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ported. --- To the author we are far from ascribing unworthy motives, since men are not obliged to be all enlightened alike: but, though we could account for the prejudices of Ministers and Directors because they had a visible interest in the doctrines which they preached, and we know well the influence which the affections have over the belief, we did not expect to find, among those whose understandings were exempt from such misguiding bias, many to whom the illustrious teachers of political economy could so long have spoken in vain. We confess that we found ourselves in a mistake, and that, on this as on many other occasions, the estimate which we had previously formed of our countrymen proved to be too high ; their minds are not so accessible to the deductions of reason as we had conceived ; we had not made sufficient allowance for the great defects which still pervade their education, and keep it in a state so little adapted for training their minds to strength and clearness; nor for the weakening and distorting influences to which, in such number and power, they still remain subject. It is therefore very possible that Mr. Macpherson had none but honest motives for advocating, as he has done, the pernicious errors of the Company; and that he was a volunteer, not a mercenary, in their service. In his former useful compilation, “The Annals of Commerce *,” though he did not very violently run counter to the established principles of plutology, (as the science which treats of the wealth of nations might perhaps be called,) yet he had given sufficient indications that his acquaintance with them was not very complete.--How agreeable it is to find that a man has been in error, rather than in crime !-- in one of the most heinous of crimes, that of endeavouring to mislead the public, for pay; - a crime which, unless in the case of news-papers, where it is avowed with effrontery, we really do not believe to be common in this country.
From what we have already indicated of the contents of Mr. Macpherson's book, it may be understood that it is composed of two divisions, or rather of two distinct subjects; of an historical part, and of an argumentative or speculative part. In a logical point of view, the combination appears somewhat unnatural : but, when we explain the rhetorical or political view, the device will not be deemed unskilful. In fact, the historical part is introduced for the sake of the speculative. The latter is that of which the object constitutes the real end of the book, and the former was employed for the purpose of preparing the minds of readers to receive a more favourable impression from that
* See Rev. Vol. liii. N. S. p.381.
which followed. A series of historical facts is more interesting than a dry discussion ; especially if they regard results of considerable magnitude, and in which we ourselves are in any material degree concerned. Commerce is a favourite subject with Englishmen: The Commerce of the East is a topic of the greatest magnitude; and to the History of the Commerce of the East, no small expectation of pleasure would seem to be attached !
In exhibiting, in historical order, the results of this commerce, who would be found to be the author of them ? The East-India-Company. In painting the benefits of which it had been productive to the country, — and in painting them with the greatest possible exaggeration, — what would appear to be the cause of so much wealth and so much prosperity? The EastIndia-Company. If, in tracing the succession of events, this association of ideas could be established, the work of persuasion would be accomplished; and towards that establishment it is evident that much might be done. An association of ideas is formed, it is well known, by their being frequently introduced together into the mind. Now it was manifest that many opportunities would occur, in the history of the commerce of the east, for uniting in the reader's mind at the same time the idea of the advantages of that commerce and the idea of the East-IndiaCompany; and the result would be that, with all those numerous readers who take their impressions passively from an author, the association would become fixed between the advantages of the East-India-commerce and the East-India-Company : so that such persons would never be able to think of the one without the other. Consequently, were he to speak to them of the loss of the East-India-Company, their thoughts would dart immediately to the loss of the commerce. Whoever knows the force of an established association is aware that, in the greater number of minds, reason is devoid of power against it; and that all the arguments which tend to confirm the association, how weak and erroneous soever, appear to have the truth and the potency of demonstration : while all those by which it is disturbed, however clear and conclusive, seem to be running counter to the first principles of reason and thought. They may, indeed, be running counter to habits of the individual's thoughts; and, with most individuals, habits of thought and principles of thought are the same thing.
If it be said that this is going deeper than it was necessary to go for an explanation of the obvious artifice of which the author of this book availed himself, in making it partly historical when his only design was to prove that the monopoly of the trade should be continued for ever in the hands of the East-IndiaCompany, we answer that, when the explanation of an important principle can be easily and clearly given, the depth of it ought to be no objection, nor yet the comparative want of importance in the occasion on which it is introduced. The explanation of such a principle is always important in itself; and when it diverts the mind from the object principally in view, more than one which would have been less
pro. found, it cannot fail to be more instructive, without any countervailing inconvenience.
After the perusal of a history, therefore, favourable to the establishment of an association between the ideas of the East. India-Company and of the benefits of the East-India-trade, and in which advantage was taken of the many opportunities that the subject afforded, the author might reasonably hope that his reader would come well prepared for the course of his ratiocination ; — well prepared to ascribe unlimited force to all the arguments which he should advance on his own side of the question, and to regard as altogether destitute of force very argument of his opponents which he might adduce for refutation. The union, therefore, of the historical and the argumentative matter was by no means injudicious or absurd.
It is, however, abundantly evident that all the favour which was thus gained to the arguments for the monopoly, and all the aversion which was generated against the arguments opposed to it, were produced by a delusive process. It by no means followed that the benefits of the trade with the East, though they might be often mentioned in conjunction with the Company, were owing to that Company; and though Mr. Macpherson took every opportunity of holding them forth as purely derived from that body, it by no means followed that Mr. Macpherson was right. On the contrary, it was still open to conclude that all these benefits might have been obtained though the Company had never existed ; nay even, and reason will support the conclusion, that without the Company they might have been acquired in far greater abundance than with it. In all other cases, it is freedom, not monopoly, which gives prosperity to trade. Monopoly is the destruction of trade, freedom the life of it. Why should the East-India-Company oppose the general current of experience? What quality resides in that corporation which should make it an exception to the laws of nature ? All the tendency, therefore, to believe in the efficacy for good purposes of the East-India-Company, that is produced by a mechanical association of ideas, was caused by artifice, not by reason; and whether the artifice was or was not intended to deceive, the course was that of deception. It is also the more worthy of being pointed out, because the efforts made by the Company and their advocates, to create a favourable opinion
of let us
of them and their claims, have always partaken largely of that character.
To give any thing like a correct view of the East-IndiaCompany, as an instrument of national good or evil, and hence as an institution which ought to stand or to be destroyed, an account of its commerce was far too narrow a ground. For many years, the commercial had been the smallest part of the operations of the Company, and had even continued to be on the decline. To decry the commerce now suited its policy. In this field, Mr, Macpherson and the Company were on a different scent: Mr. M. was exerting all his powers of persuasion to make it appear that the commerce was a source of riches to which the very existence of English prosperity was chiefly to be ascribed ; and the Company were striving with great solicitude to convince the public that the commerce never had been, and never could be, any thing more than a very in considerable object. Two strings were wanted to this bow; and thus we perceive they had them. We have seen the object attempted by Mr. Macpherson's string; and that which was the aim of the Company's string was equally important. If the commerce be valuable, said the British merchants, -and surely with reason, if any thing was ever spoken with reason, also have our share of it. It was farther said that, if the commerce were valuable, the Company themselves gave evidence that it ought to be laid open to the commercial capital and enterprise of the nation, because it was declining in the Company's hands. To these powerful attacks, it was necessary for the Company to produce a defence; and a defence was not easy to be found. Why should not the gains of the British merchants be as dear to a British legislature as the gain of the East-India- : Company? Why, if the commerce was valuable, was it allowed by the Company to sink? Why, if they were not able to carry it on to its proper extent, should others be excluded from engaging in it? To all this it appeared that only one answer, which could serve the purpose, would be made. It was necessary to say that the trade was good for nothing, because then the British merchants lost nothing by being excluded from it, and it was not less necessary to say that it was good for nothing, because, in that case, though it declined in the hands of the Company, it declined on account of its own worthlessness, and not from any want of ability in the Company to carry it on.
Such is another of the ways of the Company. Whoever traces their history will find that they have been very ingenious in changing their arguments, as often as the occasions which called for them were altered. Arguments and doctrines with
them are only media to an end; and that end is whatever at the moment is commodious to the East-India-Company.
In point of literary value, not much appears to have been attempted by Mr. Macpherson in this historical sketch of the Company as a commercial body. A temporary effect was the object in view; and profound research, extensive views, or refinement of execution, would have been partly unfavourable to the effect, and, in part, too costly to be afforded. The author contented himself, therefore, with the most ordinary materials; and, selecting from them the most obvious facts, he manufactured in haste a sort of coarse fabric, which, though it had neither beauty nor strength, might answer the temporary purpose for which it was designed. We much doubt, however, whether this has been the case.
To effect a temporary object, a performance should be light, spirited, elegant, and entertaining ; so as to engage a great number of readers, and to have at first an extensive reputation, however little calculated to endure the test of time, or live beyond the hour which gave it birth. Now Mr. Macpherson's quarto is not less deficient in the superficial than in the substantial qualifications: it is a very heavy book, and most assuredly never gained a single convert to the Company's prejudices by tickling him into error. It is not only composed of the most vulgar materials, and therefore contains nothing which could have a pretence to afford instruction to men who had looked into the documents of the Company's transactions, but it belonged essentially to the author's design to make the narrative unfaithful, and calculated to mislead all those who formed the remaining class of readers,—those who knew little or nothing of the subject. We mean not to insinuate, because we do not believe, that Mr. Macpherson is capable of falsification, in the direct and common acceptation of the term: but, even among good men, there are unhappily too few who, though they would not tell a direct untruth, are sufficiently consistent with their own principles to have any scruple about doing that which has the effect of untruth, and is intended by them to have that effect; viz. suppressing a part of the truth ; and, by holding up only one side of the question, imparting a very different notion of the subject from that which is true. To this accusation, (which, in a moral point of view, is very heavy, however frequently deserved,) Mr. Macpherson is much exposed.
In bringing forwards the history of the Company, he has avoided the mention of all such facts as were not very favourable to his design: all the facts which seemed to bear hard on the Company, and which might suggest suspicions about its unparalleled excellence as an instrument of commerce, were carefully 16