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The missing 1846 copies of The Mofussilite was it censored?

John Lang started The Mofussilite newspaper in Calcutta (India) in 1845. The issues for this year survive with the copies of The Mofussilite held in the India Office Library (now in the British Library in London). The copies for 1847 follow in the set held and these were published in Merrut in Upper India. All of the issues for the year 1846 are missing. They were published because the first issues in 1847 continue to publish a serial called Passages in the Life of an Undergraduate the early episodes of which must have been published in the 1846 issues. In addition a serial started in 1845 called Early Friendships, Loves and Follies must have been continued in the missing 1846 issues. So what happened to all the issues for 1846?

In one of the final Calcutta issues of the newspaper Lang reported that the newspaper was moving from Calcutta, not to Meerut but to Umballa (now Amballa). One of the other newspapers in India had first reported that Lang was moving The Mofussilite to Umballa. In the final issue from Calcutta Lang confirmed that the paper was to move to Umballa and that he planned for the first issue from that city to be ready for distribution in March 1856. He gave instructions about the renewal of subscriptions.

Quite clearly he was going to continue the newspaper because although its first issues were published in Calcutta he was merely moving 'up country'. The serials started would be continued when it commenced publishing again. This scenario differs from the story Lang later published in Household Words called 'Starting a Paper in India' which claimed he started the newspaper in Meerut. Thus there is a mystery about the missing 1846 issues and a mystery about the starting of the newspaper. Why disguise or confuse the facts?

The reason may be related to another work he started publishing in the 1845 issues of The Mofussilite. This was a translation of the works of Anwari (or Anvari). I have had great difficulty in identifying this writer and his books. He appears to be a Persian writer. Persian was among the many languages in which he was fluent. Lang had started to publish translations of the Persian poet Sadi of Shiraz in 1845 but Anwari was a different kettle of fish. The only reference I could find about him was in a paper on Moslem law as interpreted by various Moslem Imans. In this it is implied that Anwari was a pornographic writer in the exact words used stated that Anwari was 'an obscene and unbridled poet'. This was hardly the sort of material for general publication. There was no other writing of such a sort published in The Mofussilite. This kind of obscene writing would not matter very much if the work remained 'hidden' in an obscure Persian language but John Lang was publishing it in a public newspaper. I have gone through the three episodes of Anwari that did appear in The Mofussilite in those last Cacutta copies and they do not seem to be obscene. In fact they are not unlike the Poems of Sadi of Shiraz which Lang had earlier translated and published. Here is a sample of the opening story:

 The Jewellers of the Row of the market of significations; and the
 money changers of the Assay house of eloquence, and the face
 unveilers of the wonders of stories, and the form adorners of the
 marvels of tales, have in this wise given ornament to the
 introduction to the volumes of chronicles, and in this way have
 exhibited the flourished lines * and adornments of the illuminated
 headings of the pages of fictions. In the olden days, on the
 confines of the large kingdom of China, there was a king, the fame
 of whose prosperity and success was moving through the bounds and
 borders of the Universe, and the mention of his magnificence and
 beneficent rule was evident like the Sun of the day. Famous Emperors
 wore the ring of obedience to him in the car of their souls and
 Kings high in power, took the saddle cloth of submission to him on
 the shoulders of their hearts....

This would appear to be the commencement of a series of tales, legends and chronicles which was a common form of writing in the early period. Lang include extensive notes on each episode. They detail the meaning of words and explains the significance of words. For example flourished lines * 'This is literally' writing across' or 'crosswise'--great men often signing their names in a different direction from the writing on which the order is passed. Hence ornamental flourishes. The original idea is from the sword belt crossing the person.' This kind of explanation gives a fascinating value to the translation.

I can only guess that some of these tales and chronicles were rather sexually explicit. Perhaps some day these tales in Lang's translation will appear and we will know the reason for their apparent disappearance of suppression.

The copies of The Mofussilite in the India Office Library were probably the 'official copies kept for reference by the Government of India. Why were the 1846 issues missing? Where they destroyed as too naughty to be retained? The alternatively explanation is that they were so desirable that they were purloined by a member of staff or even by a number of men who wanted them. It is possible that other copies were cut up and pasted together to make an interesting erotic book. Perhaps there is a copy in some library in its collection of erotic material. Such collections are seldom on view and do not appear in public catalogues. Some librarians may know of such collections and what they contain.

The question I ask myself is: What did the East India Company (the Government) do? Did it exercise censorship and ban erotic material? Most governments in the past have exercised some aspects of censorship mainly at the instigation of religious organisations. Did they threaten Lang with some charge of publishing indecent material? He is silent on the matter. His later writing in The Mofussilite does not contain any erotic material. He may have just been warned.

There is an interesting later reference that may be related. The editor of another newspaper in India accused John Lang of feigning an illness to escape a difficult situation. Did John Lang pretend to be ill to escape from being charged by the government with publishing indecent material? There may be some records in the papers of the Indian Government. Lang never referred to the matter himself in his newspaper.

It is an intriguing story with a whole series of unanswered questions. One such question may be answered in the papers of The East India Company (the Government) in the India Office in London; the other if the issues were merely lost in transit, if the missing 1846 copies are ever found. They may be in some archive in India or the cut up copies may be in some scrapbook in the library of some old time Indian official and now in England. They may be in some hidden erotica collection. I would very much like to know if The Translations of the Books of Anwari Soheily exist anywhere in the World.
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Author:Crittenden, Victor
Publication:M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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