Mr. Aitken was a deeply religious man, and was for some twenty years an elder in the congregation of the United Free Church of Scotland in Bombay. He was for some years Superintendent of the Sunday School in connection with this congregation, and a member of the Committee of the Bombay Scottish Orphanage and the Scottish High Schools. His former minister says of him, "He was deeply interested in theology, and remained wonderfully orthodox in spite of" (or, as the present writer would prefer to say, because of) "his scientific knowledge. He always thought that the evidence for the doctrine of evolution had been pressed for more than it was worth, and he had many criticisms to make upon the Higher Critics of the Bible. Many a discussion we had, in which, against me, he took the conservative side."
He lets one see very clearly into the workings of his mind in this direction in what is perhaps the finest, although the least well known of his books, The Five Windows of the Soul (John Murray), in which he discourses in his own inimitable way of the five senses, and how they bring man and beast into contact with their surroundings. It is a book on perceiving, and shows how according as this faculty is exercised it makes each man such as he is. The following extract from the book shows Mr. Aitken's style, and may perhaps induce some to go to the book itself for more from the same source. He is speaking of the moral sense. "And it is almost a truism to say that, if a man has any taste, it will show itself in his dress and in his dwelling. No doubt, through indolence and slovenly habits, a man may allow his surroundings to fall far below what he is capable of approving; but every one who does so pays the penalty in the gradual deterioration of his perceptions.
"How many times more true is all this in the case of the moral sense? When the heart is still young and tender, how spontaneously and sweetly and urgently does every vision of goodness and nobleness in the conduct of another awaken the impulse to go and do likewise! And if that impulse is not obeyed, how certainly does the first approving perception of the beauty of goodness become duller, until at last we may even come to hate it where we find it, for its discordance with the 'motions of sins in our members'!
"But not less certainly will every earnest effort to bring the life into unison with what we perceive to be right bring its own reward in a clearer and more joyful perception of what is right, and a keener sensitiveness to every discord in ourselves. How all such discord may be removed, how the chords of the heart may be tuned and the life become music,—these are questions of religion, which are quite beyond our scope. But I take it that every religion which has prevailed among the children of Adam is in itself an evidence that, however debased and perverted the moral sense may have become, the painful consciousness that his heart is 'like sweet bells jangled' still presses everywhere and always on the spirit of man; and it is also a conscious or unconscious admission that there is no blessedness for him until his life shall march in step with the music of the 'Eternal Righteousness.'"
Mr. Aitken's name will be kept green among Anglo-Indians by the well-known series of books published by Messrs. Thacker & Co., of London and Calcutta. They are The Tribes on my Frontier, An Indian Naturalist's Foreign Policy, which was published in 1883, and of which a seventh edition appeared in 1910. This book deals with the common birds, beasts, and insects in and around an Indian bungalow, and it should be put into the hands of every one whose lot is cast in India. It will open their eyes to the beauty and interests of their surroundings in a truly wonderful way, and may be read again and again with increasing pleasure as one's experience of Indian life increases.
This was followed in 1889 by Behind the Bungalow, which describes with charming insight the strange manners and customs of our Indian domestic servants. The witty and yet kindly way in which their excellencies and defects are touched off is delightful, and many a harassed mem-sahib must bless Eha for showing her the humorous and human side of her life surrounded as it is by those necessary but annoying inhabitants of the Godowns behind the bungalow. A tenth edition of this book was published in 1911.
The Naturalist on the Prowl was brought out in 1894, and a third edition was published in 1905. It contains sketches on the same lines as those in The Tribes, but deals more with the jungles, and not so much with the immediate surroundings of the bungalow. The very smell of the country is in these chapters, and will vividly recall memories to those who know the country along the West Coast of India southward of Bombay.
In 1900 was published The Common Birds of Bombay, which contains descriptions of the ordinary birds one sees about the bungalow or in the country. As is well said by the writer of the obituary notice in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, Eha "had a special genius for seizing the striking and characteristic points in the appearance and behaviour of individual species and a happy knack of translating them into print so as to render his descriptions unmistakable. He looked upon all creatures in the proper way, as if each had a soul and character of its own. He loved them all, and was unwilling to hurt any of them." These characteristics are well shown in this book, for one is able to recognise the birds easily from some prominent feature described therein.[*1]
The Five Windows of the Soul, published by John Murray in 1898, is of quite another character from the above, and was regarded by its author with great affection as the best of his books. It is certainly a wonderfully self-revealing book, and full of the most beautiful thoughts. A second impression appeared in the following year, and a new and cheaper edition has just been published. The portrait of Eha is reproduced from one taken in 1902 in a flat on the Apollo Bunder, and shows the man as he was in workaday life in Bombay. The humorous and kindly look is, I think, well brought out, and will stir pleasant memories in all who knew Mr. Aitken.
W. B. B.
Madras, January 1914.
[*1: The illustrations are his own work, but the blocks having been produced in India, they do not do justice to the extreme delicacy of workmanship and fine perception of detail which characterise the originals, as all who have been privileged to see these will agree.]