Mr. Shugio : " Respectfully dedicated to the temple of Ankoji of Kamakura, July 3rd, in the first year of Genroku (1688), by Kobayashi Heikichi, the donor."

There are a good many other Japanese objects that have fallen in my way, most of them picked up years ago, before such things became costly, but I will only mention one lot—a bucketful of wrought-iron sword-guards, some beautifully inlaid, but all of the early time before the great elaboration of these articles became fashionable. I forget how we heard of them. It was, I remember, the day before I was sailing for India, when there was not a moment to spare. My wife ultimately ran them to earth in the City, and bought them by weight for little more than the value of the metal. There was only one bucketful of them left. Twice as many had been practically given away the day before.

In the western part of Tibet, which belongs to the kingdom of Kashmir, and is named Ladakh, Buddhism, or a form of it called Lamaism, still flourishes. Every village has its temple and its lamasery, and at points on all the roads are Buddhistic monuments--Chortens, mani-mounds, prayer-wheels, and the like. In this part I was able to acquire a certain number of objects of small intrinsic value, but of archaeological interest, which Sir Augustus Franks gladly accepted from me for the British Museum. The monks at Hemis and the other important monasteries are wisely careful to keep every sacred object that belongs to the temple. They will not sell an image, a banner, or a book that belongs to them, and I trust that this attitude of theirs will continue. I daresay that under the shadow of darkness it might have been possible to overcome their scruples, but I had no desire to try, and the more so that at Hemis I was the guest of the convent, and they even per-formed a splendid religious ceremony for my edification, with much singing, beating of drums, and splendour of masks and costumes. So I made no attempt on the temple treasures, the figured banners of all colours, the images large and small in clay or brass, the illuminated manuscripts, and all the stores of things, many of them fine works of the Lhassa School, and of considerable antiquity, with which this great store-house overflows.

From the smaller religious centres, however, I did not go quite empty away. Thus, one night, when I was encamped below Lamayuru, strange things happened. I had visited the Gonpa in the afternoon, and been shown over it. I had lingered for some time in the library, where what seemed to be immense quantities of manuscripts were stored. In particular there was a great set of books written on large cardboard-like leaves stained blue, the text being written in alternate lines coloured to resemble gold, silver, and copper. There were also circular miniatures delicately painted in bright colours at frequent intervals. The books of this set, tied up between moulded boards for bindings, must have numbered several hundreds. They were stacked together in apparent confusion, many having burst their strings, so that the loose leaves had poured forth and been chaotically mixed together. I lusted for some of these leaves, and asked to buy them, but great difficulties were made, though I was finally allowed to carry off a few in the "keeper's" pocket of my coat. No sooner had darkness come on, and I was settled down with my fellow-travellers to our evening meal, than a monk from the Gonpa slipped quietly into camp. The servants brought him to me, and he began to talk volubly, but none of us knew a word of Tibetan, and he knew nothing else. The substance of what he had to say was easily made apparent when he produced a couple of manuscripts from the folds of his raiment. I tried to explain to him that I was not interested in unilluminated MSS., and gave him back his offering, but he would not take it. He just left the books on the floor of the tent and slipped away. An hour later he was back again, this time with a blue coloured manuscript like those I had seen in the Gonpa Library, but whether it had be-longed to the set I could not tell. He pushed it under the fly of the tent, and then held out his hand.

These Tibetan monks were curious people. I met one of them on the road saying his prayers by rotating a wheel as he walked slowly along. He was carrying a copper vessel, in shape like a teapot, with a turquoise mounted on the spout, also a little plate and spoon and a couple of small cymbals united by a chain, and very useful for driving away devils. He offered them to me, and demanded a price in rupees, which I paid him. His things were duly packed into one of our pieces of baggage, and we were about to go forward, when he sat down and began to weep bitterly. I enquired why he was weeping. He said it was because I was taking away his marais (sacred things), which had belonged to his forefathers. I had them unpacked and offered to return them. He was delighted, but would not give back the rupees. He said he wanted to keep both them and his manis. I told him to put the rupees on the ground beside his things. He did so. " Now, choose which you will have—the rupees or the manis." He picked up the rupees and went his way, again weeping loudly as long as we were within hearing. When I looked back on him from a remoter distance, he appeared to have recovered his peace of mind.

The day after our visit to Lamayuru, we camped at Saspul, where is a new Gonpa, built down by the road-side, containing three colossal figures, badly modelled in mud, and with the walls crudely painted. I had been advised to hunt up the ruins of the old Gonpa. What remains of it is the rock-cut chambers, rudely hollowed out of a hard conglomerate cliff. They were closed in front by built-up walls. There were quite a number of these chambers, in rows and storeys one above another, and connecting galleries and staircases had been built up in front out of crude brick ; in fact, it was a typical mountain Gonpa of the traditional sort. Several of the larger chambers still retain their painted decoration. The paintings were done on plaster laid against the nubbly conglomerate walls. Here and there a refractory portion of the surface was covered with canvas, and the painting had been done on it on the same kind of ground as that with which the plaster was overlaid. A portion of canvas had fallen from the wall, and was lying about in the dust on the floor. As the whole place was utterly abandoned, I had no hesitation in rescuing this fragment from the destruction which was overtaking the rest. The pictures included hundreds of little seated figures, like Buddhas, and many larger ones of gods, devils, and the like. There was a seated saint, teaching, surrounded by some fifty or more minute disciples. There was also the figure of Avalokita with the Thousand Arms, so popular hereabouts ; and there were besides many illustrations of legends which I had not the knowledge to interpret. The drawing was admirably done with a free and certain line, and the figures in action were drawn with spirit; the colours were applied flat, and were few in number and good in quality, combination, and proportion. I don't think the paintings date from before the seventeenth century. They contain, however, that mixture of Indian with Chinese traditions which Dr. Stein has revealed in the Central Asian art of a much earlier period.

A leap from Tibet to Peru—from 75 deg. east longitude to 75 deg. west may seem somewhat inconsequential ; yet, just as the fertile parts of Chile behind Valparaiso always kept reminding me of Kashmir, so the desert region of the Andes bears a remarkable resemblance to Western Tibet. The traveller going from Europe to Peru looks forward to landing in a world markedly "new," but the first impression he actually receives is of the extreme antiquity of man in that land. Peru and Bolivia, especially Bolivia, have the aspect of antiquity quite as markedly as India, except where purely European conditions have been introduced, and both countries are alike in that respect also. The Indian aborigines of the land of the Incas have all the aspect of an ancient race, still in the possession of their own most venerable traditions and civilisation. European influence seems not to have touched them any more than it has touched the mass of the natives of India.

But it is not only the Quichuas and Aymaras and other surviving peoples of Peru and Bolivia that seem ancient. The buildings of the Spanish conquerors likewise possess a venerable aspect. Lima seemed to me more like a re-stored Pompeii than anything else. Its houses, with their courtyards, their blank faces to the street, their aspect of reserve and readiness for defence, appear anything rather than modern. Almost any city in Europe looks young compared with Lima. Hence, from the moment of arrival, my thoughts were turned rather back into the past than to the present or the future; because, of course, the history and antiquities of any old country must always be more interesting than its current activities or its future prospects, except perhaps to the inhabitants themselves. What can be more boring to a foreigner than to have some citizen of the place he is visiting describe to him at length all that that city is going to be in some future near or distant? Eloquent local prophets of local glories to come no doubt have a good time with their contemporaries at home, but they should not be permitted to travel unmuzzled. Which of us has not suffered from such?

The first shop I discovered in Lima was one that dealt in antiquities. But you do not buy genuine old things cheaply in those parts. Wealthy local collectors are numerous and persistent. Old Spanish silver is hard to find and very costly. In the earliest colonial days silver was a common metal, and every self-respecting descendant of the conquerors had his table service made by local craftsmen out of silver. Such plates and bowls are of great thickness and weight, generally almost plain, and lacking in grace of form. I found them undesirable, and although I once came across some fair specimens in a Bolivian finca, which the owner would have given me for the value of the silver, I had no desire to possess them.

It will, I imagine, surprise many European collectors to be told that South America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries produced furniture of excellent quality and original design. The styles of Panama, Guayaquil, and Lima were all different, and local collectors 'diligently seek for the products of the old cabinet-makers of those places. The finest piece of furniture I saw was in the house let furnished to the Secretary of the United States Legation at the time of my visit to Lima. It was a great mahogany table at which the Inquisitors used to sit. The top was very massive, and of splendid wood, and it was supported on four lion-legs magnificently carved. I thought I had succeeded in purchasing it, but there was some misunderstanding, and it never reached England.

It is the misfortune of Peruvian antiquities that the excavation of Inca cemeteries and remains has seldom been scientifically carried out. As a rule the manager of some sugar estate or person engaged in business finds huakkas in the ground, and proceeds to dig them up, without paying the slightest regard to how they were buried, or putting on record any of the facts which are essential from a student's point of view. Only the other day a friend of mine was asked to bring home for sale on behalf of the finder a great mass of gold objects which had been discovered in various chul pas and tombs, but the finding-place of none of them was recorded, and as they are ugly, and of little interest in themselves, three-quarters of their value was thus destroyed. As with these gold ornaments, so it is generally with Inca antiquities of all kinds. There is no record with any of them of the circumstances of their discovery. Hence, though by the kindness of friends rather than by my own exertions I was able to bring away a few quite fine examples of pottery, I cannot say in any case where they were found.

The first pot that came into my hands was one in the form of an animal of the cat tribe—I suppose a puma. It was evidently intended by fate to be a companion for the Egyptian bronze cats, and, in fact, they have now lived peacefully together for many years. Only once have I heard them caterwauling in the night, and even then I may have been mistaken. My greatest prize, however, was a pot that is to all intents a plain portrait bust, but for the addition of a spout-handle at the back of the head. These portrait pots of superior quality are rare, and belong to the best period of their school. The finest I ever saw belonged in 18g8 to Mr. Clay, at Lima, and it was he who gave me mine. Both were dug up on the same sugar estate in Peru, I believe near Chimbote.

The only other Inca antiquities I acquired were given to me in Bolivia by gentlemen who had been made kindly disposed towards me by my ascent of the great sacred mountain Illimani. One of the mementoes of that climb was a tiny bronze object of axe-like form, with a human figure rudely modelled on it. It was found at Cusco. The other object came from the same place. It is of wood, and looks as though it had been cut off the top of a staff. It represents a monkey, squatting on a base, over which his tail hangs down behind. Never was monkey squarer-built or more composed, or with such wide-opened eyes, or such cocked-up ears, for all the world like a cat's. He holds a human head in his teeth by the hair, and steadies it with both hands. Age has endowed the wood with an iron-like hardness, but who made it, or when, or what it means, heaven only knows.

In the southernmost part of the South American continent, where I likewise went a-climbing, the only antiquities I came upon were Fuegians actually dwelling in the kitchen-midden stage of the Stone Age. They were as fat as porpoises, and I saw them sitting in apparent comfort in an open canoe, with the snow falling and melting upon the rotund surfaces of their naked bodies. They hunt the shores of the Fuegian archipelago for bottles thrown over-board by passing steamers, and out of fragments of these they fashion arrow-heads, as neolithic man fashioned them out of flints. Darwin once collected a live Fuegian, but he was a troublesome acquisition. I had no desire to follow even so distinguished an example.

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