The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 3, 2017

August 3, 1829

We know Laurence Oliphant (August 3, 1829  to December 23, 1888) as a Victorian writer, adventurer, and mystic. Oliphant was the author of books like A Journey to Katmandu (1852). In this volume we find a a description of "Tiger Shooting on Foot," and extend our understanding of Oliphant's sensibilities.

At Goonah we had a prospect of more important game. We here fell in with a most ardent sportsman : the numerous trophies of bears and tigers with which his bungalow was adorned proved his success as well as his skill.

With him we sallied forth at about 10 a.m., some on horseback and some on an elephant, all equally indifferent to the sun, fiercely blazing in an unclouded sky, and reached a dell, the sides of which were covered with a low scrubby jungle, where sport was to be expected.

As tiger-shooting on foot is almost unheard of in the northern part of India, and is practised in the southern only, because the tiger there is a much less formidable animal than his majesty of Bengal, we were told to proceed with considerable caution by the veteran, who posted us in the most likely places, saying to one of our party, as he stationed him in the most favourable locality, " I put you here because the tiger is nearly sure to charge down this hill; and if he does, there will be very little chance of escape for you, as you see he has so much the advantage of you, that if you do not kill him with either barrel— and the skull of a tiger is so narrow that it is exceedingly improbable you will be able to do so —he must kill you; but I would not for the world that you should miss the sport."

Thus did this self-denying Nimrod debar himself the pleasure of being charged by a tiger, reserving it, in the kindest manner, for his guests, who but half appreciated ..
.[this] sacrifice...from their dread of themselves becoming a sacrifice to the tiger. And as they crouched behind their respective bushes they had time to brood over the appalling stories of hairbreadth escapes just recounted to them by the gallant captain, who had been particular in describing the requisites for the successful tiger-shot—the steady hand and steady nerve—admitting that these were not always efficacious, as the last tiger he had encountered had struck him on the leg, and his torn inexpressibles existed to this day to testify to it. The thoughts of this and sundry other escapes he had experienced made the blood run cold, as one imagined every rustle of the leaves to be a bristling tiger, preparing for his fatal spring.

Gradually the beaters approached nearer and nearer, and, as the circle became smaller, peafowl innumerable flew over our heads with a loud whirr, their brilliant plumage glancing in the sunshine like shot-silk. A few moments more, and I perceived stripes gliding rapidly behind a bush, and a shot from L made me suspect that our worst anticipations had been realised, and that we had really found a tiger— a suspicion which soon disappeared, however, as a grisly hyaena bounded away, having received a ball in his hind-quarters, which unfortunately did not prevent his retreat. The beaters soon after appeared over the brow of the hill, and relieved us for the present...

There is another, quite consistent, facet to this adventurer; the Jewish Virtual Library summarizes it this way:

OLIPHANT, LAURENCE.... English writer and traveler, Christian mystic, and active supporter of the return of the Jewish people to Ereẓ Israel. Born of a Scot family in the Cape of Good Hope, Oliphant traveled in many countries and wrote impressive travel books. From 1865 to 1867 he was a member of parliament. During the Russo-Turkish War (1878) he began to take an interest in the Holy Land and Jewish settlement there, in a blending of political, economical, and religious-mystic considerations. He supported Turkey and thought that the best way to revive it was by improving the condition of its Asian regions, first and foremost Palestine. He decided to submit to the sultan a plan for large-scale Jewish settlement in Palestine, supported by resources from abroad. With letters of recommendation from Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury, who approved his plan and a letter from the French minister of foreign affairs, William Henry Waddington, he went to Palestine in 1879. He investigated the country and arrived at the conclusion that the best place to start Jewish settlement was the Gilead region in Transjordan. Consequently, he negotiated with the authorities in Constantinople concerning tenancy rights and a concession for settlement. The Turkish cabinet approved the proposal, but the sultan Abdul Hamid rejected it for fear that it was a British intrigue. The pogroms of 1881 in Russia moved Oliphant to new undertakings. He established a group of influential Christians in London for the purpose of bringing them closer to his idea. In the same year he provided assistance to Russian Jewish refugeesin Galicia by means of the mayor of London's Mansion House Relief fund. In opposition to the representatives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle who directed the emigration to the United States, he advised the Jews to go to Palestine and tried to persuade Alliance spokesmen to do the same. He also decided to renew his negotiations in Constantinople. The Turkish foreign minister, Said Pasha, regarded his plan as practical and wanted to connect it with the project of constructing a railroad in Palestine. But the negotiation could go no further, especially when the Turkish-British relations deteriorated because of Egypt, and Oliphant's efforts came to nothing. He settled in Haifa and engaged in religious and mystic contemplation. Yet he always remained attached to the Zionist idea and provided advice and assistance to the first Jewish settlers in Ereẓ Israel. His Hebrew secretary in Haifa was the poet, N.H. ...Imber . Oliphant was the most important Christian figure of his time supporting the idea of the Jewish Return to Zion. The ...Bilu'im and Ḥovevei Zion had great hopes for his negotiations in Constantinople, and his firm position on their behalf was encouraging, even though his political undertakings failed. His writings included the programmatic book Land of Gilead (1880; Heb. trans. by Nahum ...Sokolow as Ereẓ Ḥemdah, 1886) and Haifa, or Life in Modern Palestine (1887). Oliphant was one of the most famous of British gentile proto-Zionists.

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