« AnteriorContinuar »
ment, no nation would be preferable to them, or prove worthier of command; but such is their little regard to the people of these kingdoms, and such their apathy and indifference for their welfare, that the people under their dominion groan everywhere, and are reduced to poverty and distress."
Though this censure is in so far unfair, that all is, in Oriental fashion, imputed to the ruling power, without allowance for the circumstances of a period of troublous transition, it is evidently penned in an honest and friendly spirit; and evinces no repugnance whatever to the domination of the English, provided they would acquire some better knowledge of "the art of government." In another passage he recounts how gallantly a Hindoo of high rank, Rajah Shitab Roy, co-operated with Captain Knox in attacking an immensely superior force, and how heartily, on returning to Patna, the English captain expressed his admiration of his Hindoo ally, exclaiming repeatedly, "This is a real Nawab; I never saw such a Nawab in my life."
Soon afterwards the French officer with the force opposed to the English, the Chevalier Law, having been deserted by his men, remained by himself on the field of battle, when, bestriding one of his guns, "he awaited the moment of his death." His sur render and courteous reception are dwelt on with evident delight; and, after stating how a rude question addressed to the Chevalier by a native chief was checked and rebuked by the English officer, he makes the following observation :-" This reprimand did much honour to the English; and it must be acknowledged, to the honour of these strangers, that as their conduct in war and in battle is worthy of admiration, so, on the other hand, nothing is more modest and more becoming than their behaviour to an enemy, whether in the heat of action or in the pride of success and victory."
These extracts, borrowed from the notes to the third volume of Mill's History, might be supported by many other passages of a similar tendency in the native work itself; and all tend to prove that the social estrangement since prevailing between our countrymen and the native gentry has not
had its origin in the religious scruples of the latter, or in any decided aversion on their part to a closer intercourse with the strangers to whom Providence has assigned the mastery over their land.
This view is confirmed, in as far as the Mahommedans are concerned, by what Mrs Colin Mackenzie tells us of the comments of the Afghan chiefs on the reluctance of their co-religionists in Hindostan to share a repast with their Christian rulers, and the absence of any fellowship between the two classes is traced by that lady to the very cause to which it is in our opinion also mainly to be ascribed; namely, to our peculiar and somewhat repulsive bearing towards all who differ from ourselves in tone of thought, in taste, or in manners.With a scrupulous respect for the persons and property of those among whom we are thrown by the accidents of war, or trade, or travel, we too often manifest a great disregard for the feelings; and as insults rankle in the memory long after injuries are forgotten, we find that liberal expenditure and strict justice in our dealings cannot make us as popular as our rivals the French, even in countries where we paid for all, and they for nothing, that was supplied or taken. Now, it is well remarked by Mr Marshman, at p. 63 of his Reply to Mr Cobden, that "everything in and about our Eastern Empire is English, even to our imperfections ;" and among them we need not be surprised to find an undue scorn of all that is foreign, heightened by the arrogance of conquest and the AngloSaxon antipathy to a dark complexion. This last is a more potent principle than in our present humour of theoretical philanthropy we may be disposed to admit; but it seems to be born with us, for it may be seen sometimes in English children at an age too young for prejudice, or even a perception of social distinctions.
It was said by "the Duke," that there is no aristocracy like the aristocracy of colour; and all experience in lands where the races are brought into contact, proves the correctness of the aphorism.
During the first thirty years of our ascendancy in India, this most for
bidding of our national characteristics was kept in check by the exigencies of our position; and the consequence was, that, notwithstanding all the corruption of the time, we were then individually more popular than we have ever been since. There was so little of what could be called European society then to be met with throughout the country, that Englishmen were drawn into some degree of intimacy with natives, in order to escape from the painful sense of total isolation and solitude. That this intercourse was favourable to morality in the highest sense of the term, is more than we can venture to affirm; each party too often acquired more of the faults than of the virtues of the other. But still, bad as the public and private life of Anglo-Indians was at that period, and however great the corruption that prevailed, these defects in those who ruled were perhaps more tolerable to the governed than the ill-mannered integrity of a succeeding generation.
The abuses had probably gone on increasing, and the palliating courtesy most likely diminishing, when a new era was ushered in by the arrival of the first Governor-General of superior rank, in the person of the Marquis Cornwallis.
We must refer our readers to Mr Kaye's pages for a clear description of the state of the Bengal Presidency at the commencement of this the second of the three periods into which we have assumed that its history may be distributed. Our space will not allow of our entering into the controversy about the merits of the system then introduced by Lord Cornwallis and his coadjutors, but we gladly make room for the following picture of the state of the peasantry in Bengal, sketched as we are assured by an eyewitness, in the course of the year 1853.
did not know where to turn for a meal, that they had no shade to shelter them, no tank to bathe in, no employment for their active limbs? That villages are not neatly laid out like a model village in an English county; that things seem to fashion; that there are no local improvego on, year by year, in the same slovenly ments, and no advances in civilisation, is all very true. But considering the wretched condition of some of the Irish peasantry, or even the Scotch, and the misery experienced by hundreds in the purlieus of our great cities at home, compared with the condition of the Ryots who know neither cold nor hunger, it is high time that the outcry about the extreme unhappiness of the Bengal Ryot should cease." (P. 194.)
"What strikes the eye most in any village, or set of villages, in a Bengal district, is the exuberant fertility of the soil, the sluttish plenty surrounding the Grihasta's (cultivator's) abode, the rich foliage, the fruit and timber trees, and the palpable evidence against anything like penury. Did any man ever go through a Bengalee village and find himself assailed by the cry of want or famine? Was he ever told that the Ryot and his family
It is cheering to read in the chapter of Mr Kaye's work, from which the above extract is taken, the proofs that the labours of Cornwallis and his able coadjutors have not been fruitless, and that the peasantry of the part of India more immediately under their care, are not, as some have asserted, to this hour suffering from their blundering humanity.
It would indeed be most mortifying to think that regulations, pronounced at the time of their promulgation by Sir Wm. Jones and the best English lawyers in India (though, in the true spirit of professional pedantry, they would not allow them to be called laws), to be such as would do credit to any legislator of ancient or modern times, should really in operation have proved productive of little or no good.
The preambles to some of the first of these regulations are worthy of notice, even on the score of literary merit; and it is impossible to peruse them without feeling that they must have proceeded from highly cultivated minds, deeply impressed with the importance of the duty on which they were engaged.
It was the recorded opinion of the late Mr Courtenay Smith, of the Bengal Civil Service (a brother of the celebrated Sidney Smith, and, like him, a man of great wit and general talent, though unfortunately his good things were mostly expressed in Persian or Hindostanee, and are thus lost to the European world), that succeeding governments have always erred as they have departed from the principles of the Cornwallis code; and
The counterbalancing evils alleged against it were, the monopoly of all high offices by the covenanted servants of the East India Company; the accumulation of suits in the courts of civil justice-a result partly of that monopoly, and partly of the check imposed by our police on all simpler and ruder modes of arbitrement; and its tendency, by humouring the Asiatic aversion to change, to keep things stationary, and discountenance that progress without which there ought, in the opinion of many of our countrymen, to be no content on earth. Indeed, the very fact of the natives of Bengal being satisfied with such a system, would, we apprehend, be advanced as a reason for its abolition a contented frame of mind, under their circumstances, being held to indicate a moral abasement, only to be corrected by the excitement of a little discontent. But, in truth, there was nothing in the Cornwallis system to preclude the introduction of necessary amendments.
The great reproach attaching to it was the insufficient employment of natives, and the exclusive occupation by the Civil Service of the higher judicial posts. Now, we hope to make it clear, by a brief explanation, that the correction of both of these evils might more easily have been effected under the Cornwallis system, than under that by which it has been superseded.
There are, as we have remarked at the outset of this article, questions of difficult solution inseparable from conquest; among which, that of the degree of trust to be reposed in the conquered is perhaps the greatest.
Where attachment can hardly be presumed to exist, some reserve in the allotment of power appears to be dictated by prudence; and to fix the amount of influence annexed to an office to be filled by one of the subjugated, so as to render its importance and respectability compatible with the supremacy of the ruling race, is far from being so easy as those imagine who, in their reliance on certain general principles of supposed universal application, leave national feelings and prejudices out of account in making up their own little nostrums for the improvement of mankind.
Under the Cornwallis system, there was an office which, though then always filled by a member of the Civil Service, seemed, in the limitation as well as the importance of its duties, to be exactly suited for natives to hold. When the civil file of a district became overloaded with arrears, the government used to appoint an officer to be assistant or deputy judge. To him the regular judge of the district was empowered to refer any cases that he thought fit, though there his power ceased, as the appeal lay direct to the provincial court from the award of the deputy.
The deputy being made merely a referee without original jurisdiction, was a wise provision for keeping the primary judicial power in the hands of the officer charged with the preservation of the peace of the district, while importance and weight were given to the office of the deputy, by making the appeals from his decisions lie to the Provincial Court, and not to his local superior. A single little law of three lines, declaring natives of India to be eligible to the office of Deputy Judge, would, by throwing a number of respectable situations open to their aspirations, have provided for their advancement, without any disturbance of institutions to which the people of the country had become accustomed and reconciled. Again, as to the monopoly of higher judicial office by members of the Civil Service, the Cornwallis system, perhaps, pro
vided a readier means of abating even this grievance than will be found in that by which it has been supplanted. Nothing can be more extravagant than the scheme of sending out barristers from Westminster Hall, to undertake, without any intermediate training, the management of districts in Bengal and Hindostan. Sir William Jones himself, unintelligible as he was, on his first arrival, to the natives of India, would have failed if he had undertaken such a task. This visionary proposal has happily received its coup de grace from Sir Edward Ryan, the late Chief Justice in Bengal, in his evidence before the Commons' Committee; but it does not, in our opinion, follow that the aid of lawyers trained in England is therefore to be altogether discarded in providing for the administration of justice in India. Although the man fresh from England would be sadly bewildered if left by himself in a separate district, it does not follow that he should not, after some preparatory training, be able to co-operate vigorously with others. The horse will go well in double-harness, or in a team, who would upset a gig, and kick it to pieces.
If barristers chose to repair to Bengal, and, while there practising at the bar of the Supreme Court, would study the native languages, it appears to us that, on their proficiency being proved by an examination, they might have been advantageously admitted, under certain limitations as to number, into the now abolished Provincial Courts.
Had these experimental provisions in favour of natives of India, and barristers from England, been found to succeed, their eligibility to every grade in the judicial branch of the service might have been proclaimed, and the most plausible of all the complaints against our system of Indian government would thus have been removed. But improvement without change was not to the taste of those by whom the last of our three administrative periods was ushered in; and in further confirmation of Mr Marshman's remark, already cited, on the parallelism of movement in England and in India, it was in the changeful years 1830 and 1831 that a revolution
was effected in our system of internal administration, which has since given a colour and a bent to our whole policy in the East. In the course of those two years the magisterial power was detached from the office of the judge, and annexed to that of the collector; the Provincial Courts were abolished, their judicial duties being transferred to the district judges, and their ministerial functions of superintendence and control to commissioners, each with the police and revenue of about half a dozen districts under his charge.
Two Sudder, or courts of ultimate resort, were established, one at Calcutta, the other at Allahabad in upper India; but all real executive power centred in the magisterial revenue department, presided over by two Boards, located, like the Sudder Courts, at Calcutta and Allahabad.
One of the new provisions then introduced abolished the office of Register, or subordinate Judge, held by young civilians conjointly with that of Assistant to the Magistrate. This was a most serious change, for it abolished the very situation in which young civilians received their judicial training, and fitted themselves for the better eventual discharge of the higher duties of the judicature.
The Registers used to have the trial of civil suits for property, if not more than five hundred rupees (£50) in value. The abolitionists urged the injustice of letting raw youths experimentalise upon small suits, to the supposed detriment of poor suitors. There was a show of reason in this mode of arguing; but those who used it did not give due weight to the consideration that these youths were to become the dispensers of justice to all classes, and that it was better for the country to suffer a little from their blunders at the outset, than to have them at last advanced to the highest posts on the judgment-seat without any judicial training whatsoever. But, in fact, the whole argument was based upon a mere assumption. The young Registers certainly committed occasional blunders, as old Justices and Aldermen, if we are to believe the daily papers, constantly commit them in England; but, on the whole, their courts were generally popular and in
good repute among the natives. The young civilian bad often a pride in his own little court of record, liked to know that it was well thought of, and was sometimes pleased to find parties shaping their plaints so as to bring them within the limits of his cogni
They thus often acquired a personal regard for the people, whom it was their pride, as well as their duty, to protect a feeling which has since, we fear, been too much weakened. The young civilians of the present day, though excellent men of business, and accomplished linguists, have seldom any individual feeling for the natives, whom they regard in a light for which no word occurs to us so happily expressive as the French term, "les administrés." Thus it happened that the abolition of Registerships proved almost the death-blow to the Cornwallis system, and shook, not merely the framework, but the very principles of judicial administration throughout the country. It was followed up by a series of measures, all calculated to lower the judicial department of the service, and to prove to the natives that the protection of the law, promised in the still unrepealed regulations, was thenceforward to prove illusory, wherever it was required to shield them from the encroachments of any new scheme or theory finding favour for the moment with an executive government ruling avowedly upon principles of expediency, and seeking every occasion to shake off the trammels imposed upon its freedom of action by the cautious provisions of the Cornwallis code.
The people soon found in their rulers under the new system a scrupulous discharge of all positive duties, combined with a diminished consideration for native prejudices, a neglect of many punctilios of etiquette, and a stern hostility to every exceptional privilege exempting an individual in any degree from the operation of the rules of general administration. This last-mentioned tendency showed itself particularly in the case of the rent-free tenures, which had for some ten years previously been undergoing revision.
These landed tenures were held under grants from former rulers, ex
empting the grantee and his heirs from all payment on the score of revenue, though sometimes, as in our own feudal tenures, imposing upon him obligations of suit and service in some form or other.
When the framers of the Cornwallis code, in 1793, determined on recognising the validity of every such tenure as was held under an authentic and sufficient grant, a provision was at the same time made for their being carefully recorded and registered.
This duty of registration was, however, either totally neglected or very imperfectly performed, and the consequence was, that by collusive extensions of their limits, and other means, such as it would be tedious to explain, the rent-free tenures were gradually eating into the rent-paying lands forming the main source of the revenues of the state. Careful revision, therefore, became necessary, and was in fact commenced so far back as the year 1819. The inquiry was intrusted to the officers of the revenue department; but for some time permission was left to those discontented with their award, to bring the question at issue between them and the Government before the regular courts of justice for final decision. This process proving too tardy, in about ten years afterwards a sort of exchequer court, called a Special Commission, was erected for the trial of appeals from the decisions of the revenue authorities on the validity of rent-free grants. This commission was filled by officers of the judicial branch of the service, and their proceedings, carried on in strict conformity with the practice of the courts of civil justice, gave no offence, and created no alarm, notwithstanding that extensive tracts were brought by their decisions under the liability of paying revenue to the state. But not long after the country had entered into the third period of its administration, the revenue authorities got impatient of all restraint, and sought to break through the impediments of judicial procedure and rules. The primary proceedings, being intrusted to young deputy-collectors, were carried on with a rapidity which rendered due investigation utterly impossible, and all real in