EDITORS' TOPIC: VICTORIAN RELIGION
AUTUMN 1857: THE MAKING OF THE INDIAN “MUTINY”
|Don Randall a1|
a1 Bilkent University
IT IS THE EARLY AFTERNOON of October 7, 1857. Charles Hadden Spurgeon ascends to the pulpit and announces, “there are such things as national judgments, national chastisements for national sins” (1). The topic is the electrifying and as yet unresolved “Mutiny” in India. 1 The speaker is arguably the most popular preacher of the mid-Victorian period. I do not, however, attach a special importance to Spurgeon's words simply on the basis of his engaging topic and his personal celebrity. Spurgeon is speaking in the Crystal Palace, that signal monument to mid-Victorian England's preeminence among nations; he has before him an assembled crowd of 24,000 listeners. Spurgeon, moreover, is not alone in sermonizing on rebellion in India on this particular day. More or less simultaneously reverend preachers all over the British Isles are weaving their way through the “Mutiny” topic. Queen Victoria, as one learns from the dailies of September 28 (I take my text from the Morning
Post), has declared October 7 a national “fast-day”: “We, taking into our most serious consideration the grievous mutiny…in India, command…a Public Day of Fast, Humiliation, and Prayer…so both we and our people may humble ourselves before Almighty God, in order to obtain pardon for our sins” (Victoria 4).
1 I place “Mutiny” in quotation marks in my title and throughout my text. My intention is to recall that such a naming of the 1857 rebellion is already an interpretation, and one that has been cogently questioned, notably by the historians Chaudhuri and Stokes, both of whom find their place within my argument. However, I retain this naming in my text as it is, throughout the Victorian era and in the early twentieth century, the most common and recognizable way of referring to the 1857 uprisings in India.