Monday, October 31, 2016

The Revue des Deux Mondes on British India

Some articles on Les Anglais et l'Inde, which have lately appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes, under the signature of M. Fridolin, are in every way so remarkable that they appear to us well worthy of being introduced to the notice of our readers. They are long and elaborate, and are obviously written by a man who has an intimate personal acquaintance with his subject. M. Fridolin informs us that he has long been a resident in India; and he writes with the information, and even not without some of the prejudices which are occasionally displayed by the members of the Civil Service themselves. We will begin by noticing a few of these blemishes.

M. Fridolin commences with an account of the terms of admission to the Civil Service, as they are now, and as they were before the institution of the system of examination. He will, we feel sure, thank us for correcting an inaccuracy of some importance into which he has fallen on this subject. He is mistaken in supposing that the successful candidates are to go through a further course of education at Haileybury. They are sent out to India as soon as they are chosen, and Haileybury will cease to exist at the end of the present year. M. Fridolin regrets the change. It appears to him “nothing else than a concession to the levelling and anti-hereditary spirit of the present day.” He considers that under the old system a certain number of families looked upon India as a sort of patrimony, and felt a kind of traditional interest in the maintenance of the policy there established. We cannot agree with him. The characteristic peculiarity of English politics is to use all principles as they apply—to have hereditary officers for some functions, to leave other appointments to patronage, and to throw others open to competition. All these modes of action have their proper places, and though we are anything but enthusiastic for the principle of examinations, and though we think that much absurd cant is talked about them, we feel that if it is ever to be applied, it should be applied to Indian appointments. With every respect for M. Fridolin's opinion, we feel convinced that the notion of hereditary belief in certain opinions is quite unfounded; and the hereditary conviction of all jobbers, that it is the great end of Government to provide for their younger sons, appears to us to be very questionable. Besides this, it is a little inconsistent in M. Fridolin to consider Indian patronage as the great safety-valve by which England rids itself of revolutionary spirits, and yet to wish to see its distribution depend upon personal favour. Younger sons and briefless barristers, he thinks, are too clever by half, and would have overturned the English Constitution in 1793 and 1848, if they had not been kept from doing so by Eastern patronage. If so, it is surely as well to devise a machinery which will deliver us of the ablest members of that amiable class, instead of retaining a system which must exasperate them by postponing their interests to those of any booby fortunate enough to bear one of the names—mostly Scotch—which constituted the hereditary claim to Indian preferment. Scotch lambs may make better civil servants than English or Irish wolves; but if the object is to get rid of the latter, it can hardly be obtained by a plan for promoting the former. We feel, however, that M. Fridolin greatly—though not, perhaps, unnaturally—exaggerates the danger in question. Catiline and Cethegus were utterly un-English characters. Neither our faults nor our virtues are those of political fanatics. The education given at our public schools and universities is the best of all antidotes to romance of any kind. A man who has passed six years in being kicked, flogged, and drilled in scanning Latin verses and rowing at Eton, and three years more in grinding up mathematics and philology at Oxford or Cambridge, is about the last man in the world to “descend into the streets,” or to die for his country, or for any other consideration whatever, if he can possibly avoid it. If an Englishman of twenty-three has taken his education kindly, he is a man of sense who knows a good deal of the world — if he has taken it ill, he is apt to be selfish, harsh, and cynical. But not one educated Englishman in a thousand has what a Frenchman calls illusions, especially political illusions. Some of us are too wise, and the rest too selfish, to wish to see the sky fall that we may have a share of the larks. It is our common boast, or our common shame, that no generation of men has less “nonsense" about them.

The only other point on which we should be disposed to differ from M. Fridolin, is the tone in which he speaks of the moral aspects of our Indian policy. He refers several times to the ruin which the influence of “the Saints of Exeter Hall" at the Colonial Office has brought upon our other colonies. He says that, of all our colonial possessions, India alone flourishes, and that “the Saints" would destroy that too if they had a chance. We have never been sparing of the faults of the party at which these sneers are directed; but if M. Fridolin means to say, that the party which was principally instrumental in abolishing slavery in the West Indies did not thereby confer one of the greatest of blessings on the country at large, we totally differ from him. No doubt much vapid eloquence was used, and much cheap virtue displayed, on that occasion; but it would be most unjust to deny, that some of the highest efforts of nobleness, courage, and self-sacrifice on record were made in the same cause. And, whatever may be thought of the means by which the measure was carried, there can be no sort of doubt that, apart from the advantage of being free from the moral guilt of maintaining so cruel a system as negro slavery, the political benefits which have accrued to us in being rid. of servile insurrections, and of the fear of an ignominious contest with the United States, would be cheaply purchased by a rise in the price of sugar, even if it attained the proportions of a penny per pound. As to the ruin of the other colonies—the Cape, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have thriven pretty well under “the Saints.” Indeed, M. Fridolin must admit, that if our colonies are or were governed by “Saints,” they were Saints who had not quite forgotten their old trade of ruling the earth.

These remarks, however, quite exhaust our list of objections to M. Fridolin's articles, and we can recommend them to our readers as a very lively, full, and most rational account of the subject. Much of his information—new and important no doubt to those for whom it was intended—is familiar to all Englishmen who have given even a cursory attention to the subject; but the general character of his verdict on our Indian Empire is valuable as the evidence of an unprejudiced and yet competent witness, and may serve as a timely rebuke to much foolish and ignorant speculation on the subject, which has obtained a certain currency in our own country.

M. Fridolin's general testimony as to the character of our Government is most satisfactory. He says that, on the whole, and making allowances for the peculiarity of the relative position of the governors and the governed, India enjoys under English rule a degree of good government which it never enjoyed before. The preservation of the peace, the administration of justice, and the security of property were never in so flourishing a condition under any native power whatever; but this prosperity is only relative, and not absolute. The amount of crime committed in India is fearful. The average of committals may not be greater in proportion to the number of the population than in England or France; but, as M. Fridolin very strikingly, and we doubt not very truly remarks, the whole of Indian private life is covered by an impenetrable veil of mystery. The general mass of the population have little confidence in the Government, and no sympathy with it. The atrocities, which are not discovered can only be guessed at from the number of those which are; and the accidental detection, from time to time, of whole classes of professional criminals previously quite unknown, is a most unpleasant symptom of the degree of corruption which may be at work under the surface. The existence of the sect of the Thugs was not discovered till about 1830; and one of the prisoners admitted with complacency that he had committed 779 murders, and that, but for twelve years wasted in prison, he should soon, by the grace of Bowhance, have reached 1000.

The efficiency of the means employed for the suppression of crime is greatly diminished by the utter want of truth which characterizes every part of native society. The experience of every lawyer who sees anything of the appeals which are brought before the Privy Council will confirm M. Fridolin's assertion, that the common assumption that evidence is true, is altogether out of place in Indian Courts. He gives some illustrations of this, which, but for such experience, would seem almost incredible. Some years back, a rich farmer was accused of having killed a man in a quarrel. Twenty-five witnesses swore that they had seen him commit the act—thirty others swore that at the time in question they had seen the prisoner at a place many miles off—and the fact ultimately proved to be, that though not guilty of the crime, he was in a house close by when it was committed. Indeed, as the price of a false witness is on an average an ana, or 3d., these hostile arrays of liars might be multiplied to any conceivable extent. In civil matters the extent of fraud is equally great. On being asked whether the European residents used false testimony, in their law-suits, the well-known merchant Dwarkanauth Tagore answered, “Yes, I am obliged to have recourse to fraudulent means to protect my interests, and the European residents must do as I do.” This evil tells with most fatal effect on the police of the country. Its organization is considered by M. Fridolin as the great blot on the character of the English Government in India. Bengal is divided into as many as 469 thanahs, each under the command of a darogah. The thanah is a district containing a population of perhaps 80,000 souls; and the darogah is an officer paid from £5 to £10, a month, and at the head of an establishment not unlike an Irish police barrack, the garrison of which is composed of fifteen privates and two officers. All these men are natives, and it is their duty, on the commission of a crime, to make inquiries and to arrest criminals. The whole establishment consists of natives, and nothing can exceed the brutality and extortion of which they are occasionally guilty. Our readers will remember the frightful accounts of torture inflicted on the native population under English authority which were published some time ago, and have been so frequently thrown in our teeth by hostile foreign critics. These atrocities were performed almost entirely by the native police, and by other native agents, acting in direct violation of their orders, though in compliance with the immemorial abuses of their native country. M. Fridolin tells a dreadful story in illustration of the character of this system. A murder having been committed, and the murderers having escaped detection, the magistrate of the district offered the place of darogah to one of his subordinates on condition of the discovery of the criminal. The first step which this zealous person took was to offer a reward of 100 rupees to any one who would accuse himself of the murder. Two men were found who accepted the proposal, and were on their own confession, confirmed by the evidence of numerous witnesses, committed for trial. On their trial they retracted their confession, saying that they had merely signed papers without knowing their contents; but the witnesses persisted in their story, and the prisoners were condemned to death. Then they told all, but they would infallibly have been executed if they had not proved that they were in prison for another offence at the time of the murder.

It must not, however, be supposed that the author sees nothing but faults in the native character. His evidence on this subject is so honourable that we give it in his own words:–
‘A lady of much tact, before whom I had been branding the immorality of the Indian population, with the most virtuous indignation asked me one day the following questions:—“In your illnesses have not you found in these lying and rascally servants, whom you have just been anathematizing with so much eloquence, the most attentive and delicate attentions? If you admitted into your house in Europe as many servants as we are surrounded with in India, and that, as we do here, without characters or guarantees of any sort, do not you think that the robberies of which you would be the victim would be of very different importance from those of the few stockings and half-dozen air of socks which are annually missing from your wardrobe? Does it not happen, every day that young girls just arrived from Europe, make the longest journeys to rejoin their families alone, unprotected, and unable to speak a single word of the languages of the country? Once, twice, or thrice a day, in a journey which often lasts for months, she sees the dozen savages who carry her palanquin and baggage changed, and yet there never was a case in which a white woman has been insulted by a word or a gesture.”’
We are unable even to refer to all the interesting information which is contained in M. Fridolin's articles. There is a curious account of the native and English system of education, a curious summary of the history of the Thugs and of the state of infanticide, and a very satisfactory statement of the character of the public works undertaken by the Government. The Great Trunk Road, 950 miles long, the Canal of the Ganges, and the railways already made and now in progress, go far to do away with the old reproach that, if our empire fell to-morrow, a few years would destroy all traces of its existence.

We may say, in conclusion, that the tenderness and respect with which M. Fridolin speaks of institutions which have accomplished so much under such difficulties will be fully appreciated by Englishmen in general. We only hope that it will teach popular libellers of their country to acknowledge the fact that a man may be a public servant without being a fool; and that if our Government makes mistakes enough to give a point, which they would otherwise want, to sneers about “circumlocution,” we have still got men capable of developing and of administering the resources of a great empire, and of substituting a very considerable degree of security and order for a state of chronic rapine and confusion.

Saturday Review, February 21, 1857.

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