LEADENHALL STREET, January 1858
MY DEAR JOHN,—You are angry with me—you have said some hard things of me—you are preparing to strike me. "Strike; but hear!"
There has been a great calamity in India. A terrible misfortune has overtaken us. Yes, John, your sons and brothers, your daughters and your sisters, have been cruelly murdered or foully outraged. Atrocities, which the soul sickens to contemplate, have been perpetrated by my soldiers. I have never spoken lightly of the burden of suffering and sorrow which has descended on your people. Heaven knows how sorely I have grieved for them. I have seen the black robes and the pale sorrowing faces of wives and mothers mourning for those who are not; and though I cannot bring back the dead, I have tried to comfort the living; and I believe that, at least in some cases, my efforts have not been in vain. Say what you like of me, John, but do not say that I have made light of this great trouble. We do not mourn in sackcloth and ashes nowadays. But we go about our work, for work must be done, with heavy hearts; and are not the less stricken because we do not lift up our voices in loud lamentation after the manner of a Greek chorus.
Yes, John, you may make the most of it—paint it in its blackest colours—proclaim it in the strongest words—no fear that I will gainsay you. No one ought to know, no one does know, so well as I, the full extent of the calamity. "True," you say; "but it is little use to know it now; you ought to have known before that the storm was coming, and you ought to have been prepared to meet it." Brother, brother! I am afraid that we are neither of us prophets. You must forgive me if I sometimes resort to that vulgar figure of speech known as the "tu quoque." It does not make me really better to prove that you are worse; but poor weak mortals like ourselves, John, are only good or bad by comparison; and as you—just as if your hands were not full enough already—are talking about taking my business out of my hands, and doing it yourself, I may just ask you whether you were prepared for war when you found yourself compelled to put forth all your strength against Nicholas of Russia; whether you had the least expectation a year before that your old and holy ally would behave himself so shamefully towards you? Why, it is not long since you "pampered and petted" the padded Autocrat, and were in ecstasies with his "mild eyes" and his gorgeous race-cups. You "did not think he would ha' done it," John. I know you did not. Well, there is no harm in confessing that I did not think that my Sepoys would have done it. If I had thought it, you may be sure I should have prepared myself better for the crisis. I repeat that we are neither of us prophets. But if I did not know in 1856 that my Sepoy army would in 1857 be all in a blaze of mutiny, I am certain that they did not know it a jot better themselves. You know the story of the gentleman who reared and kept a tame tiger. He fed it well with mild diet—with milk-and-bread and biscuits, but no flesh: he treated it kindly, gave the beast a warm place on his rug, and it licked his hand as a cat would, and was long every bit as gentle. One day, you know, the master had cut his finger, and had put a piece of sticking-plaster over the wound; and when the animal licked his hand as usual, the adhesive plaster was removed, the wound opened, and the beast tasted blood. Forthwith it set up a growl of terrible significance—the savage instincts of the flesh-eater had been suddenly awakened; all past kindness was forgotten; the gentle, tractable, domestic habits of the faithful affectionate companion and servant ceased on the instant with that first taste of blood, and the master soon lay a lifeless and mangled corpse on his own hearth-rug. He never thought the beast would have done it. The beast never thought of doing it. He was a good beast up to the very hour in which he turned round and slew his benefactor. Yes, John; and my Sepoys, though, during the year which has just ended, they have earned for themselves so terrible a notoriety, were really not the traitors and miscreants which you now know them to be, before they had tasted the blood of Adjutant Baugh at Barrackpore. They were wayward and petulant at times like children; but if I told you a year ago that they were about to rise up and murder their officers, to say nothing of other incredible barbarities, and that therefore it was necessary to send a vast European force to India to fortify all the large towns, to put a stop to all works of domestic improvement, to send all officers engaged in the great work of administration back to their regiments—in short, if I had prepared myself to stand a siege from my own native army, it is easy to guess, John, that you would have called me a timid old fool, and asked why I was making so much stir about nothing. Nay, if when, for your own purposes, you weakened my European force, sending me to bring regiments from India for your Russian war, on the plea that I did not want them, I had protested against your selfishness, and declared that I could not trust my native army, you would have jeered at my weak nerves, at my hypochondriac fears, and declared that there was no danger, except in my own diseased imagination. Nay, John, you would have told me (for you wanted your own soldiers then) that if I could not defend the country with my Sepoys, it had better be abandoned altogether, for that you could never divert the strength of your army from its proper uses—the defence of Great Britain, and the maintenance of her position in Europe. It always has been so. You have lent me your troops freely, when I have not wanted them any more than yourself, and you have taken them away from me when you have wanted them, without caring what I might suffer by their loss. This is your custom, John. Now, I say, is it fair—is it honest, to ask why, when my Sepoys first set up their tiger-cry, and sprang upon their officers, I had not a large body of your troops at my disposal to crush the mutiny in the bud? If I was weak at that time in European troops, brother, who made me so, I should like to know?
Then you ask me why I had not posted the Europeans at my disposal in their proper places? You know the story, John, of your brother Paddy's blanket—how that the said blanket, being too small to cover him from shoulder to heel, he cut a piece off the top, and sewed it on to the bottom when his feet were cold; and when the draft came to his back, he reversed the process, but did not mend matters, you may be sure. Now, I might have cut a piece off the top, and sewed it on the bottom, but the blanket would not have covered me from Peshawur to Pegu any better for this process. Still, it must be admitted that you hit the blot, when you ask why there were no European troops in Delhi, which contained our principle arsenals and magazines. Well, John, I must make a clean breast of it, and admit that there ought to have been European troops in Delhi, and that I ought to have insisted on having competent soldiers at the head of my armies, to see that the troops were properly distributed. If you are not past shame, brother, you will be abashed when you read this. Whose business was it to arrange the military details necessary for the defence of the country? Who but the head of the army—the Commander-in-Chief? But did the ——s and ——s, whom you forced upon me— (you may fill up the blanks, John)—nay, did the great Napier, of whom you are so proud, and whose superhuman wisdom you are continually flinging in my face because I was not prepared to take him at his own or his brother's valuation, and had, therefore, a quarrel with him—did the small ——s and ——s, or even the great Napier, I say, urge the location of European troops at Delhi? Surely I might, without blame, consider the Governors-General and Commanders-in-chief, whom you sent me, competent to decide between them in what places the European troops at their disposal are most advantageously to be located. Remember that I am not responsible for the selection either of the civil rulers or the military chiefs, to whom these details are intrusted. Give me a chance, John, and see if my nominees will be caught napping. Do you think that if John Lawrence had been Governor-General, and Henry Lawrence Commander-in-Chief, in the spring of 1857, the troops would not have been in their right places?
Look at it how you will, brother, and it does not appear that either the paucity of European troops in India, or their imperfect distribution, is fairly chargeable to my wilfulness or my neglect. Do you think that if the Horse-Guards or the War Office had had the direct management of military affairs in India, things would have gone better? My dear John, I believe that I do impose some check upon the eccentricities of your people in the regions of Whitehall: they are generally ashamed to propose to me any very egregious job, and if, under strong temptation, they determine to brazen it out, I can make a stand against the wrong; and I have made a stand ere now, with good success, though oftener I have failed to do more than protest against the evil which I could not prevent. Have you ever, I should like to know, except in a great emergency—I mean by this, except when you were fairly frightened—ever sent me out an officer of whom you could make anything at home? Has it not been your wont, John, to send me decayed and incapable generals to command my armies? Have you not send me the blind, the deaf, the lame, the paralysed, the gouty, the crippled, little heeding the injury they might inflict, the discredit they might bring upon us both, so long as you were able to "provide" for them? And can you now have the face to turn round upon me, and ask why I have not made better military preparations for the defence of the country? If Delhi was left without European troops, who suffered it to be thus defenceless—who declared that my Sepoys were "faithful to a proverb"? It is surely right, I say again, that, sitting in Leadenhall Street, I should give heed to the opinions of competent military authorities on the spot; and if the military authorities on the spot are not competent, it is your fault—not mine—that such men are in their wrong places.
Do you seriously believe, John—nay, does any human being believe, that if India in 1857 had been under your direct management, there would have been no rebellion? No one alleges that the general misgovernment of the country has had anything to do with the rising of the Sepoys. My domestic administration is often said to be faulty; but I do not think that in this case it has been brought up against me, in the face of the notorious fact of the general quiescence of the people. But my external policy is said to have had much to do with the insurrection of the military classes. I have been trying hard all my life not to have any external policy except a commercial one, but in this I have been overruled; and I am now told that the rebellion of my soldiery has been stimulated by the war in Persia, and by the annexation of Oude. Now, I believe that the war with Persia had really something to do with the matter. In the first place, it carried off a large number of troops, and so diminished the impression of our military strength; and in the second, it suggested to the Persian Court, not very scrupulous at any time, and most unscrupulous in war, the expediency of creating a diversion by exciting a military revolt in Northern India; and their emissaries, I know, were actively employed. I think it very probable, John, that if there had been no Persian war, there would have been no military revolt. But who made the Persian war? I do not sit in judgment upon it. It may have been righteous or unrighteous, expedient or inexpedient; but I had nothing to do with it. I know nothing about it beyond what you have been pleased to communicate to me in your Bluebooks—always excepting the little business of the bill, with the figures of which I am sure to make acquaintance. And as for Oude, I admit that I assented to its annexation. For years and years, however often as it was recommended by others, I abstained from decreeing the absorption of a State which at least had been faithful to me. And when at last, after hoping against hope for some improvement in the miserable condition of affairs, which called so loudly for the interference of the paramount power—after trying a succession of princes, and finding every new ruler worse than the last, I gave my consent to a measure which it would have been culpable weakness to have shrunk from any longer—every step that I took, John, was in conjunction with your Ministers. Right or wrong, politic or impolitic, it was well considered by your servants. The measure was as much your measure as it was mine. If it was a folly, or if it was a crime, call your own responsible advisers to account, and ask them why they decreed it.
It comes, then, to this, John, that if the Persian war and the annexation of the Oude principality were among the exciting causes of the Sepoy revolt, three-fourths of the blame attach to you. We must place to your credit the whole of the one and the half of the other measure. What sort of a case, then, do you make out against me, either in respect of military mismanagement or political indiscretions, such as may have excited or aggravated the evil which we are now deploring? —what sort of a case, John, that you should lay claim to the possession of greater foresight and wisdom than I have shown in the management of my affairs? Why, friend, you are like the coachman who upset the coach, and laid it off on the guard upon the dickey. The more we look into the matter, the more it will appear, that in all the acts which have been most emphatically laid to my charge, you or your servants, John, have had the principle share. What sort of logic, then, is that which, from these premises, advances to the conclusion that I should be stripped of the little power I possess, and that you should be made absolute and independent in the direction of Indian affairs?
I know what you would say, John: you would say that when a great crisis arrives, I am incapable of grappling with it—that I have shown feebleness and inactivity in going to the rescue of your imperilled sons and daughters in the East. This is one of the cries that has been got up against me, to bring me into popular disrepute, and to prepare the way for my downfall. It would be a strong argument (nothing could be stronger) for my immediate extinction, if it were only true. I should be ashamed of myself, brother—I should not think myself worthy to live, if I had been lukewarm in such a cause. But did I lose weeks, or days, or hours? did I seek to economise the means at my disposal? did I move slowly, or give grudgingly? No; I lost not a precious hour—not a minute, John. You will remember, I am sure, that sultry June morning, when suddenly there broke upon the town the dire intelligence that the Sepoy army was in a blaze of mutiny, and that Delhi, the great imperial city, with all its historical traditions and political associations, and, worse still, with its mighty arsenals and magazines, was in the hands of the rebel army. I shall never forget that morning. It was Saturday, when, according to wont, John (a good custom, which you probably encourage), little business is done; and after a hard week's work in sultry London weather, I was starting in search of a little fresh country-air, when that ominous telegram was put into my hands. The horses' heads were turned, you may be sure, not to the railway station, but to my house of business in the City. On that day a solemn council was held; on that day the first steps were taken towards the strengthening of the European army in the East. On the next business-day I held another special council. I did everything that could be done to accelerate the despatch of troops to the East. And as, fortnight and fortnight, fresh news of disaster and of death came welling in, I increased my efforts to augment my European force, and sent forth regiment after regiment, at my expense, to rescue your sons and daughters from destruction, and to cleanse the national honour from the temporary disgrace that had been inflicted upon it. I do not know, John, that any human exertion could have prepared these troops for more immediate despatch.
But you tell me that I ought to have sent them forth in steam- ships. I was eager to do so, John. I wished to send them forth in some of your war-steamers. I thought that, over and above the means of effective transport which your huge steam men-of-war afforded, a great moral impression would be produced by their appearance at my principle Indian seaports. But what was I told, John? what was the answer given by your servants? That you had no steamers for such a purpose. I don't know why you had no steamers for such a purpose; for what nobler purpose could they ever be put to than the salvation of our Indian Empire? Have they ever been put to such good uses before? are they likely to be put to any better uses? Don't tell me that the transport service is unpopular. If there is a man in your service, John, who would not, at such a time, have rejoiced to see the decks of his ships swarming with soldiers, and have been proud of the great work which he was doing, or helping to do, in conveying fighting men to the seat of war, that man is a disgrace to your navy, and worthy only of ignominious dismissal. If I had been served by such men, John, I should have no great Indian Empire now for you to endeavour to wrench from me.
But why, you say, did I not send out men by means of private enterprise, which never fails on these occasions, across Isthmus, and by the Red-Sea route to India? If Egypt had been part of my territory, do you think that I would not have done it, John? do you think I would have hesitated for a moment? But I was told that there were political questions involved, and of course I knew nothing about the politics of the Porte, or the politics of France, or the politics of any other country with which I had no "relations." It was your business, John, to smooth the way for such transport of troops through Egypt—it was mine to pay for their transport when the road was made clear for them. Meanwhile I took up all the best ships that were offered to me. I took up some screw-steamers for long sea-voyages, and I took up some clipper sailing-vessels. It is said that I ought to have taken up more steamers, for the steamers have beaten the clippers. There are two things to be said about this, John: one is, that experienced mariners were doubtful whether, at that season of the year, the screw-steamers would beat the clippers; the other is, that, according to the best information that I could obtain, John, there was not coal enough on the line for a greater number of steam-vessels than I took up. I may mention a third matter: if a larger number of men had arrived at Calcutta in the autumn, there would have been no means of despatching them to the upper provinces, and they would have rotted like sheep on the great wet plain which steams around Fort-William. You may depend upon it, John, that I did the best that could be done; and the more you inquire into the matter, the better I shall be pleased.
What, then, is the charge against me? If I did not cause this disaster by anything that I have done, or anything that I have left undone, and if I did not fail in the hour of need to do the best that could be done to repair it, why am I more deserving of extinction than I was five years ago? Five years ago, John, after a long and patient inquiry, you decreed that I deserved the confidence of the country. If the events of the Sepoy revolt have not shown that I have forfeited this confidence, how else have I forfeited it during these last five years? At no period of history have I been more active in well-doing. Never, in an equal space of time, have I—never, I dare to say, has any earthly potentate, in an equal space of time—progressed farther in the right direction than I have done since the year 1853. You seek, then, to destroy me in the very zenith of my utility, with all my great material and moral improvements advancing steadily towards perfection. Without any reproach of self-seeking, I may desire—honestly desire, John—to go on with the work I have commenced, to consummate the great experiments which have been so auspiciously inaugurated. You may accuse me of clinging to power, of holding fast to patronage, of fighting sturdily for the retention of my privileges; but the only privilege which I desire to retain is the privilege of doing good to countless millions of people; and I cannot willingly yield that privilege, except under the full assurance that you will carry out the work I have commenced in a conscientious spirit, and with more successful results. I confess, John, that although I think you in the main a very good fellow, I have no assurance of this.
But supposing that it had been proved against me that I had occasioned, by my mismanagement or by my neglect, this lamentable Sepoy rebellion, and that, having thus created it, I had not exerted myself to put it down, these failures upon my part would not demonstrate the expediency of the present sudden effort to destroy me. There are things which, right in themselves, become wrong if they are done at the wrong time. Can you conceive a worse time than the present for revolutionising the Government of India? Why, John, you are making common cause with the rebels—aiding them to achieve a signal triumph (what greater than the overthrown of a government?) and condoning their offences, by declaring to all the world that they are not without a pretext for their crimes. Will not a change of government, following closely upon this hostile demonstration, be a concession to our enemies? Perhaps you will answer, "No—the very reverse of a concession. It will indicate only the settled resolution of an offended nation to put forth all its strength for the chastisement of the offenders, and for the establishment of a more vigorous system of control, under which rebellion can never rear its head again without instant suppression." In other words, John, it will be regarded, you think, in the light of an aggressive movement. A miserable alternative, my friend—a more dangerous belief than the other. You will not readily persuade the people that a change of government is not necessarily a change of system. Remember that we have hitherto had only to grapple with a military rebellion. Take care, John, that you do not so disturb and alarm the national mind as to convert this military revolt into a popular revolution. I believe that the proclamations which have been put forth in India, emphatically declaring that the British Government has not, and never has had, a design to interfere in any way with the free exercise of the religions of the people, have had a most salutary and tranquillising effect. The pledges which my Government from time to time has given to the people have never been violated. But a belief, insidiously sown by designing men, has recently grown up, especially among the military classes, who have been more immediately appealed to, that the Queen and the Queen's Ministers have determined to forcibly convert the people to Christianity, and that a large display of military force in India is a necessary part of the process. You must take heed lest you do anything, John, to encourage the diffusion of this belief among the great masses of the people. They are very ignorant and very credulous, and they are very easily alarmed. Any kind of change fills them with vague apprehensions of evil. You may be sure that the news of the removal of the old Sirkar, and the establishment of a new paramount authority, will be circulated throughout India with every possible kind of disquieting exaggeration associated with it. You have a very vague notion in England of the monstrous and ridiculous falsehoods which find ready currency in India, even in tranquil times. How much more likely are false reports to be circulated in seasons of great popular excitement, when our enemies, active and designing, are continually on the alert, seeking for opportunities of working out our discomfiture by misrepresenting in the foulest and most dangerous manner the intentions of the dominant race, and ever basing, when they can, their mighty falsehoods on some superstructure of truth! If, then, the inauguration of the Crown Government of India be regarded as an aggressive movement, it is not difficult to foresee the probability of a still worse result than that which may reasonably be predicted if the change be viewed in the light of a concession. You have only a choice of evils, John. Either way danger is lying.
Nay, indeed, I may go further, and say that the two evils are not incompatible with each other—that truly they are, in the present case, very likely to coexist. For whilst the rebellious Sepoys may triumph in the thought that they have overthrown the existing Government, and brought about a great revolution (and such, too, will be the view taken by independent lookers-on), the great mass of the people will see only in the change something threatening and portentous, and too probably—for such is their wont—will be roused into antagonism by their fears. So I cannot repeat too emphatically that even the right thing may be wrong, if it be done at the wrong time.
But how do you know that what you are proposing to do is the right thing, John? Are you in a fit state of mind for the consideration of so grave a question? Have you thought enough about it—have you read enough about it—do you know enough about it? I wish I could say, John, that I think our troubles in India are at an end. I thoroughly believe that we have turned the corner—that we have got our innings—but there is a deal of work yet before us. Some, indeed, go so far as to say that India, at the present time, can hardly be called a British dependency. I have no uneasiness on that score. Our position is a secure, though a troublous one. But there is much stirring work to be done before the flames of rebellion are thoroughly extinguished; and who begins to rebuild his house whilst it is yet on fire? Let us first extinguish the flames, and then talk of reconstruction. You will be cooler, you will be better informed; you will know more what you are about, after the mutiny is thoroughly suppressed, than at the present time, when your passions are excited, your understanding is confused, and you are a long way off from the necessary amount of knowledge for legislation on so great a question. I doubt, John, whether you are fully impressed with a conviction of the magnitude and the difficulty of that question; or of the earnestness and solemnity with which it behooves you to address yourself to its consideration. You may depend upon it that it is a graver matter—that your responsibility is greater—than you think, John. You may legislate in haste; but if you do, you may be sure that you will repent at leisure.
Be assured that no graver question than this has ever come before you. It is a question which, to be properly understood, must be regarded in many different aspects. It must be looked at from a stand- point, in India, and in England, on which it is not less necessary to post yourself with your telescope in your hand. You ought to know more about your own affairs than I do, John—so I will not dwell upon the trouble which you may bring upon yourself by taking the management, and with it the patronage, of India, out of my hands. You remember how it was said of old, that "the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished." Now, my Government, faulty as it may be in principle and inefficient in practice, has at all events been a good middle-class Government. The Anglo-Indian empire was founded by the middle classes—was maintained by the middle classes. The middle classes have fought for it; the middle classes have toiled for it. What your orators, John, are wont to call the "cold shade of the aristocracy," has never chilled the ardour of the real workmen—of the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, who have done so much for your national greatness. The right men, on my estate, as far as you would let them, John, were ever in their right places. Where I alone have had the power of selection, the best men have come to the front. Has there ever been a time, has there ever been a conjuncture, no matter how trying, when my officers have been found wanting? Have I not distributed my patronage fairly and honourably among men who could do little or nothing for their children in Whitehall? Has this patronage (for patronage is power) in any way destroyed, or has it tended to preserve, the just balance of your much-vaunted constitution? It has not gone to well the power of the Crown or of the aristocracy, but has served as a counterpoise to the power of both. Take care that you do not place a vast instrument of corruption in the hands of the Minister of the day. But that is an English question, John, and you will see its bearings without my help.
It is none of my business to point out to you what will be the effect upon India of direct government by the Crown, or, in other words, of Government by a parliamentary majority. I have little to say, John, against your House of Commons. I believe it to be an assembly, on the whole, of very intelligent and right-minded men. But they must be very much changed from what they were a few months ago, if they are at all fit to govern India. A very little has elapsed since they knew, as a body, as much about India as they cared, and that was nothing. India emptied your House, John, as surely as a Queen's ball or a cry of "fire." Now, I believe that a strong interest in the affairs of my Indian Empire has been really awakened. But although Apathy may die on a sudden, there is no sudden death for Ignorance. There is, however, something still worse—something still more dangerous than Ignorance, and that is "a little learning." Now, there is nothing more true than that a man may study India all his life, and not be thoroughly master of the subject at threescore. The more one knows on such a subject, the more conscious one is of the deficiency of one's knowledge—the less one is inclined to dogmatise. But your men of a little learning, inflated with a three-month's vacation-cram, have no doubts or misgivings. They make up their minds about the most difficult and the most complicated questions whilst they are brushing their hair or tying their cravat, and rush in where ripe Indian statesmen fear to tread, lest they should stumble over some hidden difficulty. I shudder to think of the flood of nonsense that will be poured out next session, John. I wish that it were such nonsense as I could quietly laugh at in an easy-chair: but the nettle danger will be there to sting; the rashness of ignorance will assume the worst forms of aggressiveness. Already I hear it said on every side that Parliament is hot for the discussion of the "religious question." If it had not been for my knowledge and my caution, John, that "religious question" would long ago have destroyed the empire of England in the East. Now, do you really think, John, that your House of Commons is a fit authority to determine the amount of toleration with which the religions and religious usages of the people of India are to be practically regarded by the British Government in the East? Why, my dear John, if you know anything at all about the religions of India, you must have gained your knowledge very recently. It is not very many weeks since one of your shining lights, a member of your Government (and an historian to boot, I believe), spoke, at a public meeting, of Buddhism as the prevailing religion of India. With knowledge will come caution; but my fear is, it will come too late. Perhaps you have not considered, John, what will be thought in India, when, together with the announcement that the Imperial Government of Great Britain is about to assume the direct management of affairs, there go forth tidings to the effect that the Imperial Parliament is hotly discussing the expediency of a crusade against the religions of the country, and vehemently condemning me for my toleration-pledges in past years.
Do not think, John, that I deprecate the public discussion of the affairs of my Empire. The more inquiry, the more discussion, the better, so long as it is impartial inquiry and enlightened discussion. What I deprecate is public discussion, which does not seek to elicit the truth, and has no tendency to benefit the people. Ignorance and party-spirit are what I fear. Give full play to these in Parliament, and I know not what may be the result. It has heretofore been the custom to consider the affairs of India to be my concern rather than yours. Your Parliament has been wont to avoid their discussion, and to justify their avoidance, upon the plea that "John Company knows all about these things: leave them to him; he will manage them." And although I have in this way incurred some obloquy not justly my due, and have smiled at the popular ignorance regarding the responsibilities of Indian government, I have solaced myself, under unmerited condemnation with the thought, that it is better, on the whole, that Parliament and the people should not have too clear impression of the direct responsibility of the Minister of the day for all that is done or left undone in my Indian Empire. In the abstract, I admit, John, that it is not pleasant to be a scape-goat, but I would rather be a scape-goat than I would see India given up to party; and as soon as the direct and sole responsibility of the Crown Minister of the day, for all that is done or left undone in India, comes to be not a substantive but a generally recognised fact, India will become the battle-field of party. Upon a parliamentary vote relating to some ill- understood Indian question, the fate of a ministry may depend. Nay, I am inclined to think that it will often depend, for India is not likely to be the strong point of a Crown Minister. His own ignorance, and the ignorance of the House, will render him more readily assailable in this direction than on the side of his domestic policy. And you know better than I do, John, that the state of parties at the present time is peculiarly favourable to damaging assaults on the Government of the day. A weak section of the House, representing the views of some particular class of the community—say of that which is typified by "Manchester" or "Exeter Hall,"—aided by those who habitually vote against Government as a party, or as you call them, John, your "Opposition," will often have the power of obtaining a majority, and of damaging, if not upsetting the ministry by an adverse vote. Government, in such a case, will either be driven into some dangerous concessions, or a new ministry will replace them, pledged to a measure which may be pregnant with danger to our Indian Empire. Your Indian fellow-subjects will never again be suffered to enjoy their old feelings of security. They will be threatened with continual changes, and they are jealous of change to a degree which you can hardly appreciate. You may sneer at my "traditionary policy," John; but it is the definite and consistent policy of a permanent Board, not removable at the pleasure of the Crown, and not influenced by political partisanship, which has enabled us so long to hold the "brightest jewel" in our hands.
I do not say that my government is faultless, John, either in respect of its machinery or the manner of its working. I did not make it. Indeed, no one made it. Like the little negro-girl in Brother Jonathan's famous novel, "I 'spects I grow'd." But I am not peculiar in this. How did you come by your famous constitution, John? Did any one ever make it for you—did you make it yourself? or did it grow out of inevitable circumstances fostered by the genius of the people? Of course it did; and have not your colonial constitutions grown up in the same way? Such constitutions are the strongest, the most flourishing, because the most deeply rooted. What was an acorn, John, is now an oak. You can manufacture nothing with half so good a chance of endurance as that which, under God's providence, has grown up in spite of you. I was a trader, as you know—a dealer in piece-goods, teas, and other commodities, and now I am a sovereign power; but still I retain much of the old administrative machinery which formerly governed the affairs of our trading corporation. But it is not for you, John, to reproach me on account of this remnant of the old mercantile leaven. Is there anything of which you are prouder than of your mercantile enterprise? Are you not continually crying out that the activity, the promptitude, and the success of private enterprise are perpetually putting the cumbrous inertness of the Imperial Government, with all its costly failures, to shame? I am not ashamed of having been a trader. If I had not been a trader, there would have been no Anglo-Indian Empire. My Court of Directors is somewhat changed from the Court which erst sat in judgment on investments; but it is substantially the same body. And because it is so, you speak of it as a worn-out institution, and say that it has served its purpose, and must now cease to exist. Let it cease; if you can provide anything better, or as good, in its place. Do this, and without a murmur I will retire into private life.
I will tell you what my Government is, John. It is a Government possessed of knowledge and of independence. My bitterest enemies have never brought to my charge that I know nothing about India. I will not repeat what has been said, from time to time, by some of the eminent of your public men, on the subject of the extensive and accurate information possessed by the Court of Directors, and their officials of the India House, respecting the varied concerns of all parts of my immense Empire. I may move slowly, but I move surely. Festina lentè has been my motto. It is easy to settle a matter in an off-hand fashion when you are guiltless of knowing anything about it. But a number of men, with large knowledge and extensive experience, cannot, where great interest are at stake, dismiss a question officially before them, in a summary flippant manner. But do you, with your triple Government, John, get through business any faster—nay, do you get through it so fast? How long were you manufacturing the new Marriage and Divorce Act? Through how many stages did that unfortunate Bill pass? How did it go up and down, backwards and forwards, from one House to another! Leadenhall Street and Canon Row are nothing to be compared with Lords and Commons, when they are in antagonism with each other! If Leadenhall Street and Canon Row fall out, it is said to be am "unseemly spectacle." But do Lords and Commons never fall out? Yes, and you do not talk of unseemly spectacles, but of constitutional checks and elements of safety. The Court of Directors, in their deliberative capacity, may be slow, but in their executive capacity they are not. They can move fastly enough when there is need to be fast, as I have told you in an earlier part of my letter.
Then as I have said, I am at least independent. Did any one ever connect the Court of Directors with the party-politics of the day? India is of no party. I work as harmoniously, John, with a Whig as with a Tory minister. First one party, then another, is in the ascendant. The storms of faction pass harmlessly over me. I scarcely feel the change in the political atmosphere. My policy is still the same. My agents, when I have my own will, are still the same. I have never made an appointment, or helped to make an appointment—I have never cancelled or helped to cancel an appointment—with any reference to English politics. I have never used my patronage for political purposes. I have never bought, or tried to buy, a single vote in Parliament with it. I have never sought to purchase royal or ministerial favour, by supporting measures known to be popular in high places. I have resisted Court intrigue and Government jobbery—vainly, perhaps, but conscientiously. And I have gone about my own business, without a thought of anything but of worthily fulfilling the great trust which has been reposed in me as the ruler of a great empire. I have governed India for the people of India; and even our enemies are now publicly acknowledging that the country has never been governed so well.
But can you expect this freedom from party influence to survive my political extinction? If I cease to be, John, will you ever have an independent Indian Government again? You tell me that there is to be a Council or Board, connected with the Indian Minister—a Council of experienced advisers, men of Indian antecedents and established reputation—such a Board, only more limited in numbers, as the present Court of Directors, and brought into more immediate association and co-operation with the Indian Minister. Establish such a Board, with knowledge and independence not inferior to the degree in which those qualities distinguish the Court of Directors, and I shall not tremble for the safety of my old Empire; but I do not clearly see how you are to establish such a Board. The knowledge and experience of the present Court of Directors cannot be possessed by any council of inferior numbers. We have not now got all that we want even in a Council of eighteen members; and I believe that you did contemplate the limitation of the new Council to six of eight members. I hope that you have thought better of this design. For India is a very large place; the Executive Government is divided into a number of different departments. The business, like the people, John, is of a very varied character; and I do not see how a Council much smaller than that of Leadenhall Street, at the present time, can embrace the necessary amount either of local or departmental experience. Then how can you insure its independence? how can you prevent a Council nominated by the Crown—that is, by the minister of the day—from becoming, for all practical purposes of independent Government, a mere name? The minister, in the first instance, would probably nominate certain members of the present Count of Directors. They are independent men; and, under any form of Government, would doubtless be independent. But what would be their power? and, if powerless, of what use their independence to the country? Now, what power do you propose to give them? Degrade them to the level of mere advisers, and what is there to modify the arbitrary power of the minister? One minister might take the advice of his Council—another might not even seek it. The present Court of Directors initiates all the ordinary business of the Home Government of India. Now, a despatch, in the course of the several processes of manipulation to which it is subjected, may undergo some changes; but, after all, the main substance of it will be left much in the state in which it was originally devised. This initiation, therefore, is practically, though not theoretically, real power. It is a pervading influence for good, or for evil; and where the knowledge is, there also should be the original creative function. Now, take care, John, that this initiatory process take place in the council chamber, not in the bureau of the minister. And take care, John, that if, at a later stage, the minister overrules the decisions of the Council, his reasons for so doing are placed upon record, and the protests or remonstrances of the Council also recorded. But will the Council stand up manfully in defence of their opinions, as the old Court of Directors has done, if they are appointed by, and are to the removable at the pleasure of the Crown. In what other way, you ask, can they be appointed? It is not easy to answer the question, for you propose to destroy my privileges and functions as a constituent body, and you have no thought of creating any other constituency. Whether a portion at least of the vacancies might not as they occur be filled by the nomination of the remaining members of the Board (the nominee, of course, fulfilling certain conditions, and possessing certain qualifications), is a question which I leave to your consideration. I have no very strong opinion about it myself. All I contend is, that unless you can establish a Council of experienced Indian statesmen, independent of party, and with some real practical power, you might as well give up India at once to the dictatorship of a Secretary of State.
Perhaps, John, you will remind me of your colonies, and say that you manage your colonies with the aid of a Secretary of State. So you do, after a fashion. But I am not aware that there are any very useful lessons of external government to be learned from your successes, John. I don't wish to say anything unkind to you, but I have always had a notion that those successes have been very moderate—I will not use any harder words. You taunt me with this military rebellion in India. You have contrived to get up rebellions of all kinds in the colonies. Have you not had rebellions in Canada, rebellions at the Cape, rebellions in Ceylon? You are seldom without a rebellion on hand. One day it is a black rebellion, another it is a white rebellion; now you are dragooning down the aborigines, now warring with your own children. You have almost forgotten, John, that America was once a colony, and that it was lost to you by parliamentary government. If, then, there were anything in the case of India at all analogous with that of the colonies, I should still desire to rescue it from the grasp of a single Secretary of State. But India is not a colony, and is nothing like a colony. One of your late Indian servants, John, who has since taken to a seafaring life, put the case so well, some four or five years ago, that I cannot do better than remind you of his words: "It is a remarkable circumstance," he said, "in connection with this question, that since the celebrated bill which decided the fate of Mr Fox's Administration, we have seldom or never entered into the consideration of Indian affairs. Party questions with reference to India are almost totally unknown, either in the other House of Parliament or here; and I do not hesitate to say that it would be a source of imminent danger to India if its affairs were again made the objects of party warfare. I have been in Parliament long enough to see that, in colonial matters, party questions have occurred in which the interests of a colony have been neglected in the contests of party politics in the this House. But we must not shut our eyes to the circumstance that the case of India is in no respect similar to that of the colonies. In all the colonies belonging to this country there is a large portion of British subjects well acquainted with the principles of representative government; and even if the worst were to occur—if (which God forbid) any of our colonies were to be separated from the mother country, though I do not see why the connection based upon mutual benefit should not last for a period much longer than we can any of us look forward to—but even if a separation were to take place, there is hardly one of our colonies which would not able, with more or less success, to govern itself. But if a revolution of that kind was to take place in India, will any one say that consequences must not ensue at which humanity would shudder? There is, in truth, no similarity between the probable consequences in the one case and in the other, and therefore it is of the utmost importance not to allow party politics to interfere with the government of that great dependency."1 There, John, you must needs accept the premises; I recommend to you also the conclusion. You may do mischief enough, heaven knows, by making colonial affairs objects of party warfare; but this is nothing in comparison with the danger which will arise out of the discussion of Indian affairs in a spirit of vehement partisanship, seeking to destroy or to uphold a Ministry. And as Indian questions are more difficult to understand than colonial questions, a Minister, unaided by an experienced and independent Council, would be more likely than a Colonial Secretary to expose himself to attack. I repeat, then, that if your colonies had been far better governed than they have been, you success (speaking hypothetically, John) would afford no argument in favour of the consignment of India to the tender mercies of a single independent Secretary of State.
And now, John, I have done. At least I have done for the present. You may take away from me my Government, but you cannot take away from me my reputation. Depriving me of my Government, you consign me to History; and History is my best friend. I feel in my heart, brother, that when I become a tradition, my real glory will commence. You may think lightly of it now, John. In the hurry of politics—in the strife of parties—amidst the roar of a great rebellion—it may seem a small thing to you that on some fine summer morning the Government of the East India Company quietly ceases to be. But years—nay, centuries hence—upon the great fact, than an English Company—a Company originally of mere traders—consigned into the hands of the Imperial Government the care of an immense empire, reared, nurtured, and maintained by the enterprise of a mercantile corporation, and by the skill, the courage, and the integrity of their servants—an empire of over scarcely less than two hundred millions of inhabitants, of different races and religions—upon this great fact, I say, years, nay, centuries hence, thinking men will comment with wonder and admiration in all the languages of the civilised globe. Such a spectacle the world has never seen before. You may howl at me; you may spit at me; you may drag me with contumely and insult from my throne; but the great fact of which I speak will be still a fact, and time will make you only more sensible of its magnitude and nobility. You may keep that empire, or you may lose it, John; but it will be the empire of the East India Company all the same. The property may change hands; the edifice may be repainted and replastered—you may grave the royal arms over the gateways, and let no one pass without the passport of the Queen; but still there will be the fact that I built the house, that I acquired and extended the marvellous domain—and that it has cost you nothing but some good English blood, which could not have been shed more worthily than in the extension of the empire of civilisation. I write this in no spirit of self-laudation. I do not say that no one but myself could have established this marvellous empire, stretching, as it now does, from the banks of the Indus to the banks of the Irrawaddy. But I humbly and reverently express my belief that Almighty Providence should not have favoured in like manner the ambitious efforts of an imperial power, seeking to aggrandise itself by armed triumphs in new countries. It was, I humbly believe, because I never sought for territorial wealth or political power; because my mandates were ever the mandates of peace; because I charged my servants not to fortify their factories, not to enlist troops, not to make any parade of military strength, that the Almighty selected me as the humble instrument (I say it reverently) of His magnificent designs. God might have baffled your calculations, prostrated your ambition, and humbled your pride, John. Smiting with the sword, you might have perished by the sword. But I went for merchandise, and I obtained empire. My designs were overruled, my policy defeated. I became, in spite of myself, a power, without royal title, but still one of the sovereigns of the earth. I did the best I then could to perform worthily the functions imposed upon me; and although no prophet in my own country, people from strange regions looked with admiration upon my doings, and with jealousy upon my success. You thought you would have done it better, John. God knows! Be thankful that, under Providence, I have done so well; and if it be willed that I am to resign the charge of my empire into your hands, receive the trust reverently, and in a solemn but a humble spirit, deeply impressed with a sense of the magnitude of the undertaking, and the difficulty of the work which lies before you. I have no wish to rule a day longer than is good for India, and for England. If the country, calmly, dispassionately, deliberately, with full knowledge and after ample investigation, will that I should abdicate, I shall abdicate, not grudgingly or querulously, but cheerfully and thankfully, and say to you, John, with a hearty shake of the hand, "There! I have fulfilled my mission, I have run my race. I have given you the Anglo- Indian empire. Keep it; and be blest."
I am, your affectionate Brother,
Last modified 23 October 2007