« PreviousContinue »
BY CYRUS REDDING.
The most important subject at present which occupies, we ought perhaps to say, which “should” occupy, public attention, is our Indian empire, on which we touched last month, noticing one or two events which bore a resemblance in a small degree to the present outbreak. We believe that no arranged plan, no extended plot for an insurrection, existed there, but that there were causes for the more rapid extension of the mutiny which must be sought in the conduct of the ruling powers in England and Bengal : we mean by “powers” the impolitic system of the East India Company and its agents. It was our lot to begin a literary life where we could not but become acquainted with the mode of acting adopted by the Company in too many unjust and impolitic cases. The mutiny and slaughter in Vellore arose from orders given-we never could hear by whom—for interfering with the unalterable customs of the natives allied to caste, orders rescinded by the good sense of Lord William Bentinck. These were the offspring, assuredly, of the command of no Indian officer, but probably of one of those who proceeded from St. James's-street to take a command, with all its idle notions and inexperience in his head, where in respect to caste and religion the utmost delicacy of conduct was required, as well as a perfect knowledge of the character of the natives. At Vellore, as we showed last month, the women's lives were all spared.
It is not so in the present case. Has this circumstance any significance in the abolition of the Suttee, if the origin of the mutiny be a religious one, or else in the Mohammedan hatred of unsecluded womanhood ? Both Mohammedan and Hindoo, unfortunately, had an equal detestation of the product, the one of the hog, the other of animal fat, particularly as some animals are held sacred by the latter. It was known that a hatred of this nature existed, yet it appears attempts were made to continue the practice, or treat it lightly, when no cause of higher dissatisfaction could possibly exist. The men of the 3rd Cavalry at Meerut took fire at the punishment of their comrades, and in a moment of excitement and rage mutinied themselves, and spread the disaffected spirit abroad like a rapidly increasing conflagration. No cry is so strong as that of religion outraged. Montesquieu truly said: “Il y a pourtant une chose que l'on peut quelquefois opposer à la volonté du prince : c'est la religion. On abandonnera son père, ou le tuera même, si le prince l'ordonne, mais on ne boira point de vin, s'il le veut ou s'il l'ordonne.” It is possible that emissaries were at once despatched with false statements to the different native corps ; disaffection already existing from political causes could hardly have caused so sudden an outbreak--a conspiracy of any standing would have oozed out. Our old “No Popery” cry cannot be forgotten, nor how for long years it retarded measures of great benefit to this country, and yet here the fundamental doctrines of the two creeds were alike. Had there been a conspiracy hatched before the affair at Meerut, the Madras and Bombay armies would have been got over by the mutineers. Lillibullero dethroned
a British king—a mere song. Can it be wondered, then, that in India, a trivial matter to a European, but one, unfortunately, in which it singularly happened that both Hindoo and Mohammedan agreed, should arouse the military to mutiny ? The Mohammedan there has always been the more troublesome. Both these people are intensely bigoted to their creeds, though very different in character. Their adherence to their forms and ceremonies is incredibly binding. The East India Company had mingled the men of the two creeds in their army in place of keeping the followers of each separate, so as to balance them one against the other, for they have no regard for each other but that arising from a community of interests. The Mohammedans were conquerors in India as well as ourselves. There was no foresight in the Company but in one characteristic matter, and that was to make conquests in order to accumulate revenue, and even to disregard alliances and treaties by indirect means when it would seem likely to contribute to their coffers. In place of concentrating and strengthening their position, they adopted the impolitic system of extension, in a country where they had none but the conquered people to hold their enormous territorial acquisitions in subjection. Thus they were sitting on barrels of gunpowder all the time they were acquiring territory by force of arms or dishonesty in treaties. They could not see the chance of an explosion from a trivial incident like the present. The Company had, too, its own peculiar religion, which did not stand on such petty points as ceremonials connected with conscience in others. The worship of Plutus is remarkable for its self-absorption and slight of all else, and for a peculiar dimness of sight in its votaries, where the interests of others are concerned. The Company become lulled into that sense of security which is described in the proverb, “Whom the gods intend to destroy they first rob of their understanding.” The Company did not know the other day that torture was practised in their territories to extort taxes. We reply, They ought to have known it, and, not knowing it, were not fit for the post they hold.
It is significant of the faults of the Company that it was in the presideney where the supreme government was in local activity that the mutiny appeared. That the army was in a different state there from what it ought to be we have the testimony of Sir Charles Napier. To this we can add the testimony of one or two other officers, capable of knowing better than even Sir Charles Napier of its state, one of whom had served between forty and fifty years in the Indian army. He used to express great uneasiness on the subject; and some years ago we remember his making a significant sign that the Company was rapidly proceeding to cut its own throat. The army, he said, no longer was what it had been. The European officer was once always with his men, attached to them as they were to him; he treated them kindly, and they looked up to him with great regard. He made up his mind to India as his home for life unless he attained high rank by long service. The Company detached the English officers on civil duty, leaving a few junior Europeans with their regiments, and garrisoned with these regiments alone most important places--Delhi for one, he might have instanced. In this service their military duties were lost sight of in the idea of accumulating money, and of getting back early to England. India was no longer an adopted home. The troops found their native officers were good substitutes for the Europeans, could command them as well, and began to feel the importance of the discovery, and the contempt with which they were treated. The charm of the European officer's ability and power was broken, and discipline neglected, while the Sepoy's attachment to him was dissipated. The council in Bengal is the East India Company still. The governor of India can have no knowledge of the country but through that council; and it is remarkable that every governor sent out is always declared the best governor that ever was in office. He may know no more of India than of Kamschatka when he goes out, and may return in the short space of three years with the fame of a demiAlexander, who has discomfited a new Porus. Now, it is not very easy to become acquainted with such a vast empire, its interests, people, and resources, but the governor-general finds all this knowledge in the council of the Company-a knowledge derived from the same repetition. He must see with their eyes, and, in fact, be made "by," not " for,” his place. No governor of India ought to be there less than from seven to ten years. He ought to be able to act alone, and to be responsible to parliament. We have a viceroy in Ireland where he is not wanted, while India is ruled by chapmen and dealers. As to the use of military officers for civil services, it arises from such officers being well-educated men before they leave England, and speaking the language of the country acquired here beforehand.
The scarcity of qualified individuals for such posts—which, from want of education, the officers of the Queen's army would be unequal to fill, and are therefore saved the temptation -might be easily supplied from England, if the education and outfit were not so expensive. There is no want of respectable youths who, but for this, would qualify, and, taking at first some subordinate post in India, in a very little time be as capable as any others for that service, which is ruining, or rather has ruinéd, the Bengal native troops. The Company had better have educated civil individuals without cost at all. But the East India Company is, and has always been, ruled in its government by the principle of traffic. That principle has never yet been anywhere, or in any age, and never will be, consonant with the principle of good government. The people of England, too, have been accustomed to regard India in a very different point of view from our other colonies, because there has been no community of feeling between them and the Company, except among those who hold its stock, seeing it is a money-ruled territory; in other words, a territory ruled not for the benefit of the people, but for what can be made by it, just as if it were a piece of Manchester cotton.
But when the present revolt is put down, which it must be, let the cost be what it may, we ask, in common with all our fellow-subjects, What is the step to be taken next? Is the Company still to go on misruling, and how must that misrule end? The debt of India will be thrown upon the British people if India be not kept. Are we, the people of England, to remain still subservient to the interests of the holders of the stock of a mercenary company which has so grossly mismanaged its concerns ? This is an all-important question. If India be preserved, it will be preserved by English blood and exertion. That a company shall exist
, with a power independent, to a great extent, of the crown and parliament of England—for the Board of Control is a most remarkable
piece of fudge
is not to be longer borne. We must have the ruler or rulers of India responsible to parliament, not indirectly, but directly, and in the face of noonday. We must have all really and truly beneath the British rule that belongs to the British crown. We deny that our Queen Victoria is Queen of India de facto. We deny that the British people and soldiers, her Majesty's subjects, shedding their blood there, have any real hold or brotherhood with the territory they are keeping. It is ruled by a body of traders on mercantile principles, and not on the enlarged principles of just political government, and the yet higher principles of justice and humanity to the governed. We deny the responsibility of its rulers to the British people under the present nominal system, and assert that it must be vindicated to the letter.
What are the objections? Constitutionally, none; we believe the present system, on the contrary, to be highly anti-constitutional. The objections put forward will be twofold :
We, the stockholders, lent our money to the Company; we are not disposed to lend our money, save to the existing authorities."
In the next place : “ The patronage of India is great, and, being lovers of our country, we fear the disposal of that patronage by hands not so pure and immaculate, or, in fact, so indifferent as our own to the love of sucre, may introduce corruption into the government, and finally ruin our liberties !”
The first objection is easily got rid of by offering to pay off the holders and creating new stock.
The second objection is best answered by another question: "If the crown and its ministers are the ruling power, amenable to parliament, is it fitting there should be any executive in the country independent of them?"
But the objection as to the patronage and its great extent is a strong argument why it should no longer remain in most mercenary
hands uncontrolled by the public. For what end does any national government exist but to be at the head of the executive? The patronage of all other existing offices belongs to the ministry for the time being, and there is no other responsible authority to be invested with it, least of all one whose profession and vitality are lust of gain. If the legitimate source of place and office cannot be trusted with the fulfilment of the duties, no inferior and irresponsible corporation of citizens can have a right to it. There must not be two ruling powers independent of each other. Parliament, in such a case, might be corrupted, they say. But the electors, doing their duty, would prevent that, while at present there is no check. In any case, men in office, who do not hold it for mere pecuniary profit, can have no cause to dread a trial of corruptibility in comparison with a body whose object is avowedly not one of high ambition and honest rule, but solely that of making a market by any of the means they possess for
We therefore repeat, the Company must cease to be. The time is come to sweep away entirely its interference-to make a complete clearance of it. Let the country do right, and not look to consequences, for these, in that case, will ever take care of themselves. There is no possible situation in which an individual or an empire can be placed which necessitates the committal of a crime. The opposite has been the result of support
ing such a company, and has proved injurious in its practice.
The setting aside of the Company will not tend to increase the quantum of patronage so very fearfully. Besides, that patronage will then be under the public control. “Oh, the minister will be able to bribe the whole six hundred and fifty of the House of Commons, and secure infallibly a majority in the peers by such an amount of patronage.” Nothing can be more contrary to reason than that argument. Suppose the peninsula of Spain became subjected to the British crown, would the people of Eng. land consent that it should be ruled by certain manufacturers for their own profit, because the crown might be subjected to corrupt influence through the appointments of governors of provinces and the needful machinery for controlling the conquest ? We contend that the crown is the only depositary of such a trust, and that if it abuse such a trust the remedy is provided by the constitution. A minister has a neck for the axe, a nondescript company has no such responsibility. If the representatives of the people become corrupt, it is because the people themselves are so in the return of those they send to parliament, and they will have themselves alone to blame. We are bound to take India immediately out of the control of those who have proved they are not fit to manage its government and to place it under a just, and equitable, and responsible system of rule, as fully as any other portion of the British dominions. We have again and again seen how sparing the Company has been of any measures for the good of the people they ruled. They have been forced to do the very little they have done. The public are well aware, too, how extensive have been the means and influence of the Company to resist every honest attempt to display them in their true colours. Have they not employed their patronage and every means they possessed to that end? What is this Company? Who are the responsible parties attached to it? All the world knows it is a phantom name of nobody knows who, current as the actual ruler of a hundred millions—a mercenary “John Company.” That the wise, the high-minded, the experienced, the noble in the land, are not component parts of the mysterious wisdom which decrees the happiness or misery of so many millions, is perfectly understood. All relating to the Company is of a negative nature. We have a right to the positive in everything which regards our fellow-subjects and their political relations.
Let us go back a little. Mr. Pitt entered parliament in 1781, and supported Burke's reform of the civil list. He commenced with Fox and Burke in opposing Lord North’s government. He denounced the American war, the favourite object of George III. The country hailed him as the heir in patriotism of his father when he called that war accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unjust, and diabolical. He next brought forward a motion for parliamentary reform. Unacquainted with the world, except in a short visit to the Continent, he was but just twenty-three years old, and he became one of Lord Shelburne's administration as chancellor of the exchequer. He soon after threw off his former principles, and showed himself the opponent of all he had before upheld, exhibiting his ambitious views somewhat prematurely. There can be no doubt that his desire to retain office and please the king, whose feelings regarding America he had before opposed, induced him afterwards to place himself in violent opposition to the India Bill, generally called Fox's, but prepared by no less a